For all his talent and genius, Garth Brooks has made some questionable career decisions. From trying to be a baseball player to launching his own digital platform, “GhostTunes,” instead of joining iTunes, Brooks is no stranger to head-scratchers.
But his most egregious foray, without a doubt, was alter ego, Chris Gaines. 17 years ago, on Sept. 28, 1999, Brooks released the album Garth Brooks…In the Life of Chris Gaines. It confused the hell out of people.
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For starters, the cover of the album just said “Chris Gaines Greatest Hits.” You might remember it. It’s the one with brooding, soul-patched, bangs-covered, eye-shadowed face resembling Brooks. (It was Brooks).
The sound, too, confused fans. It was pegged as a “rock n’ roll” alter ego, but instead landed much closer to the pop realm. In fact, the album hit No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart and even gave him his one and only pop charting single “Lost In You,” which peaked at No. 5.
But did you know the Chris Gaines experiment was part of a much bigger, much more elaborate plan?
An Elaborate Backstory
“Chris Gaines” was actually a movie character. And as far as alter egos go, Chris Gaines had by far the most complex backstory out there. The entire thing was created for a planned thriller film called The Lamb that featured the Chris Gaines character. So the Greatest Hits album was about creating that film’s universe with an elaborate character backstory.
The story is, in all honesty, pretty absurd.
Chris Gaines and his rebellious friend Tommy started a rock band in 1985 Los Angeles during their high school years. The band, called Crush, played local clubs until eventually getting their big break. After gaining some fame, Tommy dies in a plane crash, completely shattering Gaines.
Gaines, who never had the approval of his father, set out to make a solo record which sold 12 million copies. (That’s probably the first absurdity in the whole story). His father eventually dies of cancer, and Gaines’ unrequited love for his dad eventually spirals into a serious sex addiction (seriously).
Gaines then discovers he was getting screwed by his manager in a horrible contract and settles to get out of it. While furiously attempting to record another album, Gaines leaves the studio in the early hours of the morning and suffers a horrific car crash. He has to undergo reconstructive face surgery. This is where Garth Brooks comes in as the actor portraying Gaines.
Much Ado About Nothing
The plan was to release Chris Gaines’ “Greatest Hits” one year prior to a film called The Lamb, which was also supposed to be the next album in the fictitious rock star’s career. In addition to the album, Brooks and company went through a *lot* of effort to create a fake VH1 “Behind The Music”-style documentary called Behind The Life of Chris Gaines.
Like, a lot, of effort.
They hired actors to play all the characters in Gaines’ life. They also brought in real people, like musician/producer Don Was (who actually produced the In the Life of Chris Gaines) and respected music journalist Melinda Newman. They acted out scenes as if they were part of a real documentary talking about a real person.
The best thing to come from that whole episode may be this scene with Tracy Morgan referencing the Chris Gaines weirdness and openly talking trash about him to Garth Brooks.
It’s all too surreal. And in the middle of it all is Brooks, giving what can only be described as a painfully melodramatic (and poorly scripted) performance in his own documentary.
Not only that, but Brooks famously hosted SNL with the musical guest as Chris Gaines. Without ever actually acknowledging the gimmick. They pulled out all the stops to get the hype machine in full swing.
The whole experience didn’t quite create the buzz they had hoped for. By April 1, 2000, fans only purchased 700,000 copies of the album. By today’s standards, that sounds like a whole lot. But those numbers were dismally low for Brooks, whose previous album hit 10 million copies sold worldwide. Not to mention, the label shipped nearly three million copies to distributors, who eventually began heavily slashing the price for the album.
Floppier Than That Ridiculous Wig
The album did eventually move two million units, but it was still seen as a tremendous flop. So much so, in fact, that The Lamb never filmed. Brooks reportedly wrote the screenplay for The Lamb, which would include the Chris Gaines character but not focus on him. Instead, it would be about a Chris Gaines fan.
So yes, all of that work was to create a backstory for a character who was part of the backstory of another character. You follow?
Paramount Pictures reportedly planned to release the film. Maybe after seeing Brooks’ bafflingly bad performance in the fake VH1 show, they reconsidered. Whatever it was, The Lamb never saw the light of day. And the finished manuscript will probably make some super fan at an auction very happy one day.
Brooks pretty much abandoned the whole thing in less than a year and stopped mentioning the movie around 2002. His 2001 album Scarecrow reassured fans of his commitment to country music. And they reassured him of his ability to sell records, moving 5 million copies in the U.S. alone.
He recently said he has no regrets over Chris Gaines, adding that he really liked the songs on the album. And he may even do another, who knows.
But every Sept. 28, never forget that moment you walked into the CD store and stared awkwardly at that lusty Chris Gaines gaze and said to yourself, “Wait a minute…is that Garth Brooks?”