Has Tool's Reclusive Front Man Maynard James Keenan Sold Out?

Tool and Puscifer lead singer Maynard James Keenan drew approximately 1,000 fans to the Whole Foods in Plano yesterday as he promoted his partial ownership in Arizona Stronghold Vineyards, signing bottles of wine from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Those seeking an autograph and a glimpse of Keenan were required to show up as early as possible to grab a numbered wine menu, which secured their place in line.

When I heard about Keenan's appearance a couple weeks ago, I jumped at the chance to get a good look at him considering I've put down 75 bucks for Tool and A Perfect Circle tickets plenty of times, only to see Keenan hide in the shadows near the back of the stage. And, heck, asking him a few questions would be the interview of a lifetime.

My obsession with the guy has even translated to his wine endeavors, as I celebrated my graduation from SMU with a bottle of 2005 Primer Paso from Caduceus Cellars, the winery associated with Merkin Vineyards, which Keenan owns.

An interview and a photo op were confirmed ahead of time with Keenan's publicist, Monica Seide. But when I arrived, things started falling apart quickly, and it had nothing to do with Seide. I never got to see Keenan, and even worse, I was left wondering if the man known for staying true to his art (releasing just four albums and one EP since forming Tool with Adam Jones 19 years ago) had finally sold out.

Despite my media badge, I was stopped at the door by security and told I needed clearance by Whole Foods, which was fine by me. After tracking down their public relations peeps, I was told no access would be granted.

I explained my pre-arranged deal with Seide, and they headed back inside to confirm. Again, no worries by me.

Suddenly, there was a brand spankin' new deal. No interview would be granted, and my photo session would be restricted to two minutes with no flash, and it needed to be from a "safe" distance.

I walked inside the store and was escorted to the room where Keenan was located. It's normally used for cooking classes, but it was cleared out to accommodate Keenan and his handlers. Fans, each of whom paid between $24.99 and $99.99 for bottles of wine, waited patiently outside before getting access to Keenan, who sat behind a closed-off area with wine boxes stacked up against a barricade.

I'm told the new deal is off, per Keenan's handlers. Now I'm pissed.

Seide sends a text message to the handler, letting him know what has been discussed. Still no dice.

I'm told, again through Whole Foods' public relations people, that Keenan's handler claims there isn't enough room for me to take pictures.

Can I take pictures after he's done? No.

Can I simply observe for a couple minutes? No.

Can I buy a bottle of wine and go through to get a quick glimpse? No.

This was all quite disappointing, but much more so when I ran into Stacie Clark, an account executive with Clear Channel Radio. She told me she had spent the morning with Keenan, who bought some time on 102.1 The Edge to promote the signing.

She said Keenan walked right into the building yesterday morning, sans handlers, and allowed them to take pictures. They even kidded around about his likeness to Moby. He hardly sounded like the ultra-reclusive type I was dealing with.

So as I digested that, along with the premise of Keenan's appearance in Plano (and subsequent appearances today in Austin, Thursday in Sugar Land and Friday in San Antonio), and began to wonder: Do the actions of Keenan the winemaker parallel those of Keenan the artist? Or, to put it plainly: Has he become a sellout?

For Keenan the artist, it's always been about the music. It's never been about the money. It's never been about the celebrity. It's never been about making albums for the sake of making albums.

For Keenan the winemaker, it's about using his celebrity to sell as many bottles of wine as possible, barricading himself into a small corner so that fans are forced to spend big bucks just to get a peek at him. People couldn't bring in cell phones, cameras or recorders, and he wouldn't sign anything that wasn't a newly-purchased bottle of wine.

Why? So he can prove to Whole Foods that he can move wine in large quantities with hopes that they'll carry his brand in their stores.

If that's not a sellout, I'm not sure what is.

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten