Friday, June 07, 2019

Sarah Jensen talks about Maynard James Keenan, founder of the band 'Tool' in the 'Neighborhood.'

Sarah Jensen (Left) Shelia Borgess ( Right)

Sarah Jensen talks about Maynard James Keenan, founder of the band 'Tool' in the 'Neighborhood.'

By Doug Holder

Sarah Jensen met me at the Neighborhood Restaurant in Union Square, Somerville to talk about her book A Perfect Union Of Contrary Things. The book is a biography of Maynard James Keenan, the founder of the iconoclastic band,“ Tool,” not to mention a well-regarded vintner, and Renaissance man. A Perfect Union of Contrary Things (Backbeat Books) debuted at number 10 on the New York Times best seller list in 2016 and has since been translated into French and Italian and is forthcoming in Hungarian

According to Jensen, "The authorized biography of musician and vintner Maynard James Keenan, an intimate portrait of a multifaceted man far more remarkable than his public persona suggests. The story of his journey to his place in the international spotlight, the book explores his isolated and stultifying childhood, his doubts and joys, the difficult decisions he faced and how he surmounted them, and his influence on contemporary music and regional wine-making. The narrative is enhanced by the small details that transform personal reminiscence to universal tale: the songs that sustained him, the species of birds he watched take seeds from his father’s hand, the wines he sampled on a Somerville roof deck.”

It was fitting that we met at the Neighborhood, over a bowl of their renowned cream of wheat. It was here that Keenan hung out ( and still visits when he is in town) with his high school friend  who lived in Somerville at the time. They became acquainted with each other back in Ludington, Michigan, a small town about a five hour drive from Chicago. Through her brother Kjiirt, Jensen became long time friends with Keenan. She knew him vaguely years back—but the first time she really became aware of him, was when he came to visit her in the North End of Boston --where she once lived. Her first impression of Keenan was that, “ He was very punk. He was dressed all in black. We became fast friends. I spent a lot of time with Keenan and my brother in Somerville.” Keenan had an appreciation of wine, and good food. Jensen can recall sitting on a Somerville rooftop—drinking good wine, having great conversation, and eating good cuisine.

Keenan's love of wine eventually led him to become an award-winning vintner. He has a a vineyard and restaurant in Jerome, Arizona, and other locations.

I asked Jensen about Tool's music, she said: “ There is really no way to describe it. It has been described as progressive, art rock, etc.... It is symphonic, it is at times simply noise, but there is nothing cliché about it. The message is, “ Think for yourself.. If you have talent you owe it to the universe to share it."

In her book Jensen wanted to get behind his image as a rock star—to the more nuanced man beneath. Jensen told me, “ He reads a lot—philosophy, he studies ancient geometry, and is a big fan of Joseph Campbell. “

Jensen told me that Keenan worked at Stanhope Framers in Union square. She said, “It was a steady gig, but the work was too intense, and involved meticulous attention to detail. He learned about merchandising and other things that proved valuable for his career when he worked for Boston Pet in Boston.

The Neighbor hood restaurant was the real focal point for Keenan in Somerville. Jensen smiled, “It was home for him and my brother. Shelia Borgess, who has run her family restaurant for years joined Jensen and me. She impressed me as a down-to-earth women, who likes to laugh and seems to revel in her work environment. As for Keenan she said. “ We were both outsiders. I came up from new Jersey to help run the family business, and Maynard was from a small town in Ohio. He was really a genuine and regular guy. A guy you felt great being around.” In the book Borgess is quoted:

Maynard was quiet,” Sheila would recall. “You didn’t hear too much from him, but he was a funny, sly, quick-witted kid, and so accepting. He must have been going through his own Michigan withdrawal and being out of his comfort zone. I was out of mine, but we found each other and got through those years.

I asked Jensen, why she thought people should read her book. She replied, “ Because it is about all of us. It is a metaphor for our lives. He followed his own bliss, and what he believed in. He stayed true to himself.”

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