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The Tool Page: An Article


Date: October, 2001

Transcribed by
Scott Bihorel (

 title: Interview with Maynard James Keenan
author: Christopher diCarlo

Interview with Maynard James Keenan
October 31, 2001

NOTE: Some of the quotations of Maynard are verbatim but 
most are paraphrased in order to maintain consistency and 
edit out redundancies. 

Tool's manager (Rick) contacted me at my home at 8:30 pm 
on Halloween night. The band was getting ready to perform in 
San Diego. He handed the phone over to Maynard James 
Keenan and we had a conversation which lasted about 75 
minutes. What follows is the content of that conversation.

First of all, I'd like to thank you for this interview .

MK: "You're welcome".

Do you mind if I record our conversation?

MK: "Not as long as it is for referential use only and not for 

Is there anything you care to know about me before we 

MK: "Sure".

I explained to him that I taught philosophy at the University 
of Guelph-courses in Introductory Philosophy, Philosophy of 
Medicine, and Critical Thinking. And I am also a Visiting 
Scholar at Harvard University working on a book in cognitive 

MK: "Sounds like you have your plate full".

I'm going to ask you some questions about your lyrics and 
we'll see what type of tangents those will take us on.

MK: "OK".

I'll start with your first two albums Opiate and Undertow. The 
title of the first album I take it, is a reference to the Marx 
and Engels line 'Religion is the opiate of the masses?'

MK: "Yes, that's right".

Based on this theme of religion, you seem to have a rather 
scathing view of Christianity e.g.
1. In "Sober" Jesus won't you fucking whistle..."
2. In "Disgustipated" you assume the persona of a reverend
3. And in "Opiate" you state that God speaks through you 
and has needs and so the two desire rape: "Jesus Christ why 
don't you come save my life now, open my eyes and blind 
me with your light and your lies".

MK: "My views against Christianity or religion in general are 
directed towards the 'middle men'-those who are in power 
and use religion as a market force by which to manipulate 
human beings for their own personal gain. The middle men 
taint any purity of spirituality that could result from genuine 
religious/mystical experiences". 

Maynard made reference to the Church of Jerusalem and 
what Christ himself was probably facing in human figures 
such as Caiaphas and Annas-powerful leaders of the church 
at that time and who felt threatened by new thinking. 
Maynard is against the idea of hypocrisy in organized religion-
the Tammy Faye Baker and Jimmy Swaggert types and all 
others who use their views as a tool for power, manipulation, 
and the accumulation of wealth and material gain-the exact 
things of which Christianity is opposed. So it is the element of 
being ingenuine, insincere, and hypocritical to the point of 
using a belief system as a means for entirely secular ends. 

Were there personal experiences in your life in which you 
witnessed first account cases of hypocrisy in Christianity?

MK: "I was raised a Southern Baptist". I witnessed first-hand 
the hypocrisy of this particular form of Christianity. But it was 
a gradual thing. As I got older, I began to see people 
claiming one set of beliefs and acting in ways which directly 
opposed these views".

My next question is going to deal with the Philosophy of Art. I 
have always been interested in the line between an artist's 
intention and an observer's interpretation. How flexible are 
you with the interpretations of your lyrics and to what extent 
do you have specific intentions in your songs?

MK: "There are diverse ways in which people can interpret art 
and lyrics and draw them into their own experiences. Our 
lyrics are heavily layered".

Maynard also said that people cannot simply attach any 
meaning they like to his lyrics. For example, taking the 
meaning of any particular song to be a cryptic message 
incorporating Nazi-like hatred against a particular group, is 
not acceptable. One of the main purposes of the lyric content 
in Tool's songs involves a personal connection on a level in 
which people are on quests for self-identity, understanding 
and reflection. Maynard describes the process of music 
creation, touring, and performing as 'spiritual' insofar as it 
deals honestly with exploring human identity, capacity, and 

MK: "This means different things to different people". 

Tool will never proselytise to the point of saying: "This is THE 
way in which you are to recognize various aspects of yourself 
as being a part of your identity and coming to understand 
who you are and what you are and how you relate to this 

So Maynard is not about to preach any definitive 
methodology for interpreting their lyrics but, for those who do 
understand that the lyrics have meanings at one intended 
level which can be interpreted by various people in various 
ways to relate those to personal self-reflection, those are 
commonalities which he does encourage.

The members of Tool generally shun human pretense and 
arrogance. This is stated explicitly in some of their lyrics, and 
it is one of the reasons I had a feeling Maynard would want 
to discuss these ideas with someone like me whom he has 
never met nor knows.

A question about ethics. In the song "Jerk-Off" you mention 
several tenets of ethical theory. In one case you 
state: "Consequences dictate our course of action and it 
doesn't matter what's right. It's only wrong if you get caught. 
If consequences dictate my course of action I should play 
God and shoot you myself. I'm very tired of waiting"

I mentioned to Maynard that Consequentialism is one of the 
main schools of thought in ethical theory. It states that 
humans need to focus on the effects of actions in order to 
determine whether or not they are good/bad, right/wrong, 
etc. I asked him if he was aware of this to which he 
replied: "No, I'm not terribly literate. I like to look into things 
and read up on them when I can". Most members of Tool 
have had university educations, but they are pretty well 
dilettantes when it comes to academic professionalism. And 
they acknowledge this without pretense. They have interests 
in various fields of study e.g. Egyptology, numerology, the 
occult, etc., and the take from these that which they find 
interesting and relevant to their own lives. They use this 
information in order to gain a better understanding of the 
world and their place in it, but also, to have fun and laugh 
about the entire process. Some of the things that struck me 
about Maynard's (and Tool's) take on lie are the aspects of 
humility, reverence, and humour (particularly, satire). 

When they talk about a spiritual adventure or endeavour, 
they are referring to how they can grow as human beings 
trying to expand their awareness of themselves within a 
particular world. So I mentioned the great English philosopher 
Jeremy Bentham (for whom my eldest son is named), who 
was a founding member of University College London (for 
those who could not afford Oxford or Cambridge) and who 
donated his body to medical science in the early part of the 
nineteenth century (to help discourage grave-robbery and to 
convince others to do the same). Afterwards, as a condition 
of his will, Bentham's skeleton and head were stuffed and his 
remains preserved in a glass case (which one can still visit 
today). Bentham was the father of a consequentialist ethical 
theory called Utilitarianism (act in order to produce the 
greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of 
people). This underlies most current states of democracy and 
the ways in which politics and legislative assemblies function 

I mentioned as well, a point which interested Maynard. 
Implicit in their lyrics from 'Jerk-Off' was a reference to the 
moral of a parable from Plato's Republic called the 'Ring of 
Gyges'. In the Republic, Socrates and friends are discussing 
the nature of justice. What is a just person? One of the 
speakers named Glaucon tells the story of Gyges. Basically, 
the story goes like this: After an earthquake in the 
countryside, Gyges, a shepherd of Lydia, discovers a chasm 
beneath the earth which houses the tomb of a corpse wearing 
nothing but a gold ring. Gyges takes the ring and, while 
wearing it at the local meeting of shepherds, turns the setting 
of the ring towards the inside of his hand. When he does so, 
he becomes invisible. When the setting is turned back, he 
becomes visible again. Glaucon asks us now to imagine two 
such rings: one is given to a just person, the other is given to 
an unjust person. Now although entirely fictional, Glaucon's 
point is a good one. And that is, since neither could be 
caught in acts such as stealing, voyeurism, rape, etc., 
because of their cloak of invisibility, neither would be just. It 
is only the veneer of what we have invented through culture 
which forces us to act in civilized ways. Once we can 'get away' 
with something without the fear of being caught, we will most 
certainly do it. And Maynard's lyrics "It doesn't matter what's 
right, it's only wrong if you get caught", echoes the very 
sentiment of this parable. 

At this point, Maynard said: "Information, itself, is pure. Take 
a knife, for example. You can use it to cut up vegetables, 
meat, butter your bread, etc. Or you can use it as a weapon. 
The way in which information exists in its many forms leaves 
for us the decision as to how it is we wish to use it. 
Information itself has a certain purity. Humans have 
intentionality. It's humans who decide how it is they wish to 
behave. Information and technology are pure" [or what I 
referred to as amoral-that is, morality-the 
rightness/wrongness of actions-cannot take place until 
humans decide how they wish to use them]. 

I added the example of uranium as an analogy to his purity 
of information idea. That is, we can dig up uranium from the 
earth, and use it in rod bundles in nuclear reactors to produce 
electricity. If, as a result of this, we have some leftover 
Plutonium, which could mutate our DNA in horrific ways, 
should there be an accident, then the purity of Uranium 
becomes used in an intentional way. But the effects have 
been brought about by us, not the Uranium. 

MK: "Once humans manipulate information, resources, and 
technology, they can take on value-laden contexts". 

Perhaps the most insightful thing Maynard said during our 
Every time I spoke about Maynard's lyric content which has 
layers of application from the point of intentionality at his 
level to the various ways they are interpreted by his audience 
to the ways in which I refer to them in classes, and can 
understand them at the level of a philosophy professor, his 
response was:

MK: "There must be something in common with what we're 
doing in Tool which has brought you and I to this point in our 
lives where we are having this conversation". 

I think he's right about this because there does seem to be a 
commonality in his lyric content with how I view the world in 
some respects, how my students view the world, how the 
other listeners view the world, and so on. What Maynard says 
in his lyrics echoes the purity of information theme we 
discussed earlier. "You can choose to use a knife in many 

Do you see a moral relativism underlying societal activity 
today? Or do you think there are genuine rules of behaviour 
that are universally good or bad?

MK: "No. I don't see any clear rules right now. For example, 
think of alcoholism. I have a number of friends who are 
simply incapacitated because of alcohol. Yet you go to 
England, and there will be people with the same level of 
consumption. But it's a way of life, you just get up for your 
job. It's a cultural difference".

I then posed a philosophical thought experiment to him:

Imagine for a moment that a time machine has been 
invented in which you can go back in time. The machine is 
only suited for Maynard James Keenan's DNA structure. You 
will be sent back to 1938 Germany in which there will be a 
window of time that will allow you to kill Adolf Hitler. You 
would then get back in the time machine and come back to 
the present. Are you going to do it?

MK: "I'm not sure about this notion of a time machine. 
You're stating what is currently impossible".

I explained that this was one of the great things about 
philosophy and thought experiments i.e. scenarios can be 
imagined in order to find out more about who you are and 
what you believe. These 'What ifs...' are another form for self-
exploration. Maynard very much appreciated this idea and I 
asked him again whether or not he would kill Hitler.

MK: "I would certainly go back and observe".

I again mentioned consequentialism to him and introduced a 
calculus for behaviour: By killing one man, you could 
potentially save millions of lives. There's no guarantee to this 
of course. But Hitler had the charisma, the cult of personality 
to lead a nation to accept Nazi ideals. And perhaps by taking 
him out of the equation early on, it may have thwarted or at 
least stalled the full effects of Nazism. Do you kill Hitler?

MK: "Yea, I'd take him out. I'd kill one man to save millions".

Then next questions deal with "Aenema" and "Lateralus".

I have on my office door the lyrics to "Stinkfist" because I 
have viewed this as a very telling statement in reference to 
what I have called the "Age of Immediacy". That is, we want 
input/information/pleasure, etc., quicker, bigger, better. We 
grow bored quickly and need more now. And so the metaphor 
of a gradual increase of larger sized objects shoved up a 
particular human cavity is quite appropriate to express our 

Do you think North Americans have finally been reached in 
some way by the events of September 11? Has the fist finally 
been shoved up deep enough to wake us up and make us 
realize that we are not watching a movie anymore?

MK: "Yes, I would say the people who have been touched 
most are the families of the victims. But I'm not so sure 
about the guys in Iowa, Montana, or Arizona who get there 
information filtered through CNN. Because to them, 
information is coming in a very filtered way, thick with 

I mentioned that this was interesting because when I had saw 
them at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, during their first 
song, "The Grudge", someone threw an American flag onto 
the stage. Immediately, the bassist, Justin Chancellor, 
kicked the flag off to the side where a roadie grabbed it and 
took it off stage.

MK: "Yea, I wanted to piss on it. The audacity that some 
people would assume that we're going to wave the flag and 
turn what we believe is a spiritual endeavour focussing on 
self-reflection and discovery into some kind of cheesy 
American propagandist movement, was the furthest thing 
from our minds".

I commended Maynard for this artistic resolution. You guys 
are entertainers. You have messages, but you're not preachy 
about them. You put them out there for people to take rides. 
And to this Maynard said:

MK: "That's how I see myself, really. I'm along for the ride. 
I'm a dancer, and I'm enjoying the dance. I don't know where 
the ride is going. But I'll take every opportunity I can to try to 
enlighten myself in whatever ways these experiences take 
me. If others want to come along for the ride, great. But to 
think someone is going to impose some type of right-wing 
Americana views onto our creativity, is misguided".

Maynard is extremely vocal against the influences of CNN to 
the world. He thinks they are extremely irresponsible as 
journalists because the information we receive is far from 

MK: "All these media guys have hard-ons because of this 
war. They can sell more papers, magazines, keep us glued to 
the TV longer. They know the public will buy their product, so 
they keep giving them more fuel for their fire". 

I asked what his advice would be if people wanted to avoid 
the slanted trappings of the media.

MK: "Start by turning off your television for a year".

And then what? I said.

MK: "Talk to each other. Find out what the other person is 
thinking and why. You don't have to turn off your computers 
because that still allows you to talk to one another". 

I told him that this sounded an awful lot like what the Ancient 
Greek philosophers were doing over two millennia ago-that is, 
engaging in meaningful dialogue about important issues. He 
laughed at the similarity. 

MK: "There it is. You see the world through a philosopher's 
eyes, and I see it through my eyes. I'm certainly not as 
literate as you are, but I don't see that as being a problem".

I replied that there is much to be gained from dialogue but 
there is nothing wrong with trying to gain information and 
trying to increase your understanding of the world, yourself, 
and others.

MK: "Those closely affected by the September 11 attacks, 
have been deeply and forever moved in ways we cannot fully 

He finds George W. Bush has an inability to critically self-
reflect on what he is currently doing in Afghanistan. 

At this point, I mentioned my Critical Thinking text: How to 
Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass: A Practical Guide to 
Thinking Critically. He appreciated the title and we talked 
further on the topic of critical self-reflection which is lacking in 
the world today. We agreed that this can lead to a behaviour 
mode of Us against Them through an incapacity of self-
discovery and self-reflection. 

MK: "CNN furthers the clouding of our capacity to tap in to this 
notion of self-reflection and discovery".

We continued discussing for some time the topic of 
journalistic responsibility. Journalists have a responsibility to 
provide us with information which is not filtered through 
American propagandist or other filtration systems. Ideally, we 
should get our information in the least biased manner-no 
matter how painful the truth actually is. We must impress 
upon journalists their obligation to give us information as 
pure as possible and then let us decide how it's going to 
bounce off of us, how are we going to use the knife?

9. In "Parabola" you speak about the body as a type of 
vessel. And you state that we need to hold on to and stay 
inside this holy reality. In contrast to your attacks on 
Christianity, how should we interpret the use of the 
term 'holy', here? 

MK: "Life is to be revered. Few people take the time to 
realize how valuable their experiences are at any given time 
in their lives because we can be snuffed out in the next 

Although some may take this to be a paraphrase of the 'Stop 
and smell the flowers' bit of flaky advice from the sixties, the 
central message is a good one because it demands of us the 
discipline by which to forcibly become self-aware of what is 
meaningful and essential to life. We do take things for 
granted, without doubt. Most of the time, we are caught up in 
the superficial trappings of cultural inventions. But to be 
alive, and to know it, is one of the first great cognitive 
evolutionary steps in the development of human 

MK: "Life should be revered simply for the fact that we need 
to be thankful that we are currently able to consciously 
appreciate what we are going through right now. There are 
layers to our lives which can be appreciated at various levels. 
This moment that we're having right now is highly significant."

At this point I mention Albert Schweitzer's book Reverence for 
Life where he mentions that some things are necessary in 
life. There are constraints on life and we have to function 
within those constraints. I referred to the lyrics 
in 'Disgustipated' where Maynard mentions that 'Life feeds on 
life'. This is an obvious biological truism which creates an 
environment of constraints in which we must live. 

From this, I state that the feeling of eternity and reference to 
pain as an illusion in 'Paraboloa' is interesting. Is this tongue-
in-cheek or is the meaning here literal? 

MK: "Having a background in science, anyone will tell you that 
everything pretty much is light. Form and frequency, quantum 
physics and the fact that humans are made up of bits of 
matter (light), at this level, particles neither come into nor go 
out of existence, and at that level we are eternal. And 
although pain operates at one level, there is no pain at the 
underlying level of matter. People operate at different levels. 
Does that make any sense? These are huge, lofty spiritual 
concepts. Keith Richards is still walking around, doesn't that 
prove something?"

Laughing, at this point, I said that I was an evolutionist and I 
really think Keith Richards is de-volving back into a reptilian 
form. The man is becoming a lizard. Maynard laughs.

In the song "Lateralus" you refer to the origins of perceptual 
observation i.e. "Black then white are all I see in my 
infancy", "red and yellow then came to be, reaching out to 
me, lets me see". Again, is this more of a metaphor or are 
you being literal? The reason I ask is because human 
developmental reasoning is one of my areas of research. 
That is, to what degree are we born with human propensities 
for perception, speech, responses, etc., and to what extent 
are these learned behaviours? 

MK: "I use the archetype stories of North American 
aboriginals and the themes or colours which appear over and 
over again in the oral stories handed down through 
generations. Black, white, red, and yellow play very heavily in 
aboriginal stories of creation." 

Maynard now mentions the Spiral Sequence of Life, the 
Golden Rectangle, the Fibonacci Sequence and the Phi Ratio. 
For further information on these aspects of Tool's songs and 
ideas, there are several websites to consider for reference: 

The mathmetician credited for discovering the sequence is 
Leonardo Fibonacci in 1202 (a.d.). Each number in the 
sequence is generated by adding the previous two, which 
produces a string of numbers like this: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 
21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987. To arrive at each 
number of the series, you simply add the two numbers that 
came before it. And so each number of the series is the sum 
of the two numbers preceding it. In nature, you see many 
patterns which displays numbers from this sequence e.g. 
pineapples, flowers, conk shells, pine cones (hmmm...), etc. 
What I get from the sequence is the relation of a ratio (Phi) 
which has fixed spatial constraints on biological organisms. 
And so you see the pattern repeat itself again and again 
because of these spatial constraints. 

If you look at the syllable of the opening lyrics in 'Lateralus', 
you can see evidence of the Fibonacci sequence ascending 
and descending:

1 (Black) 
1 (then) 
2 (white are) 
3 (all I see) 
5 (in my in-fan-cy.)
8 (red and yel-low then came to be), 
5 (reach-ing out to me.) 
3 (lets me see.) 

The drummer of Tool, Danny Carey is very much interested in 
numerology, geometry, etc. His drum patterns are chosen 
very carefully to reflect some of the patterns he finds in the 
Fibonacci sequence and elsewhere. This has led me to 
consider to what degree there may be underlying patterns in 
nature, shape, and number, which resonate with us in musical 
notation. And that it is partially due to this pattern recognition 
which has had such a huge impact on Tools' fans.

The band is also very interested in what is called three-
dimensional sound. For some time, Maynard and I talked 
about Synesthesia-the perceptual sensation produced when a 
stimulus experienced by one sense is experienced in 
another, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the 
visualization of a certain colour or geometric shape. I recalled 
listening to 'Schism' and noting how the metre of Maynard's 
lyrical cadence was offset from the bass and drums in certain 
parts as to invoke a type of sharp-sidedness. I do not 
actually 'see' a geometric shape before me. But I do get a 
sense of what he meant. This ephemeral capacity to 'see' 
sound is about as close as I've gotten to a synesthetic 

MK: "When we compose songs, we start with the rhythms and 
melodies first. Each of us contributes instrumentally to a 
single song. And then I go away and work on the lyrics".

I have mentioned in class that the members of Tool display 
a good deal of discipline in their creative capacity. Their 
songs are not simply coincidental accidents but carefully 
developed arrangements based on themes and influences 
from a variety of sources. The layers of many of their songs 
are not unlike recognizable movements that you would hear 
in classical musical compositions. 

10. In "Reflection" you talk a good deal about losing or 
getting rid of the ego in order to attain some further end. An 
end of enlightenment perhaps? What is it about the ego that 
prevents or in some way, blocks one from attaining some 
greater end? Or does it even make sense to speak in terms 
of lesser and greater ends?

MK: "If you look at the cycles of the moon, it starts as a thin 
crescent and then gradually waxes until it becomes full; then 
it gradually wanes back into another crescent and then it is 
gone. The moon reflects sunlight like humans reflect 
information. We wax and wane and when we become full 
moons, our egos are full. We think we have this knowledge 
when in fact, the information we have is pure. And how it 
reflects or shines off of us, is something we take credit for as 
though the moon could take credit for its brightness when, in 
fact, it is only reflecting light from the sun. We have to 
understand that we are ego-less just as the moon is without 
light. It and we are simply reflectors. The ego is not 
responsible for the information. It can reflect the information 
in creative ways, but the information itself is pure". 

11. When my students heard we were going to talk, they 
wanted to say hello. Would you like a question from a 

MK: "Sure".

We have studied Socrates, Plato and the ancient Skeptics a 
fair bit, so this next question has to do with the concept of 
justice/injustice. Tom Fitzjohn wanted me to ask you: "What 
do you think is/are the greatest injustice(s) occurring in the 
world right now?"

MK: "Religion, TV, and media. These have powerful effects 
on the way people see the world. When we're on the tour bus 
travelling from city to city, we have a Play Station 2. When I 
play [a game called] Quake 3 for a few days, I find it 
impedes with my ability to relate to people. So media in its 
various forms does, to some degree, affect the way in which 
we interact with one another. I have to deliberately separate 
myself from this game and the real world. Lately, the media 
has turned us into suspicious Americans. The media has 
generated enough fear to allow congress to give the cops 
permission to check our colons whenever they want to".

This is going to be an interesting world in the next five or ten 

MK: "Yes, we just have to make sure everything comes true 
by 2010".

12. Another student has done considerable work with some 
biographical material (Martin German)-most of which I 
haven't yet had time to pour over. But the information 
relating to the books the band reads I found interesting. It 
says here that you are reading "The Egyptian Book of the 
Dead". Is this true. And is it a first edition copy from the 
British Museum? I was just at the British Museum in June and 
saw the Egyptian exhibit. Why the interest in this particular 

MK: "I find a lot of this type of stuff interesting. I'm into a lot 
of different things, including sci-fi events".

Like Area 51, Roswell, New Mexico, or more 2001?

MK: "Yea, I love all that stuff; they're very entertaining".

But L. Ron Hubbard too? 

MK: "Well not literally, but in itself I find it interesting".

So you don't take this stuff too seriously?

MK: "No. But it sure is fun to think about".

The members of Tool, I was told, rarely take themselves 
seriously in terms of beliefs. They acknowledge a complex 
world and are having fun looking at the various ways in which 
we can understand it. 

MK: "I have very much enjoyed the last ten years of my life 
and how much people enjoy what Tool is doing. If people can 
take something positive from Tool's music and use this for 
self-reflection and discovery, great. But I'm not going to 
preach to people about what they ought to do".

At this point, I thanked him very much and wished him well. 
He did the same.

Posted to t.d.n: 05/06/02 17:28:35