Feature Stories

Tool Frontman Maynard James Keenan Opens Up About His Autobiography Before a Dallas Appearance

Maynard James Keenan — a musician, vintner and enigma — just added “bestselling author” to his impressive list of titles and occupations.

His autobiography, A Perfect Union of Contrary Things, debuted at No. 10 on The New York Times' best sellers list, long before the final stop of his book tour at the Texas Theatre on Nov. 27. There, the Tool and A Perfect Circle frontman will discuss his genesis with fans and event moderator Steven Drozd, of Flaming Lips fame.

The book, which Keenan co-wrote with friend and writer Sarah Jensen, delves deeper than your average self-aggrandizing rock-star origin story. Written in a style more befitting a biography of a Roman senator than the man who released an album called “V” Is for Vagina, Keenan says this book is about laying out the circumstances that led him to the present.

“I just felt that turning 50 was a huge piece and there’s a lot that goes on with the story, a lot more than people know,” Keenan tells the Dallas Observer. “Having two children, I’d like to put those things down because none of this stuff is actually in print. It’s all in my head, so if something happens to me there’s no record of any of those things, so for my children, for my family, I needed some kind of a record for them to know where they come from.”

Jensen and Keenan wrote the book based on weekly conversations over the course of years. Keenan says this eased the stress of producing his first long-form prose. “My conversations are mumbles and disjointed conversations that are connected over decades rather than a concise paragraph," he says. "The idea of writing an actual book was pretty daunting,” he says.

Jensen, having known Keenan since his teens, condensed their rambling talks into a flowing historical-narrative, with periodic snippets of Keenan’s own voice as he clarifies his feelings or leads the readers down branching rabbit trails. Alternating between the borderline baroque passages of Jensen’s organization of history with Keenan’s conversational tone displays a kind of parallel between the self-observed artist and the public figure of Maynard James Keenan.

“The basic approach that we took was to make it seem like somebody else telling a story, rather than a blow-by-blow autobiography where it’s me speaking at you through text,” Keenan says. “Part of this book is in a way a path of understanding that no circumstances are necessarily negative and end-all. They’re all a learning experience and you learn from it and you go forward and you are going to be okay.”

This story starts with Keenan’s early childhood and adolescence, moving though his time in the military, art school and working in pet stores all before ever mentioning the mainstream successes. The small moments made during his upbringing are far more important topics to discuss for Keenan.

“When you’re actually standing there having to make that decision and you don’t have the benefit of a crystal ball it’s daunting,” Keenan said. “People forget that there was something that came before to get you to those places and a lot of that is trust, in yourself, in your experience and your intuition. I guess I kind of learned by looking back that that has been my strength for quite a while, that inner voice, trusting it.”

The book that just may be more for Keenan himself than the reader. It acts as a type of therapy for the private rock star, and Keenan seems to have had this motive in mind. Yet his disinterest in using the book to display closeted skeletons and Jensen’s lack of name recognition made it difficult to find a publisher willing to back such an ambitious take on an autobiography. 
“I forget that when you’re trying to do something different, generally speaking, people just want the easy path so they can’t even get their head around something that’s outside the box, so you’re always going to reach opposition with people that don’t get it because they haven’t been wired to get it,” Keenan said. “I’m not discouraged by naysayers or people that don’t get it, if they could they would but they don’t, so I have to do it.”

It would have been easy to call his agent, find a ghost writer and slap his photo and name on the cover, but Keenan said that’s not the function of an artist. A Perfect Union of Contrary Things is just that. A celebrity autobiography that cuts out the distraction of what Keenan called the “boring dark shit from the story,” that doesn’t focus on fame for fame’s sake and does not stand still.

“I think that at the end of the day you’re on your own path and you find that balance between making sure that you’re community oriented and people are benefiting from your decisions and your expressions, but that can’t slow you down, that can’t be the only reason you’re doing it unless you’re in community service,” Keenan says. “As an artist, you have to follow your vision to whatever end you meet; it’s kind of your job.”
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Nicholas Bostick is a national award-winning writer and former student journalist. He's written for the Dallas Observer since 2014, when he started as an intern, and has been published on Pegasus News, dallasnews.com and Relieved, among other publications. Nick enjoys writing about everything from concerts to cobblers and learns a little more with every article.
Contact: Nicholas Bostick