A Perfect Union of Contrary Things
by Sarah Jensen w/Maynard James Keenan
Backbeat Books (272 pgs.)
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way up front: for most Tool fans, A Perfect Union of Contrary Things is not the book they want it to be. If you pick this up hoping for insight into some of the more arcane concepts in Keenan’s lyrics, you’d be better off reading the crowdsourced annotations on the Tool Genius page (though there are some oblique references that shed some light on “Intolerance” and “46 +2,” but they’re dots the reader has to connect for him or herself). Ditto for any of the more painfully autobiographical lyrics from the early Tool records—I think Maynard’s stepfather was mentioned about twice in the book, and only in passing each time. In fact, there’s very little insight into the inner workings of Tool at all: nothing about the recording process for any of their albums, very little about the accompanying tours, and even less about Paul D’Amour’s departure after Undertow. A Perfect Circle’s Billy Howerdel is quoted more frequently that any of Maynard’s Tool bandmates. Hell, members of Maynard’s high school cross-country team are actually quoted more frequently than his Tool bandmates. There are references to rock star excesses, but the stories themselves mostly happen off stage.
Given how guarded not just Maynard but all of Tool have been in regards to their public personae, though, it really isn’t too much of a surprise that the book doesn’t really provide that much of a peek behind Keenan’s mask. That being said, I still found myself really enjoying this book. When it comes down to it, Maynard is a really interesting dude, and his journey from tiny Ravenna, Ohio to the military to fronting Tool to staring a vineyard in even tinier Jerome, Arizona is fascinating enough to sustain the book’s narrative while giving the reader remarkably little of what he or she likely picked up the book in hopes of finding. In that respect, A Perfect Union of Contrary Things definitely isn’t the typical music biography. At its heart, it’s basically the story of a guy with remarkable focus who was willing to work his ass off in order to achieve his goals. In that respect, he’s almost an Everyman sort of character who’s much easier to relate to than I ever would have expected. The book humanizes him without resorting to salacious details, and that alone makes it well worth picking up.