So, Garth Brooks is coming out of pseudo-retirement.
In and of itself, that’s kind of cool. Garth Brooks is one of the biggest names in country music, and music in general. For him to walk away from success at the height of his career so that he could focus on raising his family is quite an admirably story. That he is finally returning to professional music after so many years away is likewise admirable. He faces a lot of challenges and pressures and the sheer of act of going back on tour must be daunting to say the least.
Personally, I’ve never been that big of a fan of Brooks’ music. I like a few of his songs but most of his discography just doesn’t speak to me (I’ve just never really been a country fan). That said, Brooks’ career as an artist has definitely fascinated me.
His 1997 free concert in New York City was a landmark performance in the eyes of many people. While I have no doubt he got some (likely considerable) money from the event, that it was still free to anyone and everyone is remarkable beyond words. Likewise, rumors of Brooks’ charity and generosity abound. Such behavior is rare for major headlining stars.
What makes Brooks stand out to me as an artist, however, is one of his biggest failures. In 1999, Brooks endeavored to launch a totally independent musical career under the pseudonym ‘Chris Gaines’. A fictional Australian alternative rocker, Gaines’ music was supposed to be a radical departure from Brooks’ usual catalog. It was a chance for him to tackle a totally new genre of music, at least theoretically free from the expectations and requirements of his primary career.
It didn’t work out.
The Chris Gaines albums are pretty mediocre. They’re not awful, which in some ways would make them better. If they were truly terrible, the. There might be some irony factor, some so-bad-it’s-good elements. But the truth is that it’s just meh.
Why it’s remarkable is because of how daring an experiment it was. You can count on one hand the number of times a major headlining act has shifted genres or tried to perform in a totally new manner. The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album or Neil Young’s Trans or Everybody’s Rockin‘ are a few of the rare examples. The most iconic band in history and one of the most successful and beloved musical performers of all time. Rare air, that.
Garth Brooks created an alternative persona, complete with backstory and unique musical style. He committed fully to exploring this new genre of music and trying to develop the voice of Chris Gaines. It failed, falling flat when the music proved to be unremarkable and audiences kept wanting to see Garth Brooks instead. The persona was retired pretty quickly. Musically (and commercially) it was a failure, but artistically, it was an amazing and bold experiment. Artists of all genres, in all mediums, could stand to take a risk like that, to step out of our comfort zones and attempt to find a totally new voice and style.
The Chris Gaines’ Experiment is not something that should be forgotten, but something that should be lauded. And Garth Brooks should be remembered, among so many other accolades, for taking a daring and unprecedented artistic risk. So here’s to hoping this new chapter in his career will see similar artistic bravery.