Chris Gaines’ Backstory Is All Kinds of Tragic

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Chris Gaines may well be the most elaborately documented country star who doesn’t actually exist. The tortured rock ‘n’ roll alter ego of Garth Brooks, Gaines had his heyday in the late ’90s, with the 1999 release of Garth Brooks in…The Life of Chris Gaines, a greatest hits project that culled songs from the many albums he’d released on Capitol Records — all of which were fictional.

It was all building to a movie called The Lamb, in which, Brooks explained in interviews, Gaines was going to star. But the movie never came to fruition and, for the most part, it seemed as if perhaps Gaines’ star had fizzled out.

When it comes to the Chris Gaines project, it’s tough to separate fact from fiction. His character probably isn’t based on Keith Urban — though it might be. There are real Chris Gaines guitars out there, but only 21, and few people (other than Brooks) have ever seen them. No detail is too small to be intricately thought out, and Gaines was even the subject of a (fake) VH1 Behind the Music episode so elaborately crafted that it includes interviews with Gaines’ mom (fictional) and Billy Joel (real).

As intricately detailed as Gaines’ musical exploits are, his backstory is just as fleshed out, and the details of the singer’s life are as tumultuous as they are plentiful. For example, his dad died after a prolonged battle with cancer, leading Gaines down a path toward a debilitating sex addiction. That’s not all: Gaines’ home was burned to the ground by arsonists, and he was betrayed and financially extorted by the manager who helped launch his career (whom he also slept with, in the throes of his sex addiction).

The list goes on: Gaines nearly lost his life in a car crash that severely injured his face, ultimately permanently changing the way he looked. And perhaps most centrally to the torment that plagued his career, he lost a good friend and musical partner named Tommy in a horrific plane crash.

Back in high school, Gaines had formed a trio called Crush with two of his friends, including Tommy Levitz. In addition to being a musician, Levitz was a pilot who died in a crash, ending the band’s young and promising career. That tragedy indelibly marked Gaines’ worldview and musical identity, ultimately helping to shape him into the performer he would become.

If Gaines were a real person and his life events had truly taken place, it would be tragic, but as a fictional narrative, it’s all a testament to how hard Brooks and his collaborators worked on every detail of the Chris Gaines project. When Brooks first debuted Gaines’ work, some fans hailed it as a great rock ‘n’ roll joke, while others were puzzled.

While the movie Brooks intended to put out never came to fruition, Gaines was, in many ways, a success. All these years later, Brooks’ wife, Trisha Yearwood, says the Gaines album is her favorite from Brooks’ discography. Plus, Gaines is still a cult favorite among many country fans, and when The Life of Chris Gaines came out, the album peaked at No. 2 on the charts, sold two million copies and spawned the Top 5 single “Lost in You.” There was nothing fictional about those numbers and those sales.

10 Things to Know About Garth Brooks’ Chris Gaines Project

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