Maynard James Keenan: Events and Rituals

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As you may have heard, Fear Inoculum, the first album by Tool in 13 years, comes out this Friday, August 30. To commemorate the occasion, Phoenix New Times is rerunning some of the best columns by Maynard James Keenan, the band's frontman and Arizona winemaker. This piece originally ran on November 7, 2012.

The journey known as "Vintage 2012" is almost complete. Not finished, but it's most certainly arriving at a fairly calm station. No more 2 a.m. panic-related insomnia attacks, where I stare at the ceiling going over and over the logistics of a tiny workspace. I'm not about to kid myself; there's still quite a few long days ahead. Just none that involve an adrenaline rush. I've been trying to catch up on a bit of sleep, if there is such a thing. This usually involves a late dinner, a glass of wine, and some commercial-free iTunes downloads.

A few nights ago, I woke up on the couch having fallen asleep under these aforementioned circumstances. I was out like a corpse. It was that satisfying borderline-fatigue-meets-insulin-crash type of sleep where you wake up feeling like a limp pile of lead marionettes. Had I hair, I would have most certainly been sporting some Gumby bed head. I found myself staring at Kim Coates (The Last Boy Scout, Resident Evil) staring at a transvestite on an episode of Sons of Anarchy. At first, I thought I was dreaming, because I don't recall Walton Goggins (Justified, The Shield, Cowboys & Aliens) having breasts, let alone a pair with such — how shall we say — presence and perfectly executed presentation. I was disturbingly fascinated by Kim's uncomfortably distracted obsession. Now he had me curious. What did he see that I hadn't yet? I then had a startling thought. I looked around to see if my wife was staring at me staring at Kim staring at Walton's divine assets. Good luck explaining that one away.

Kim and Walton are just a couple examples of storytellers whose dedication to their craft has inspired me to do better, to be better, to reach for the unattainable when performing on stage and screen.

When I say "Craft," I don't mean "Arts & Crafts," the kind of stuff you pass over without a glance at an artist co-op, swap meet, or the county fair. I mean "Craft" as in a combination of natural ability and focused hard work needed to develop world-class storytelling skills. There are far too many of these artisans to list in one rant. And rest assured there are many, many more I'd love to comment on. These two just happen to be on my mind at the mo. Like those yet to be listed here someday, they have taken the craft to another level. They're not considered A-list actors or leads as far as I know, although they should be. They are simply the actors I'll go out of my way to watch tell the story and become the character. They are among the many actors I look forward to tricking me into forgetting they're just playing "dress-up pretend" even if it means making me uncomfortable during the observation process.

Truth be told, I was actually formulating a piece on the importance of oral tradition prior to this "event." Having these freaks capture my imagination to this extreme only confirmed that I was meant to at least mention it. If we're at all realistic about the nature of inevitable change and the impersonal universe in which we live, we have to admit that someday we may be without the Internet. (Hello, Sandy. We didn't really NEED pieces of Massachusetts in Michigan, but thank you I guess?) If we keep going down the path we're on with regards to digital vs. analog, there may not be as many physical personal diaries left to discover in a post-apocalyptic world. I think on some level we get this. And historically speaking, we have understood the power of oral tradition.

To accurately pass on the details of life-saving/threatening events and rituals over generations in the form of rhythm and verse is no easy task. Especially if some of those details include obvious references to the "other side of the story" - the side opposite the status quo. But that side of oral tradition has more to do with secret society stuff. Yawn.

I'm speaking more about the inclusion of important historical details and Life 101 classes. I'm touching on the simple yet critical tasks, such as water purification processes in the form of tea ceremony (boiling water) or fermentation (wine-making), sewn into our daily routines and rituals because of our local lore and tale. Quite often you'll find some of these basic equations in the rhymes we teach our children, especially if the rhymes are as old as the hills. For those stories to accurately span multiple generations, the architect of the verse must have a firm grasp on the important details and be able to wrap them around archetypal frameworks that speak to our daily lives. And then the architect must also understand the importance of a compelling delivery. A skillful storyteller must be employed to pass down the story. And they, in turn, must be able not only to pass on the story but also to pass on the skills necessary to effectively deliver the story.

I realize this may not appear to have anything to do with Mr. Coates staring longingly at Mr. Goggins as a tranny, but I assure you it sort of does. If what I'm suggesting is true — and I realize that's a big if — and oral tradition contains bits of pragmatic or utilitarian information which is meant to survive being passed down over generations, then it will take a skillful, imaginative, and expressive artist and performer to carry out this task.

If ever there were ever an argument to keep the visual and performing arts programs in our public education system healthy and well funded, it would be this. Developing and then flexing our imaginative, creative, and expressive muscle is what eventually led us to flying to and walking on the moon. It will also assist us in escaping those sticky situations that tend to pop up during the Zombie Apocalypse, many of which I'm about to watch on this week's episode of The Walking Dead.

Chicken Little out.

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