I used to hate TOOL.
I love plenty of other bands that either influence TOOL, or are influenced by TOOL. It’s not a matter taste – I was afraid.
Summer of 1995:
My band, Shades of Sound, is rehearsing in a spare bedroom at our singer’s parent’s house. This same singer, Jack, had introduced me to several new bands that I quickly loved, including The Dave Matthews Band, LIVE, and Blues Traveler. His brother Ben had tastes – both in life and music – that ventured past what this good Mormon boy was accustomed to. Ben left for college and left a few CDs behind in the room we had turned into our rehearsal space. One day in the middle of practice, I noticed a CD with it’s liner notes out. It was TOOL’s 1992 release, “Opiate”. The cover art was menacing yet intriguing. Curious about this dark and foreboding band, I began thumbing through the booklet and liner notes. My sensibilities were shocked by a depiction of someone having sex with a corpse. I dropped the CD and filed TOOL under “evil and depraved”, never to be considered again.
On many occasions over the years, people suggested that I should listen to more TOOL. “Nah, it’s not my thing”, and I’d leave it at that. I was not going to listen to necromancers, no matter how talented they are.
I once heard Maynard James Keenan say that he hopes that people do creative things when listening to his music. I blew it off as a pretentious platitude at the time. This brooding, cocky, enigmatic frontman was going to be a tough sell for me.
I’m not really sure what to tell you about how that concern faded during the intervening years. I’m sure it had something to do with my own darkening sense of humor and willingness to overlook a few “quirks” here and there in exchange for the promise of a good adventure (a pattern that pervaded my dating life through most of my 30’s)
For this story it’s enough to say that I eventually gave TOOL’s music a chance, and soon after discovered A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer – all bands that Maynard James Keenan does vocals for. I fell into various levels of like, love, and admiration for MJK’s work with these three bands. Once I started listening more to Puscifer, I started to understand what an understated comedic genius Maynard is, and took more of an interest in him as a person.
By the time I got around to reading / listening to this book, I have seen Maynard perform live four times, between Puscifer, A Perfect Circle, and TOOL shows. The day TOOL’s catalog came online in Spotify was like Christmas morning for me.
I came to this book with one final misconception: that TOOL and MJK were inherently dark in nature. I don’t say that in a pejorative way, I’m down with my darkness, blah blah blah, etc etc… But I perceived that as their place of creative origin.
I found Maynard to be a guy who gives a damn. He cares about doing things well. He reminds me of Grandpa Johnson who taught me, “If something is worth doing at all, it’s worth doing right the first time”. The book unfolded his youth and formative teen years, and detailed the early conversations and jam sessions that would spawn TOOL. I found that TOOL’s music is possessed of far more light than I heard before – many of their songs musing over the importance of living authentically, living consciously, being present to the beauty of this moment, and being willing to step into one’s shadow and come out the other side a changed and evolved being. Everything surrounding TOOL – the other band mates, the art, the stage craft, recording, etc – are all rooted in an ethos of doing something as well and as consciously as you possibly can.
Here’s why I came to adore the book:
One of my biggest insecurities as a creative person is that I’m hyper aware of how earnest and humorless I can be – and yet – I have a notion of comedy in my mind at all times. I grew up with countless voices discounting my ideas and my sensibilities.
I found a kindred spirit in Maynard James Keenan. From the beginning, MJK was convinced that rock music and comedy had a role to play together, but no would-be alchemists had really cracked the code yet. The book details his creative journey and how comedy eventually began seeping into his music. Though he’s not a conventionally “funny guy” in interviews or on stage, he has a genius instinct and taste in comedy & satire. I related to him because I’ve always had a deep love of comedy and have felt that comedy can / should be interwoven into all of my work. That’s been a hard journey, one full of self doubt and creative messes. It feels good to see someone else emerge successfully. If he can do it, then so can I.
Yes. Maynard James Keenan gives credit where credit is due, holds integrity to the creative process and is fueled by his willingness to believe that he might be able to create something extraordinary.
I listened to the Audiobook version on Audible during my May 2020 Southern Utah motorcycle trip. Clearly, I loved the content of the book. In terms of production – I do have a critique. The book is read by an excellent narrator 95% of the time. Every now and then, the narrator drops out and Maynard reads a few sentences of the text. There was no apparent rhyme or reason as to when and why he would narrate. The majority narrator’s voice was clear and very easy to follow. Maynard, on the other hand, was very hard to hear. He would speak almost under his breath, with very little inflection and ghostly diction. I found myself having to turn the volume up very loud to make out what MJK was saying, only to be blasted out when the regular narrator returned 3 sentences later.
I do not envy the producer and recording engineer who were tasked with telling Maynard James Keenan that he wasn’t doing a good job of speaking into a microphone.
Regardless – the content was fantastic, a must for any casual to serious fan of TOOL, A Perfect Circle, or Puscifer.
Oh, and about that corpse sex thing?
it was fake.