Dear Chris Gaines,
Wow, what’s it been? Sixteen? Seventeen years? Ages, right? Last time we hung out I was playing Garth Brooks In…The Life of Chris Gaines via a discman to cassette converter in my mom’s Volvo station wagon. Remember that album? What am I saying? Of course you remember.
So how are you doing, man? I haven’t heard much from you. After “Lost in You” hit No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, you sort of vanished. Was it something I said? OK, sure, I gave you a hard time about the album cover — that hair?! It was like Trent Reznor and John Rzeznik’s bangs got into a knife fight — but come on, that’s no reason to quit a singing career. Look at all you accomplished. The Life of Chris Gaines went double-platinum, and you proved you could fit into two-toned tights — Mariah Carey can’t even do that.
I guess what I’m saying, Chris, is I know critical response may have been sour — The A.V. Club called the album “cheesy and watered down.” Variety said it was a “mid-life crisis” — but by record industry standards, you crushed it. And you exposed what I personally had thought all along, that buried beneath a country crooner was a confused, randy, rock star just waiting to get out. You, sir, showed us that the same man who sang “Friends in Low Places” had a yen for soul patches. That the guy who gave us “The Thunder Rolls” was a wannabe boy bander. That the singer who passionately described the life of a rodeo cowboy was really just dying to integrate light rap into his music and to horrible effect.
Garth tarted you up like a reluctant beauty pageant toddler and pushed you on stage. Blinking your charcoal-lined eyes into the bright lights, you were too naive to realize at the time what was going on. It was only after the fact that the humiliation set in.
What I’m trying to tell you Chris is that this was a classic case of Lambchops. Let me explain. See, that damn little puppet was freaky as hell, but I don’t blame Lambchops for that. That’s Sheri Lewis’ fault. The same goes for you. You can’t be convicted for coming off as a mockstar so poorly executed you made Lady Gaga’s MTV Video Music Awards’ Jo Calderone seem like a more convincing alter-ego. No, we have Garth to thank for that.
Drunk on his chart-topping power, Garth thought he could shrug off his American flag Oxford shirts and conjure up his own Ziggy Stardust. But the thing about Ziggy was that he was the embodiment of an entirely different sound, while you, well you were just a collection of easy listening rip-offs culled from other ’90s stars. Garth wanted to not only rule the country charts, but the entire galaxy of musical genres. He was the Mugatu to your Derek Zoolander.
But there’s one thing Garth could never take away from you: your voice.
That’s why I’m writing, Chris. You see, even as I suppress my laughter reading through your fabricated liner notes, like the baffling choice to call your sophomore album Fornicopia, I can’t get past the fact that I know all of these songs by heart. And I love them.
Sure, “Unsigned Letter” is like a Matchbox Twenty B-side. But then there’s the ballad “Driftin’ Away,” which in the hands of Sam Smith could have easily been a chart-topper. “Right Now,” a bizarre blend of the Youngblood’s “Get Together” and middling rap, may sound like Jason Aldean’s next arguably awful single. But the poppy track “Digging for Gold,” if a Taylor Swift cover by Kenny Loggins, would have been huge. In fact, I’d wager 80 percent of In the Life of Chris Gaines could have been hits for other pop stars. So why did Chris Gaines singing them fail?
I think it has something to do with your knuckle ring. And your pants. And, well, your entire backstory. The whole idea of you as an Australian alternative rocker with Olympic swim team parents is just so …. baffling isn’t the right word … mystifuckifying.
But it all comes down to the fact that Garth concocted you as a vehicle in which to enter Hollywood. As we both know, The Life of Chris Gaines was Garth’s pre-soundtrack to a never-released movie, The Lamb — a thriller about a Gaines fan. It would be Garth’s greatest move yet, a fantasy biopic written by himself. Alas, Paramount dropped the film and you like the outdated bag of Hot Topic clothes that you were.
And that’s a damn shame. You didn’t ask to be the laughing stock of Nashville, nor should you have been. If anyone had actually listened to The Life of Chris Gaines free from the trappings of its Weird Al-like album art, I think they’d agree it’s full of perfectly acceptable pop, 13 tracks any number of artists today would be proud to call their own. And yes, 13 tracks any number of Americans would enjoy listening to.
I would at least. And I don’t want to lie about it anymore.
The truth is, something in those songs spoke to the feckless and freckled teenage me and for a brief moment, The Life of Chris Gaines was a songbook salve for my self consciousness soul. For better or worse, your oozing pustule of a record made its way into my heart.
Or at least — just as you sing on your opening track — that’s the way I remember it.
Your unapologetic fan,
Garth Brooks will perform this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with Trisha Yearwood at the North Charleston Coliseum. While three of the four shows are sold out, tickets are still available for Sat. Feb. 13 at 10:30 p.m. For more info, including parking alerts for the weekend, visit northcharlestoncoliseumpac.com.
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