Somewhere along the way in school we learn about nature vs. nurture. The basic battle if a person’s behavior is due to their environment or their genetics. I’d assume by all technical regards that my love for country music is due to growing up in the environment that I did with country music all around, but the feeling goes so deep that it sure does feel like a genetic trait. Being a child of the 1990’s, Garth Brooks is in my blood… one way or another.
Looking at Garth’s music output in his prime decade now is looked upon different than it was looked upon in the moment. Looking back at it now, Garth seems very much a traditional/neo-traditional artist. In the moment, it seemed as though he was continually pushing a lot of boundaries sonically. Though those boundaries were pushed, they were all still solidly in the arena of country music. That changed on September 28, 1999.
The marketing maven that is Garth Brooks saw a new path to take his stardom to the next level, because there was simply no more levels to take on in the country world. Garth took up an alter ego in a tragedy-stricken Australian rocker named Chris Gaines.
Although, alter ego isn’t probably the correct term. Garth took up a part. The album that came out, Garth Brooks… In the Life of Chris Gaines, was supposed to be the soundtrack to a film entitled The Lamb. The soundtrack, appearances on VH1’s Behind The Music and Saturday Night Live were supposed to produce a groundswell of anticipation for the film. Instead people were confused or thought Garth had went insane or both, resulting in the movie being shelved and possibly forcing Garth into that early first retirement.
The album did flop, at least in comparison to other Garth albums, but still went double-platinum and produced the only single that Garth got anywhere near the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in the number-five peaking “Lost In You”.
This is a long and winding way to ask this: the project as a whole may have flopped, but was the music that bad? I firmly believe that the music is pretty damn good. At the very least, it was an important album. And at the very, very least it was an important album for me.
Be it nature, nurture or whatever, I was indoctrinated into the world of country music. This isn’t a complaint, I still very much love country music and it is (and more than likely always will be) my genre of choice, but it is very much fact that it was all that I knew musically. Garth Brooks was my favorite artist, still is and more than likely always will be, and was the biggest country artist at the time, so when I was a little over five and a half, my biggest musical influence put out on a album that didn’t sound like anything I had ever overwhelmingly consumed before.
If it were not for In the Life of Chris Gaines, I don’t know if I ever find myself venturing out of the country genre. Without this album I may never go on my musical journey towards The Beatles, Queen, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel or, gasp, Eminem. This album was my gateway to a world of musical sounds that weren’t country. I may have eventually found those other sounds, but I don’t know how long it would have taken or how much I would have really appreciated them without this assist from Garth Brooks.
It shouldn’t probably be a shock then that a little over 14 years later, Garth helped define which artists I would further fall in love with in the realms of classic rock, soul and more via his Blame It All On My Roots: Five Decades of Influences boxset.
Garth has said how much he had the shit kicked out of him for the Chris Gaines saga, but I hope that he knows that he created something much more meaningful than an era of his life that most have turned into the ultimate punching bag.
The album isn’t on Rolling Stone’s 500 Best Albums of All Time and I’m not arguing that should be. I am arguing that we should maybe give it a little more credit than it’s been given, because Garth took a hell of a roll of the dice and the dice just happened to roll off the end of the table. A roll with a slightly different approach gets you one of the biggest songs of all-time across various genres: Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow” or, more properly, Jackson Maine and Ally’s “Shallow”.
I assume that I am not the only one that used In The Life of Chris Gaines as the gateway to sounds outside of country music and that alone makes this album an important piece of art. It might be in our nature to kick Garth because of this album, but maybe it’s time we learn to appreciate it a little bit more.
P.S. You’ll never guess what insanely popular duet that Garth and Trisha Yearwood just went into the studio to record their own take on.