Behind the Life of Chris Gaines: The Best Rock Documentary of All Time
No seriously: The best ever.
From the Chris Gains "Greatest Hits" album cover.
History is the best when you can make it up. Rock n' roll history in particular is even better when it's fictionalized (a lot of rock history is just bloated tropes about straight dudes and sex and drug use anyway, so there's a lot to work with.) When Garth Brooks became Chris Gaines in 1999, he knew this.
A little backstory, for the uninitiated into the world of Chris Gaines: back in 1999, Brooks released the album, Garth Brooks in.... The Life of Chris Gaines. It was essentially a greatest hits compilation for Gaines (Brooks in a wig and soul patch,) an artist no one had ever heard of. This wasn't just a conceptual album from Brooks. It was a full-on transformational performance piece — kind of like Ziggy Stardust or Sasha Fierce, but with an extremely detailed fictional story attached.
As with anything Brooks puts out, Garth Brooks in.... The Life of Chris Gaines charted well and sold several million copies, despite being an experience Brooks seems to want to have forgotten ever happened (you can't even find the record on his own website.) But the best part about the Brooks' brief foray into the Chris Gaines experience wasn't the resulting album at all — it was the creation of the Behind the Life of Chris Gaines (a version of VH1's seminal cable classic Behind the Music,) a totally made-up tale that just may be the greatest rock n' roll documentary ever made.
This piece of art has everything that makes the story of being a rockstar fucking cool. It has childhood trauma, record label trauma, death, disfigurement, a plane crash, a car crash, sex addiction, redemption, a house fire, random unexplained commentary from Billy Joel and more sex addiction. Since Brooks created the story of Chris Gaines from scratch, he was able to pick and choose the best parts of what we think makes the myth of the rockstar interesting and in turn created the only Behind the Music I've ever wanted to watch more than once (I've seen it three times now. It's that good.)
The story starts with Gaines moving to Los Angeles from Australia with his parents as a child. Wait, no. The story starts with Behind the Music narrator Jim Forbes telling us how Gaines is going to maybe die from all the sexing he has done in his lifetime, reiterated by a comment from his late-career manager, Dan Lainer: "I've gone to his hotel room on occasion and there have been more women there than I can count on one hand." (That's like, five and a half women, if you were wondering.) This is the first of many mentions of Gaines's sex problem, which overshadows his love for the music (until the conclusion of the doc of course, when music is all that matters.) Gaines may have lived to create, but his desire to "communicate" (Gaines' word for intercourse) with as many women as possible is the real tale told.
The script of the doc is made from story after story ripped from rock history and Hollywood combined, a narrative sewn together with clichés — for example, one of Gaines' ex-girlfriends describes him as having an "air of mystery." The narrator says Gaines is “one of rock 'n roll’s most enigmatic figures,” though he seems to have only made the same fictional record over and over again, something that sounds like mid-'90s Train. The women of Gaines' life are the prevailing voice in this documentary, talking about his creativity and his struggles with liking sex too much (which they all seem to be okay with and laugh about throughout.) Ex-girlfriend Jennifer Allgood (a woman who is a trope herself, that of the late '80s/early '90s "bimbo" or video vixen variety) wonders out loud if the “air of mystery” around Gaines was created or is a natural part of his personality — which is clearly what we are all wondering when watching this.
Music is Gaines' rebellion from his father's dream of him becoming an Olympic swimmer — even as he rises to the top, Gaines will forever be shut out from the acceptance of his dad (who *surprise!* dies of cancer before Gaines gets super-dooper famous.) Still, he pursues music instead of swimming and finds a musical partner is best friend Tommy Levitz, who he starts his first band Crush with. They recruit this dude Marc Obed on bass and after playing shows on the Sunset Strip as cool teens (they didn't get paid, but they got lots of sexing from girls, so it was worth it, plus more foreshadowing) they get picked up by the first music industry vulture, manager Roma Steele. She quickly signs them to record label Trillion and they get to make a fancy record and take press photos that look like Mervyn's ads for Union Bay. Shit is going great!
Oh, except for the part where Gaines subtly shows his middle fingers sticking out of his jeans in said press photos (sounds a little Kurt Cobain-y to me) and the establishment gets pissed. But still, Crush is on their way to becoming what looks like either the Spin Doctors or Terence Trent D'Arby or maybe Alice In Chains — I mean, Candlebox (just based on their hairdos.) Then there's the incident on the set of their first video "My Love Tells Me So" (which I WISH existed online so we could see the whole thing because it looks amazing from the clip in the documentary) where Crush act like real jerks a la Guns N' Roses. Still, they are high school dropouts are about to get really famous because they have booked a "50/50" tour, which apparently means fifty shows in fifty states or fifty days so they can bang fifty girls or something.
Tour goes swimmingly, but once Crush gets back to Los Angeles, more trauma. Tommy dies when his teenage hubris and skills as a licensed pilot both fail him and his plane crashes (slightly referencing Buddy Holly/Ritchie Valens/the Big Bopper, maybe?) Narrator steps in to up the doom level by proclaiming, “Crush was Dead… Chris Gaines was dead.” Paralyzed with grief, Gaines is shown brooding, walking along the beach wearing a bandana. Crush is over. Gaines is shattered; more sexing with women ensues.
Eventually, Gaines moves on to start a solo career. Enter producer Don Was (playing himself) who at this time in 1999, looks like a Pharrell from the future in a 25-gallon Arby's/Canadian Royal Mounted Police hat. Together, they make Gaines' first solo album, Straight Jacket, named for his feelings on the label that was trying to control him. The album is of course a hit, selling twelve million copies and according to fictional recording engineer Ryan Duffy, sounds like “catching lighting in a bottle ” (but really just sounds like another lost Train record.)
Still, Gaines sex addiction is looming in the proverbial shadows, waiting to kill him. Another ex-girlfriend, Tasha Simon, (who looks like Annie from the Sublime video for "Wrong Way") appears, smiling happily when talking about his sexing problem. Duffy also offers up some more clichés, saying Gaines “had babes at home, on the road, on the bus, on tour, off tour, in the studio, out of the studio, in a session, out of a session, at clubs and bars, I mean, I couldn’t keep track of it.” Basically, Chris Gaines had babes everywhere but the grocery store.
One of those babes also ends up being manager/snake Roma Steele who signed Crush in the first place — and admits to giving Gaines a shitty contract causing him to make no money and the label make a ton (too many actual stories in music history to reference here, but Sly Stone's situation definitely comes to mind.) Oh and Roma was boning Gaines while screwing him out of money (a metaphor AND a pun) and was proud of it. Not only has Gaines lost money, he's lost one of his sexing partners and right before this, it is revealed that his father has passed away, now gone to heaven where he can be eternally unimpressed that his son had only sold twelve million records.
24 years old and broken, the only thing Gaines has left is sex and music. So he continues with both, making another record with Was called Fornucopia and of course, doing more sexing with lots of different women. Gaines is classified by sexpert and recording engineer Duffy as a "32 flavors kind of guy," whatever that means. The record is too dark and doesn't sell well (hint: it sounds like another Train record) and Gaines is again in terminal bum-out mode. But it is during this time that he meets manic pixie Spice Girl Maria Costa, a dancer who will change his life, though not keep him from almost sexing himself to death.
Tragedy is far from being a thing of the past for Gaines, whose story take another dangerous turn when he drives his red Corvette into a ravine after a long night of recording leads him to fall asleep at the wheel (noticeably absent from this story is drinking or drug abuse.) Though he is somehow okay enough to call 911 from his car phone, the rocker then falls into coma for several days, only to emerge changed forever: the beautiful face that got Gaines all the sex has now been altered by the wreck (mirroring the famous Hollywood tale and personal obsession of mine, the story of Montgomery Clift, who's face was ruined forever by a similar car accident and thus pretty much ended his career, save for his comeback in Judgment at Nuremberg a few years before he pretty much killed himself, but that's another story.) Doctors tell him he may never walk yet alone play guitar ever again, but it's not his career Gaines is worried about — it's his ability to sex.
Not much time passes before evil overlords at his record label are pushing Gaines to make another Train rip-off album — luckily, physical therapy reengages his ability to be a rock star and he's back to making music and doing sex. According to the narrator, "Chris's vice turns life-threatening" and it looks like all the babes and all the communicating might actually kill him — though there is no actual mention of how. Before he can truly deal with his sex addiction, Gaines is hit with yet another tragedy as his house in Malibu burns down. With nothing left to lose, Gaines releases his third Train record, Apostle. But much like Michael Jackson once did, Gaines now walks around with a towel covering his face and no longer allows photos to be taken of him. He does no press or videos for the new record and it looks to be doomed — except it's not. Gaines still tops the Billboard charts, despite the fact that he now wears his wig on his face.
Success is going so great! So is his relationship with Costa, the manic pixie Spice Girl, except she can't keep him from boning the world. Cut to ex-gf Simon laughing while saying "if there was ever a human being that needed a treatment for sex addiction, it would be Chris Gaines” and ominous narrator further explaining that “one man’s communication is another man’s fornication." Finally we get to the bottom of this story: Chris Gaines has a sex addiction.
Since he clearly almost died from the sexing, Gaines decides to get therapy — which is where we learn that sex addiction stems from a disapproving father (duh?) Things are good again and Gaines gets in a van and travels to the south to find his roots or something. There he discovers he can make a record — this one called Triangle — that sounds less like Train and more like early '90s Babyface. More squabbles with the record label ensue (because this is Gaines' cross to bear, along with being a sex attic) but the artist perseveres because he has one last rock cliché to pursue: the activist era of his career.
If you're wondering how exactly Gaines went from being a rock star sex monster to a dude who cares about politics, he explains: “I just got sick of the news one night – I guess I just got tired of it.” Being fed up led to the creation of "Right Now" his political rap-rock single that brought him to wherever he is today. Garth Brooks never finished the story of Chris Gaines. But Chris Gaines left us with this: “ If my dad was alive today, I think he would walk up to me and look me in the eye tell me that he’s proud of me. He would tell me that he still doesn't trust the business… and he’d tell me to get a haircut. ”
I'm just glad Chris Gaines didn't die of sexing.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies
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