Parting Shots: Tool’s Maynard James Keenan
by Mike Greenhaus on January 23, 2017
“I wanted to draw a map for my children so they would have a better understanding of my choices,” Maynard James Keenan says of A Perfect Union of Contrary Things, the official biography of his life written with longtime friend Sarah Jensen. “I approached Sarah because of her familiarity with some of the places where I made those choices and because I could trust her to get my journey right.”
Far from a surface-level look at Keenan’s time with his progressive-metal band Tool, the rock supergroup A Perfect Circle or his “multimedia cabaret troupe” Puscifer, A Perfect Union of Contrary Things focuses on Keenan’s life outside the spotlight—from his early days in Ohio and Michigan to his stint in the Army and his close relationship with his mother. Jensen’s third-person narrative weaves in direct quotes from Keenan and a variety of friends and associates, connecting the dots between the singer’s not-so-divergent interests in songwriting, spirituality and winemaking. (He currently owns Caduceus Cellars in Jermone, Ariz.) “New perspectives will always adjust your trajectory,” Keenan says of his diverse projects. “Our job as a storyteller is to observe, interpret and report. New information means the story adjusts. Life is change in the face of chaos.”
What led you to look back on your life story at this point in your career?
When you’re closer to not being here than you are to having arrived, you take stock—where you were, where you’re going— and that’s important, especially for my children. A lot of things out there are misconceptions or not necessarily the full story. It was important to write it down and get it right. I could’ve gone through my agency and found a ghostwriter who would take his percentage and walk away anonymously. But I wasn’t sure that they would be able to truly understand my work ethic and Midwestern mentality. Sarah understands that. She’s my friend Kjiirt’s older sister, and a writer.
Though A Perfect Union touches on Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer, much of the book is dedicated to your early life and time away from the rock world. How conscious was that decision?
The long answer: Michael Jordan didn’t just step onto the Chicago Bulls court never having played basketball before. Edgar Allan Poe had extensive life experiences before writing “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Ronda Rousey spent thousands and thousands of hours training and competing before her first appearance in the Octagon. We are living in the “Age of Entitlement,” and the dawning of the “Age of Idiocrasy.” Few truly understand the work that goes into the path toward mastership. Although luck and timing are huge factors in one’s success, without the solid foundation that took years or even decades to establish, that success is usually not sustainable. And that work toward mastership never ends. There are always ways to improve and build upon your chosen crafts. This was about going from before my birth and looking forward at a plan beyond the supposed ending of the book. Those pieces were all important. There was a lot we didn’t include, of course. There are many parallel stories that could be pursued at another time. As the words were coming out of my mouth, we just said, “OK, let’s follow this storyline.”
While recounting your religious journey, you talk about finding a congregation that wasn’t full of “idol worshipers.” Has the desire to nurture a similar community of engaged fans played a role in your decision to pursue multiple musical projects simultaneously?
All my projects are about expressing a relationship, a place, a moment, an idea. Everything we create stems from one or more of these starting points. Just in general, spirituality is a great thing. You have to balance it with your feet on the ground, and that’s why agricultural endeavors ground you. You plant this thing and as it grows, you’re witnessing magic. You have to get up in the morning and get rid of the weeds and make sure you’re present and conscious with it. Along with the magic, there comes the response and that’s important. There’s your balance.
While describing your decision to open a vineyard, you admit that you were feeling unbalanced by only having Tool and A Perfect Circle as creative outlets. How did the wine world restore this balance and bring you into the “fourth dimension” you talk about?
Those who have wanderlust as their core will tell wide-eyed tales of inspirational, faraway places. As a vigneron, my goal is to tell that story in a glass. My favorite wines are those that speak clearly about a place and a time.
After World War I and II, we gave all our power away. We no longer grow our own food and are beholden to a larger company who promises that they’re going to take care of us. Soup comes frozen in cans, and you send your kids off to a school that looks dangerously like a factory job, as far as the timing and breaks. You’re basically being trained to rely on some benevolent higher power. It turns into your life. That’s why we’ve seen a resurgence of the farm-to-table movement— chefs showing you how to grow these things yourself.
Once you’ve scratched the surface of planting something and watching it grow, it changes something in you. It’s almost a freedom, a gateway. Unlike hops or carrots, it takes the vine a long time to nurture and coax that wine out of the ground. It’s a commitment—that presence and consciousness. If others around you are paying attention, they will recognize that commitment and they can begin their parallel endeavors. You start to realize these dictators, presidents don’t matter. We’re helping each other.
You namecheck Joni Mitchell in A Perfect Union of Contrary Things. How did she inform your music?
Joni considers herself a painter first and foremost. She expresses in multiple mediums. That has been an inspiration. For me to call myself an artist can be perceived as a little pompous, but I can call her an artist. She’s somebody who was dismissed for years— people just think of her as another flower-wearing hippie, but if you actually dive into the structure of what she did, you start to realize the breadth and depth of her creative force. Also being somebody, never mind a woman, who wrote their own material back then— Elvis barely wrote anything. She was not only a composer but also an engineer on a few of her records.
In your book, you talk about the universal patterns and designs of “sacred geometry.” How has this concept influenced your work?
Sacred geometry is one of an infinite number of ways that we attempt to express or describe our reality. Whether it’s winemaking, cooking, writing, martial arts and so on. It’s a language I somewhat understand, and one of many I have attempted to implement into my art