Maynard James Keenan and Authentic Effort
Like any serious musician, Maynard James Keenan exorcises his demons and defends his beliefs through his art. This passion led him to create three popular heavy metal bands, each accentuating Keenan’s unique and distinctive sound, performance style, and visuals. The unapologetic eccentric also has interests that expand outside of music, all of which enrich his creativity. Keenan’s unorthodox musical style and his ability to intelligently express his unconventionality while living in accordance to a simple way of life is what really sets him apart from other musicians.
Keenan’s biography helps one understand his music. An unfortunate upbringing and a mother’s agony influenced Keenan’s musical career and his overall outlook on life. Keenan was born in Ohio on April 17, 1964 and was the only son of Judith Marie and Michael Loren Keenan. After his parents’ divorce, Keenan lived in an “intolerant and unworldly household,” where his intelligence and creative expression were stifled. As a young child, he had to watch his mother suffer from cerebral aneurisms that caused her severe pain and depression and left her paralyzed. Keenan used the unforgiving pain of her illness and her undying faith in the lord as inspiration for many of his lyrics. Keenan alludes to his mother in multiple Tool and A Perfect Circle songs, like “Wings for Marie (Part Two),” “Jimmy,” “The Patient,” and “Judith,” and even the 10,000 Days album title, named for his mother’s 27 years or 10,000 days of suffering. Keenan exposed his abhorrence and the pain of his mother’s illness through the condemnation of God in these “Judith” lyrics:
You’re such an inspiration for the ways / That I’ll never ever choose to be / Oh so many ways for me to show you / How the savior has abandoned you / Fuck your God / Your Lord and your Christ / He did this / Took all you had and / Left you this way / Still you pray, you never stray. . . . / Praise the one who left you / Broken down and paralyzed.
His mother’s suffering and her consumption by the lord’s promises disgusted Keenan because he observed both her pain and her faith and never understood why she would devote herself to a God that in his eyes deceived and abandoned her. Through this lens, Keenan adamantly offers alternatives to God in many of his other songs, which include exploring and evolving the true self and questioning authority. Keenan used his music as a catharsis for all the confusion and hurt he experienced as a child from his mother’s illness.
Keenan’s involvement in the military and early interest in music also shaped the individual style and beliefs of the artist. In the pursuit of his dreams to attend Kendall College of Art and Design, Keenan joined the United States Military. In an interview with Joe Rogan (see below), Keenan admits that he was an underachiever all throughout his early life. Nevertheless, in his time in the Army, he was distinguished among his peers and really felt that he was succeeding at something.
Although he felt accomplished, he did not find passion in what he was doing. After spending three years in the military, Keenan easily made the decision to not reenlist “because of his disillusionment with his colleagues’ values and because he knew West Point would not tolerate his dissidence.” He had an agenda of his own. The conformity of the Army drove him on a quest to find his originality and freedom of expression. This mentality led him to music because he enjoyed singing, crafting new material for songs, and it seemed to be the one outlet that awakened his artistic passions and talents. He exercised these talents by singing for a few less known bands like the TexA.N.S. and Children of the Anachronistic Dynasty. These connections eventually manifested into the forming of Tool.
Tool undeniably made Keenan, but Keenan also made Tool the sensation it is today. Tool was the catalyst in the conception of the artist’s full potential. It led him to create an unforgettable style and the life he leads today. The band was created in 1990. By coincidence, guitarist Adam Jones heard a demo tape with Keenan’s vocals. He invited Keenan to jam with him, and that caught the attention of Danny Carey, the drummer, and the bassist Paul D’Amour (later replaced by Justin Chancellor).
The band instantly found commonalities and had the same ideas of where they wanted the band to go. Keenan explained the name “Tool” as, “We are . . . your tool; use us as a catalyst in your process of finding out whatever it is you need to find out, or whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.” Early on, the band was more concerned with their music and meaning than their image, which stemmed from Keenan’s own beliefs. He hated how rock stars were being “worshipped” and cared more about their images rather than the content of their music. Keenan sculpted Tool from his intrinsic beliefs of producing music for the evolution of their listeners and of themselves, and not just for the unoriginal pursuit of money and fame.
The early years of Tool allowed Keenan and the band members to express their anger, discontent with the world, and inner demons. As the band and Keenan himself progressed, the music became more mature and intellectual. The music still had the harsh guitar riffs and the heavy metal sound, but the lyrics and their overall demeanor changed. Keenan and the other members wrote music that was philosophical and spiritual in nature: “specific subjects range from organized religion in ‘Opiate’, to evolution and Jungian psychology in ‘Forty-Six & 2’ and transcendence in ‘Lateralus.’” The band’s music is more than just a collection of catchy songs that hopes to become popular through naive teenyboppers. It directly connects to the human experience and spiritual growth, and that is what Keenan strives for in all of his creations. One of the main purposes of “Keenan’s lyrics for Tool involves a desire to connect with the listeners on a personal level; to encourage them to look within themselves for self-identity, understanding and reflection.” Tool ultimately empowered Keenan to convey his innate beliefs through producing quality and mystifying music.
Keenan’s fascination with the success of Tool propelled him into pursuing new outlets for music and creating and founding A Perfect Circle and Pucifer. Both of these projects allowed Keenan to explore himself further and express his creativity in new ways. Tool is high caliber and requires immense attention, thought, and patience from the artist. A Perfect Circle and Pucifer, however, allow Keenan to improvise and share aspects of himself he wouldn’t be able to in Tool. He gets to add his artistic influence to each band, ranging from the performance style to the album covers. Pucifer reveals Keenan’s humor and wit while A Perfect Circle demonstrates a more delicate side of the musician. These side projects have also given him the opportunity to work with artists like Milla Jovovich (actress) and Tim Alexander (Primus drummer) and play around with new sounds and techniques. Each band is an individual expression of Keenan himself, and this is what makes him an enigma. Nobody really knows where his capabilities and creativity end.
Tool also paved the way for Keenan to freely express himself through his image, performance styles and inimitable visuals. In his concerts he wears wigs, bras, hospital gowns, masks, and sometime paints his body different colors. When he performs he is whatever he wants to be. In contrast to his on stage persona, he is the jeans and t-shirt kind of guy and wouldn’t stand out in a crowd of people, and that’s the way he prefers. Those who know the artist say that he’s simple, reserved, and humble. Even with these eclectic costumes, Keenan still avoids the spotlight, literally. In live performances, Keenan “has often been known to be situated on a platform towards the rear of the stage, without a spotlight, facing the backdrop rather than the audience.” He does this because he “feels comfortable in the shadows” and wants to emphasize the emotional journeys he has had personally with each song he sings. The graphic performances and costumes are personal expressions of his own inner demons and not necessarily for the shock-value or obvious desire for fame. Even in their music videos, Keenan and the band choose personal anonymity. Tool’s videos never show the artists themselves. They prefer to highlight the music through conceptual and imaginative cinema, like Claymation, animation, and computer-generated imaging (CGI). This keeps them out of the spotlight and more focused on the unique visual aspect of the band. Keenan has never valued stardom or feeding his ego, and prefers to push the music to the forefront.
Keenan has invented himself through new passions that he has discovered over the years. One of the most interesting hobbies that Keenan has is winemaking. Keenan owns Merkin Vineyards in Arizona and has his own brand of wine named Caduceus Cellars. Keenan isn’t the type of guy who just puts his name on the wine and sells it. He knows his business from the inside out. He manages the whole operation from going out into the vineyard and harvesting the grapes himself all the way to the design of each bottle. Keenan puts Keenan into everything he does, not just for material benefits or recognition, but because it’s what truly feeds his desires and creativity.
In addition to winemaking, Keenan also enjoys the comedic world. He expresses his humor through acting and April fool’s pranks. He’s appeared in a few minor roles which included playing a dog walker in Crank: High Voltage and a red-neck drunk in his music video for Pucifer. Keenan has also reportedly said to have pulled April fool’s jokes on his fans on Tool’s website, like telling them that he’s found Jesus and that the band got into a tour bus accident. All of this concerned fans, but Keenan just laughed. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and likes to joke, which is a breath of fresh air when compared to most of the rest of the entertainment industry.
Maynard James Keenan cannot and will not be defined. His profound beliefs and individual style have resonated with fans around the world. He lives in accordance with his humbling beginnings, the words in his own lyrics, and the passions that drive his creativity. Keenan stands alone among his musical peers in that he took a chance in making his audience the beneficiaries of his musical talent instead of exploiting his gift for fame and monetary value. There is a reason why all of Keenan’s ventures have been so successful; it is because he has discovered his authenticity and originality in a world of full copycats.