-- a music fan from Detroit, Amazon.com
Music fan from Detroit, I feel your glee/pain/horror/shame. Not since Michael Jackson invited every race and creed to "kike me, Jew me, Wop me, screw me," or whatever he shrieked as he gave himself a wedgie, has pop music had such a compelling sacrificial lamb to come together right now over than Chris Gaines/Garth Brooks, or CGGB as I like to call him.
Tonight, in an effort to meet Middle America halfway and absorb its mounting Garthian concerns, I've perused all 211 reviews left by consumers at Amazon.com. By the site's estimation, Chris Gaines Greatest Hits has averaged a respectable four out of five stars from customers, with nary a fence-straddling, three-star vote in the bunch. The true test will be if the Soundscan sales trail off the same time the used copies mount up. One fellow who won't be cashing in his Capitol Gaines anytime soon is Kevin from Glendale Heights, Illinois:
. . . if you call yourself a true 'Garth Fan,' then you should be *darn* proud of ANYTHING that he puts out into circulation. That's the true fan that I would like to believe I am.
Those are Kevin's *darn* asterisks, by the way. And I'm *darn* proud that there are still true fans out there who've found something to champion besides their own lit farts. In what will surely go down in the annals as the worst year for popular recordings since Edison warbled a pedestrian "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on a cylinder, a year where "Limp" is actually a buzz word, here's a record that demands an immediate "yea" or "nay," at least from a marketing standpoint.
By now most critics have already pummeled Gaines burgers out of Garth Brooks' rocker alter ego, but I can't look away from this cultural train wreck just yet. I'm not so convinced that it really is a train wreck so much as it's a well-timed distraction.
Anyone who's followed country music with even a casual annoyance knows that every decade the genre has its urban upsurge and then its economic slump. Garth, the Upsurgin' General last time around, saw the oncoming downward spiral and decided he wasn't going to be the fall guy for new country that the Bee Gees were for disco. Nah, better to reinvent himself, grow a soul patch under his lips and throw a wig on his head that Natalie Cole left lying around in the Capitol wardrobe closet.
Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at those marketing meetings after the Chris Gaines photos were developed: "Garth, that fruity toupee is gonna cost us every Teamster and monster truck enthusiast in your fan base! For God's sake, couldn't you just wear a bandanna like Mike Reno? That's very '80s."
And could no one talk Garth out of his ridiculous Freddie Mercury-in-black-and-white-tights shot buried in the CD booklet? It truly confirms Brooks' pledge in his recent TV special that "You're gonna see a lot of Garth in Chris Gaines." Too much Garth, actually. Rather like Alice Kramden's "two pounds of baloney in a one pound bag" assessment. Garth/girth issues aside, one music fan from Atlanta, Georgia, who wasn't taken in by Garth's cock rock bulges, writes:
. . . The stand up display says that the album represents 'rock over the last 15 years.' I don't remember rock being this boring and soft over the last 15 years. I thought this was supposed to show Garth could rock!?!?!?!
Indeed, where is the rock? Chris Gaines is supposed to be a late '80s, early '90s luminary, yet most of his derivative reference points -- the Beatles, the Carpenters (!!), 10cc, Fleetwood Mac, Dan Fogelberg (!!!), Bread (!!!!) -- are already two decades old. Given that, why was Gaines born Australian if you're not gonna capitalize on some kind of innovative down under country hybrid? If the makers of this movie-to-be were after sonic realism, Paul Kelly or Neil Finn would've been contracted to provide some top-shelf pop tunes. But nothing here sounds remotely like Crowded House, INXS, Hoodoo Gurus, Midnight Oil or even AC/DC. Instead, most of the harder cuts reek of Kenny Loggins -- not exactly "rock" incarnate unless you live in a town where dancing is outlawed.
For some insane reason, Garth strategists appear to be going after that soft-rock/classic-rock demographic that got tired of hearing "China Grove" for the millionth time, moved on to new country but have now grown tired of 10-gallon hats and still didn't want to hear "China Grove." Occasionally, this same demographic finds a shopworthy new album that reminds them of something old, like the Wallflowers.
Two of Gaines' pretend hits, "Unfinished Letter" and "Mainstreet," stomp the same happy Hammond organ ground Junior Jakob Dylan did. But given the phony-but-not-funny revisionist liner notes that named "Mainstreet" an instant classic, some of Garth's toothless fans might insist that Chris Gaines recorded these songs way before anyone even heard of the Wallflowers. "Back when the old stuff was new," indeed!
"Mainstreet" even features "one light blinking off and on." Headlight, maybe? Go to the head of the class, Kreskin! You're already too smart for this discussion group. I give you music fan from Atkins, Arkansas:
GARTH BROOKS IS A MUSIC GOD I ALWAYS FELT HE WAS TO VERSITILE TO PUT IN A CATAGORY. THIS ALBUM PROVES HE SOULD BE IN ONE CATAGORY. THE KING OF MUSIC!
For those who deny that the emperor has no clothes, here's the counterpoint message one hurt lady from Atlanta posted:
garth has finally let his money and greed overcome his roots. he has lost the faith I once had in the greatest man on earth. he was. never again. he let us down: please do not support this imposter in purchasing this album.
Of country music fans, lantern-jawed Nashville Now host Ralph Emery once said, "It's not that they are simple-minded, it's just that some of them are incredibly trusting." Which is why Garth, a music god to so many, had to do that NBC special, appear in his traditional good ol' boy hat and demonstrate to the trusting folks he befuddled that he's just playing pretend wimpoid rock star instead of actually becoming one. It's as if Daddy's turned on the night light to show you the monster in your bedroom is really a bunch of clothes thrown over a chair. With a Natalie Cole wig lumped on top.
Garth's pedantic explanations of how he achieved his ridiculous Prince Suckyerbellyin look wouldn't even have been necessary if this record didn't come out so far in advance of the Chris Gaines movie. Imagine explaining what your science fair project is going to be like to your teacher instead of just handing it in on time and you'll have some idea how trivial all the "Did You Know" facts about Chris Gaines seem out of context.
Can you imagine how anticlimactic this faux rock flick will ultimately be? We already know that he's going to release a bunch of stupid-looking albums whose Spinal Tapped covers don't match the tame music they contain. Then he's gonna have a car wreck, get a face full of glass and become a recluse. And we've already been told they're gonna kill off Chris Gaines at some point, so Garth can become Kurt Cobain without shooting his mouth off for real.
But that don't matter to the Atlanta girl whose trust Garth has betrayed. Babbling Brooks further trashes that faith by giving a long, sincere VH1 Storytellers intro for "It Don't Matter to the Sun." He talks about how Chris' father used to sing this old Ramsey Sellers hit to his mother, and when the Senior Mr. Gaines died there was no one to sing it to her but Chris. Meanwhile, we all know, there is no Ramsey Sellers. It's all a cock-and-bull story. Garth's band wrote the song apparently trying to knick "Isn't It a Pity," "It Don't Matter to Me" or "You Are So Beautiful."
Garth has become a master when it comes to blurring the lines between fact and fiction. He does it even better than Bill Clinton, the other overweight redneck who's been ruling the world for the past seven years. We're a nation so used to being lied to we don't care if it's real tears or glycerin anymore. Most people wouldn't know a sincere song intro if Red Foley came back from the dead and told us the ground he's buried in was colder than the cab of any truck he's ever ridden.
Red Foley? Why, he was a country singer, not that you vermin would know the difference -- at least according to Ryan Strawbridge from Cleveland, Mississippi, who deemed the Gaines CD "Absolute 100% Vomit":
Garth Brooks can't even do country right so why would he even try to do this? Am I the only one who sees the writing on the wall? Country Music is dead!! Every singer sings the same way and you can hardly tell any of them apart. Older artists like Waylon and Willie have been thrown down and the dirt has been kicked in their face. The CMA Awards had N-Snyc on their show for christ's sake. Merle Haggard and Jewel singing a duet? Let me say to you Garth Brooks, thanks a lot for opening the lid and flushing Country Music down the toilet for the sake of making money.
About the most amazing thing to come out of this Gaines-vilification is that new country fans, the ones who fled to line-dancing when rap metal scared them off, are now coming off like country purists.
These Johnny- and Janey-come-latelies think dye jobs like Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain are sticking to their roots. For the love of slain Stringbean! Shania's wearing a top hat, squirtin' and shillin' lipstick on a TV commercial and making synth-horn-saddled records with hubby/producer Mutt "Def Leppard" Lange that sound about as country as the Eurythmics. By these fans' estimation, Jennifer Lopez has got to be the second coming of Loretta Lynn! Why stop there? Why not crown DJ Shadow the next Junior Samples?
How can these same yahoos begrudge Garth his mascara when he's been shoving Aerosmith, Billy Joel and KISS covers at them for the past six years? Like they'd even know an Ernest Tubb song if you played it for them!
If you've got to hate Garth, there's plenty more serious breaches of trust to bemoan than his letting the fiddle player hook up with a Mellotron dealer. Start with "Right Now," which grafts the Youngbloods' "Get Together" onto Cheryl Wheeler's anti-gun anthem "If It Were Up to Me." Conveniently, he skips the line about getting rid of the guns so he can have a say-nothing political song that won't piss off any gun-rackers who might buy a Garth Brooks CD.
And yet he still managed to offend this guy from Gainesville, Georgia, who wonders, "Since when does an Oklahoman say 'Brotha' instead of 'Brother'?"
More than one music fan has identified the album a sure sign of the apocalypse. Garth, for lack of a better word, is greed. But in this case, greed is not good. Remember how he whined like a baby against the reselling of CDs? He probably blames the used CD stores for why he can't sell 10 million units each time out, and maybe he's right. If he sells three or four million now, everyone thinks it's a failure.
But Garth figured out new and more reprehensible ways of punishing his flock. Like deleting his first six albums, forcing fans who didn't buy them fast enough to shell out three times as much for limited-edition greatest hits, boxed sets and live sets at Christmas time -- all of which he would also eventually delete.
Good riddance, I say. Brooks is operating like Disney, who hold up a gun to whatever classic video they're about to take off the market and blackmail you into preserving your kid's favorite movie -- a twisted capitalist game of "Bambi gets it or else."
Who's to say CGGB's putting his country muse on ice isn't some marketing strategy right out of the Old Coke/New Coke handbook? Take away beloved Garth, replace him with Chris and bring Garth back when those 10 million units return to their senses.
Unless you share the same opinion as Joe Daniel from Pasadena, Texas, who claims that "this is Garth's Sgt. Pepper."
You'll recall that the Fabs all grew mustaches and kept the trusted brand name completely off the European editions of Pepper, except for that bed of flowers that spelled BEATLES. Like them, Garth's also grown goofy facial hair and left his name off the spine of his new CD, but it has a booklet with a choice of two covers, one with Garth's name, one without, so as not to confuse Kmart shoppers.
Which is where the similarity ends. When the Beatles donned Day-Glo Salvation Army Band outfits, they were deliberately cutting ties with the past and stood beside wax dummies of their former moptop selves so no one missed the point. When Madonna immersed herself in sex bondage gear for Erotica, she made no apologies to her fans, never said, "I'm only kidding, I'll go back to that Boy Toy bit next time if this makes you really uncomfortable." When Bowie did interviews as Ziggy, he didn't pull reporters aside and say, "Listen, I'm still the same old Anthony Newley mimic I always was, only with brighter lipstick." Those artists drew a line in the dirt and never crossed back.
But not double crossover Garth. He'll line-dance all over that dirt marker, to ensure more units than he can afford to lose won't boot-scoot away. As his backpedaling TV special proved, CGGB wants to be Old Coke and New Coke at the same time. Either way, he's just flat and less fizzy.
In the Life of Chris Gaines could've been a great cultural train wreck, on a par with KISS' The Elder and John Denver's Dreamland Express. Those moves to reel in an audience took a lot of balls, more balls than Brooks will ever clack together in this lifetime. Had he succeeded, it might've been the across-the-board fluke hit that Thriller was, pulling in all the disaffected country and rock fans who don't know what to listen to anymore.
Many of Garth's favorable Amazon.com reviews say he took a big risk here. A wig and a showcased falsetto? Is that all there is, my friends? Had the "brotha'" risked it all, then maybe Garth might've merited for real this phony Amazon.com review that devious eBay seller Fat Al penned in the hopes of unloading his used Chris Gaines CD for more than the usual $5:
"This is the best album of all time. The Beatles wish they could have been as innovative as this."
The CD sold for 10 bucks. Right on, Fat Al! Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines: "Does a Natalie Cole wig and some old Dan Fogelberg songs make me a rock star?"All that's missing is the overbite: Brooks as Queen's Freddie Mercury.