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A TOOL-Related Article

Publication: BAM

Date: November 1993

Transcribed by "St. Michael Reed" (mung@u.washington.edu)




 title: Sob Story - Tool Will Give You Something To Cry About
author: Scott Schalin


     "Do for others what you want them to do for you." -Matthew 7:12 
     "Do unto others what has been done to you." -"Prison Sex," from
                                                     Tool's Undertow
                                                     
        Little did Jesus' disciple realize when he wrote one of the
Bible's golden rules that his words would become the main thrust in a
song about sodomy.  "Prison Sex," which hides innocently between
tracks one and three on Tool's debut Zoo Entertainment LP, Undertow,
may be the most twisted piece of musical psychology since Jim Morrison
bayed for his mother's affections in "The End."

        "Prison Sex" opens with a brief back history. A boy is
sexually molested. By whom? We're not told. Why? Who ever knows. The
boy, now grown and incarcerated, appears justifiably angry at his lot
in life. Not content with self-loathing, however, the character
intends to make an angry point inside the posterior of an unwitting
cellmate. "Ree-lease in sodomy," sings the prisoner, played by
vocalist Maynard James Keenan. The music swirls around the prison cell
like a fly looking for a meal, full of piercing melody and pent-up
bursts of speed. Meanwhile, Keenan hums the "Do unto others..." phrase
like a brutal mantra. Finally, the violation is complete, and the
raped man lies motionless. "I have found some kind of temporary
sanity," Keenan sings through gritted teeth. Yet, as the moment of
satisfaction quickly fades and the sublime crescendo of guitars, bass,
and drums falls to eerie silence, there hands in the air the most
disturbing feeling that, despite what he'd hoped to achieve or
alleviate, the violator is still lost, still a prisoner, and,
ultimately, still fucked.

    Tool is not a band that takes life lightly. Nor are
they the latest in a long line of Johnny-whine-lately acts full of
adolescent rage because their parents refused to buy them Lucky
Charms. Tool is different. The band explores the darkest, most
disturbing aspects of human behavior, with the power and fascination
of a child feeling the cool edge of a razor for the first time. On
the first listen, one might lump the band in with that group of
heady, chunk-metal bands-Helmet, Paw, Tar, etc.--whose similar styles
and oneword monikers have spawned a genre that LA Times' Jonathon
Gold called "noun rock." Those who do, would be wrong. "We're a
verb," asserts Keenan.

    The band may be driven to action, but Tool is definitely not for the
short-attention-span thrash lovers who embrace a physical
confrontation through the latest Pantera CD or heavy poli-sci lessons
via Rage Against the Machine. Tool wants to get in your face, pick
your brain, and unearth the psychological dirt covering human
conduct. "I don't really like to put the word 'therapy' on our music,
because it makes you sound dysfunctional or something," said the
surprisingly soft-spoken singer. "But, if [Tool] takes the listener
beyond where they normally are, opens them up to new experiences and
new correlations they make with the life force in general, then fine.
But, we're not looking to become some kind of figurehead or martyr or
leader."

    In fact, the four members of Tool--including former Pygmy Love
Circus drummer Danny Carey, nimble guitarist Adam Jones, and bomb-
dropping bassist Paul D'Amour--created the band as a tool to unleash
aggression...legally. "It began as a self-satisfying thing for us,"
admits Carey. "Our music was a release and a vehicle to get out
whatever tensions we were feeling at that time."

    The music is not a noisy din of tinny snare drums and three-
chord guitar sputters; instead, Tool summons a variety of influences-
-a chunk of early Rush here, a bit of Sabbath there, a small slice of
King Crimson way out there, and a Marshall stackful of Metallica
everywhere. The sound gels in one ordered structure that "begins in
harmony, departs, and the comes back together," describes Keenan.

    "There's an attitude that's conveyed in Maynard's voice
that's very clear, distinctive, and melodic," explains Lou Maglia,
president of Tool's label, Zoo Entertainment. "Then, as if out of
nowhere, his voice suddenly gives in to this screaming rage like he's
ready to throw up from what's going on inside himself."

     "Contrasts," Keenan says simply of his style. "You need
contrasts."

     The band also like to run with the listener's preconceived
perceptions of music. "Disgustipated," the new album's closer, runs
15-and-a-half minutes long, and begins with a farmer performing a
sacrificial ceremony on a     bunch of harvested carrots. The cries
of the vegetables segue to the sound of chirping crickets for no less
than seven minutes. No words, no instruments, no humans; only those
creaking crickets, chirping their little heads off until their once-
comforting stridulations take on a violent, horrifying moan. ("That's
what it's all about," Keenan explains. "Seeing things differently,
seeing things how you never have before.") The final part of this
quiet epic is a brief phone message left by a serial killer who
describes, in lurid detail, the bloody plight of this latest victim.
Listen to the track in your car on a deserted highway and the chills
will remain throughout the drive home. The contrast of dark humor
with disturbing imagery makes the piece poignantly powerful. "There's
a lot of humor in our work that's lost on people," Keenan admits.
"Much of what we do is a big, 'Fuck you!' to the industry."

  The Hustler photo studios are located in Culver City, amid a
cavalcade of other entertainment production facilities. A mere
hundred yards from the set where child actor Fred Savage discovered
the joys of growing up on TV's The Wonder Years, Hustler magazine
continues to shoot naked men and women locked in jaw-breaking passion
for hours on end. The studio also doubles as a photo house for
another of publisher Larry Flynt's magazines, the music maverick RIP.
One day last summer, Tool was being shot for that magazine, when the
free-lance photographer asked Keenan to slip into a T-shirt with the
RIP logo emblazoned across the chest. Keenan refused. The
photographer's argumentations could be heard from the adjacent
studios as he insisted that wearing the RIP shirt would be good
publicity for the band. "I told him, 'Fuck no! There's no way in hell
I'm gonna wear your shit,'" Keenan recalls. "This isn't about good
publicity or selling fucking magazines; that's not what we want to
do. That would be dishonest."

    And honesty has thus far paid off well. Tool will soon end a
breakthrough year that began with the release of its debut LP
Undertow last April. (The six-song EP, Opiate, arrived in 1992.)
After several showcases in LA, the band nabbed the opening slot on
last summer's Lollapalooza extravaganza, and saw album sales slowly
increase until the first video, "Sober," became an across-the-board
success on MTV. Having aired on shows as disparate as Headbanger's
Ball, Alternative Nation, and the Beavis & Butt-head heaveorama, the
"Sober" clip has helped push Undertow near exalted gold status. The
"Sober" vignette depicts a highly stylized Claymation image of an old
man languishing in an industrial basement setting that makes
Eraserhead's apartment seem downright homey. The visuals, conceived
by guitarist Jones and directed by Fred Stuhr (who created Green
Jelly's groundbreaking clip, "Three Little Pigs"), have an almost
transcendent sense of despair. Against a soaring melody and steely
bottom end, the old man searches endlessly--in closets, behind doors,
and even inside rusted pipes filled with pulsing arteries--for something 
he never finds.

BAM: What's wrong with that little man?

Keenan: What's wrong with him?

BAM: Yeah. What's he looking for?

Keenan: That...place, I guess.

BAM: Will he ever find that place?

[Silence]

BAM: Maybe yes? Maybe no? Crapshoot?

Keenan: Crapshoot.


     Talking with Keenan is, itself, a crapshoot and an ode to
frustration. The 29-year-old singer speaks in muted tones that, by
comparison, make Lyle Lovett sound like the late Sam Kinison. Bill
Manspeaker, leader of goofball rockers Green Jelly and a former
roommate of Keenan's, likens the Tool singer to the surly Eddie
Haskell character on Leave It to Beaver. "He's always grumpy,"
Manspeaker laughs about Keenan's demeanor. "Not grumpy in a bad way,
but grumpy like one of the Seven Dwarves." Keenan disagrees with that
analogy, and admits his metaphysical glass can be either half-empty
or half-full, "depending on what I'm drinking." Realizing the
interview process is a necessary evil of his job, Keenan still
loathes the interrogation procedure.

BAM: Do you consider interviews the worst part of your "job"?

Keenan: Other than dealing with promoters, yes.

BAM: I take it you're not the kind of person who likes talking about 
himself.

Keenan: No. Never have been. So, to have to do that now on an almost
daily basis is really a struggle for me. 

BAM: I'll go easy on you. How long have you lived in LA? 

Keenan: Three years.

BAM: Your bio says you moved here from Michigan. 

Keenan: Actually, I moved here from Boston.

BAM: So, you were born in Michigan and then moved to Boston.

Keenan: No, I was born in Ohio.

BAM: You moved a lot.

Keenan: I lived all over the States. There's no way to pinpoint
exactly where I'm from. Just say I'm from the States, and I live in
LA now.

BAM: So, did your parents have a nomadic background because of a job
or something...?

Keenan: No, not necessarily. I just had a nomadic background myself.

BAM: Because of...

Keenan: Circumstances.

BAM: Anything you care to talk about?

Keenan: No.

BAM: What would've happened if you wouldn't have gotten out from
wherever you were born?

Keenan: Oh, I would've gotten out. I have no doubt about that. No
matter what, I would've gotten out.


	"In some cases, there've been people I've wanted to kill," says 
Tool drummer Carey, owner of a 12-gauge shotgun. "I've been so angry, I'd 
think about it for weeks. I'd think about it over and over in my head, 
imagining the job being done and imagining the scenario. To put that 
feeling into a song really makes me feel better."

	Tool's view of humanity is grim, to say the least. Ask Keenan if 
he hates people, and he responds, "Pretty much, I would have to say 
absolutely."

	Why?

	"Ignorance," he says and leaves it at that.

	Keenan discovered ignorance first-hand during a three year stint 
in the Army that taught him "a lot about the lowest common denominator for 
human behavior when trapped in closed quarters." Whatever the 
"Circumstances" that spurred his nomadic childhood, it's apparent that 
some of his military experiences bashed their way into Tool songs, 
including, one might guess, "Prison Sex." Dig...

	"You'd think that integration would end up breaking down 
barriers," Keenan recalls of his Army life, "but all it does is 
strengthen them. It's pretty sad. Then again, the people put in the room 
together are pretty much poisoned before they get there, so then they see 
a stereotype, and they hate that guy even more now... But [homosexuals] 
are humans and being gay is just the way they are. As soon as we figure 
out that this [homosexuality] is a part of some humans and has been an 
integral part of our society as long as we've been in existence, the 
sooner we can accept that and get on to evolving."

	In the summer of 1948, Ronald P. Vincent, a crop-spray 
contractor, moved from Kansas to Hollywood after his wife had been 
dismembered in a bizarre snow plough accident. Inspired buy the 
unrelenting pain he felt, Vincent penned his first and only book, A 
Joyful Guide to Lachrymology (Lachrymology means, "the study of crying"), 
a guide to feeding off pain and channeling the negative energy toward 
positive means, similar to the theories advanced in Freud's The Pleasure 
and Pain Principle. Vincent's book became a revelation in Tool guitarist 
Adam Jones's life and spurred his desire to form a musical act that could 
channel his own frustrations into art. All four band members have used 
the lachrymology principles as a sort of personal religion and 
assimilated much of its ideology into their songs. "The philosophy of 
that book is basically using your pain to a profit, rather than letting 
it drag you down," explains Carey. "A lot of people who can't master that 
art end up jumping off buildings."

	The book also, like many of Tool's songs, including the title 
track "Opiate" and "Sober," eschews the blind faith required by organized 
religion, dealing instead with what is here and now and tangible. "We're 
all searching for the same answers," says Carey. "Why we're here; where 
we're going; what's the point. It's the ones who claim to know the 
answers, the ones who get on their soapboxes and shout about it, however, 
that I think are the furthest from the truth, furthest from knowing the 
answers."

	The Scientology Garden Pavilion in Hollywood is the epitome of 
silent lucidity. It's creator, the late L. Ron Hubbard, author of the 
quasi-religious tome Dyanetics, made a profitable living proving that 
people's problems can only be overcome through his New Age ideologies. In 
the center of this placid oasis stands the Celebrity Center, a glass 
gazebo where, last May, Tool used the solemn surroundings as an ironic 
forum for its own dynamic principles of finding inner strength. Between 
songs, Keenan, staring first at the lush grounds paid for by devoted L. 
Ron followers and then into the eyes of his own audience, bayed into the 
mic like a sheep looking for his shepherd's gate. "Baaaaa! Baaaaa!" the 
singer bleated. The subordinate call could be heard as far away as 
Franklin Avenue, where the boulevard congregation bummed spare change. A 
minutes later, the band blasted into "Swamp Song," Keenan railing against 
the "belligerent fuckers" who keep the Everyman down. Jones shredded 
notes with his guitar, while bassist D'Amour and drummer Carey dropped 
smart bombs on the compound. The melody was so heavy, God, Himself, 
probably donned earplugs and considered finally fulfilling His promise of 
returning, if only to save His creation from itself.

	This is the setting where Tool thrives, away from interviews, 
promoters, and pesky photographers. When delivering its music, the band 
reveals a beneficial purpose, both to itself and its followers: Gaining 
strength through a common bond while opening the mind to new insights; 
precisely the principle on which great religions have been founded.


kabir/akhtar | kabir@t.d.n