Watch Childish Gambino Cover Garth Brooks’ Long-Buried Alter Ego Chris Gaines
The saga of Chris Gaines is a truly weird, inexplicable, generally forgotten episode in music-business history. In the late ’90s, Garth Brooks was one of the biggest stars in the United States, and he was arguably the biggest star in country music history. So he took a big swing. He introduced a whole new alter-ego, an Australian rock star with complicated facial hair. Brooks renamed himself Chris Gaines — a strangely pedestrian moniker for such a far-out project. The music that he made was gentle and sensitive and pretty close to what Garth Brooks was already doing. But the entire presentation was bizarre.
Brooks had this whole idea to play Gaines in a movie called The Lamb — probably not too big an ask for a star of Brooks’ wattage. He tried to stoke anticipation by releasing an album called Garth Brooks In… The Life Of Chris Gaines. (Alternate title: Greatest Hits. As in: The biggest hits of this fictional character.) Brooks did a fake episode of VH1’s Behind The Music about Chris Gaines. He also hosted Saturday Night Live, as Garth Brooks, and did musical-guest duties in character as Chris Gaines. All of this amounted to nothing. The Chris Gaines album flopped, the movie never happened, and Brooks abandoned the project. The Chris Gaines music is all out of print now.
Right now, Donald Glover, a man who knows a few things about playing with persona (and, for that matter, about being simultaneous host and musical guest on Saturday Night Live) is on tour in Australia — the fictional homeland of Chris Gaines and a place where Glover was once booed offstage. Glover is making up a previously cancelled tour, one called off because of an injury, and he’s said, somewhat ambiguously, that it’ll be his final outing as Childish Gambino. During that time, he took the time to show up on Australia’s Triple J radio network to cover a damn Chris Gaines song.
The tender ballad “Lost In You” was the one weird little pop success of the Chris Gaines saga. The song made it to #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s the only top-40 hit in Brooks’ career, which says more about how Billboard was tabulating charts in the ’90s and less about Brooks’ popularity, which was astronomical. For Triple J’s Like A Version series, Glover sang “Lost In You” as a tender, halting soul ballad. It’s spare and sincere, with Glover backed only by backing singers and an organ — an interpretation that actually works outside all the pranksterish context. Well played, Donald Glover! Watch the performance and hear the original “Lost In You” below.
Garth Brooks In… The Life Of Chris Gaines is available nowhere, but you can probably find a used copy somewhere if you look hard enough. Check out Stereogum’s deep dive into the Chris Gaines story.