Last night Lady Gaga took to the stage at the VMAs as Jo Calderone, her greasy-looking male alter ego. It was another ‘outrageous’ moment for Gaga, and another page ripped from someone else’s playbook. While rock history has other gender swaps and other fake personalities, the utter terribleness of Calderone most reminded me of Garth Brooks’ tragic attempt at being a rock star, Chris Gaines.
Garth is pretty ashamed of Chris, as he rightfully should be. He’s so ashamed that the album he released under that name, Garth Brooks Presents… In the Life of Chris Gaines, doesn’t even appear in Brooks’ official discography. Chris Gaines was a thin, soul-patched rocker who… well, I don’t really know anything else about Chris Gaines except that at the time his appearance certainly felt like another nail in rock’s coffin.
The Chris Gaines album wasn’t a hit when it was released in 1999, and everybody was sort of baffled by it. Was Garth Brooks losing his mind? Was he attempting a brand new career? Why would he release an album that rock fans wouldn’t touch and that would alienate his country fans? Well, the last of those questions is semi-answerable: it was for a movie.
The Chris Gaines album was the ‘pre-soundtrack’ to the movie The Lamb, which would be a thriller about a Chris Gaines fan. Brooks himself was writing the script for Paramount. The life story of Gaines, his discography (In the Life of Chris Gaines was actually Gaines’ sixth album, and a greatest hits package at that!), his look, everything was all about creating a universe for The Lamb.
While Brooks played Gaines in performances - including one on Saturday Night Live - he was cagey about whether he would play the character in the movie. At one point he said that he thought Steven Tyler would make a great Chris Gaines because he’s “gorgeous, skinny and has lots of hair.” Cute mancrush, Garth!
There’s not much out there about The Lamb. It was to be a Paramount movie, and as late as 2002 Brooks was still talking like it could get made, blaming the slow pace of Hollywood for the delay (the likely truth is that the album sucked and nobody was interested in this Chris Gaines character). I’m imagining it’s a stalker movie, as Brooks described it as a thriller about a Gaines fan in which Gaines’ would be a presence, but not the main focus. Apparently Brooks finished a draft of The Lamb, but I’ve been unable to dig up a copy.
And so Chris Gaines has faded away from the public consciousness. Now we just have to wait to hear about the Jo Calderone movie.