Book Review: A Perfect Union of Contrary Things By Maynard James Keenan and Sarah Jensen: Tool frontman offers illuminating snapshots of his past in new autobiography.
When one thinks “enigmatic rock star,” one of the first that comes to mind is Maynard James Keenan. The frontman of Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer has seemingly endless wellspring of creativity, even if he takes his sweet time between projects. But keep in mind he also runs his own winery in the most hands-on way possible.
For those wanting to pierce the veil of this oft inscrutable performer, you’re in luck, The new book A Perfect Union of Contrary Things offers a peek behind the curtain on just what makes Keenan tick.
The biography is fittingly unorthodox: rather than the typical first person account of his life, Keenan has biographer Sarah Jensen chronicle his journey, with Keenan providing copious quotes.
Beginning with his childhood, Jensen paints a picture of a person with an unusual amount of self-reliance, even from such a young age. From his midwest childhood caring for his mother Judith after she has a massive stroke, to relocating to Michigan to be with his estranged father, Keenan has one of the most unusual pedigrees for a rock star. An award high school track runner and wrestler, followed by a stint in military school, Keenan wasn’t exactly the shy wallflower/scattered free spirit who bloomed into a rock titan, but a confident and popular student, always aiming to help others reach their potential.
This concept of building up ones self while helping others is a theme throughout A Perfect Union of Contrary Things, from empowering A Perfect Circle founder Billy Howardel to bring his project to fruition, to goading his Tool bandmates to victory, to his community work in his adopted home of Jerome, Arizona to help build their economy through wine-making, a miraculous feat given the unforgiving desert environment.
His work ethic is perhaps the most discussed and resonant element of the book. No matter the project, being his early work in a pet store, his decision to hike from Boston to Michigan just to prove he could (“on some level, I knew it was about my journey toward something even larger”), or his hyper-focused dedication to music, jujitsu and even stand-up comedy, Keenan has a seemingly endless reserve of ambition and the patience and dedication to pull it off.
Keenan’s factoids are corroborated and expanded upon by other figures in A Perfect Union, from childhood friends to musical peers like Tom Morello and Tori Amos, we get a picture of an artist more sensitive and empathic than his curmudgeonly demeanor often projects. His sense of mysticism is also documented, from his vision quest in a Native American sweat lodge to an obsession with sacred geometry and some incredibly accurate psychic encounters:“If you don’t believe in magic, your art probably sucks.” We even learn of his brief dalliance with rock and roll decadence, and his transition to fatherhood and domesticity.
For those wanting an in-depth nuts and bolts account of Keenan’s creative process and lyrical content, A Perfect Union of Contrary Things offers more hints than intensive excavation, but taken as a whole, the book is an impressive and engrossing snapshot of an artist hard to peg down. We may never get the full unabridged life of Maynard James Keenan, but one can’t help be impressed and illuminated by what he and Jensen reveal.
Purchase A Perfect Union of Contrary Things on Amazon.