This article was originally published in September 2011.
Many musicians have played for our men and women at arms. Not so many have actually trained and/or served in the military themselves. Even casual fans should know Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer vocalist Maynard James Keenan as an iconoclastic nonconformist. Some might even call him a contrarian or a smartass. But there was a time when Keenan took orders without asking questions. And for those two-plus years of his life, he was a damn good soldier.
"Bill Murray's character in Stripes played a part in my decision to join the Army," he says, straight-facedly. "It just felt right to do at the time, and I excelled."
Keenan enlisted in 1982, did his basic training in Oklahoma, and was initially stationed in North Kansas. He went to military preparatory school in New Jersey and finished his term in Texas. "At basic training, I received the distinguished graduate award for my battery, overall," he says. "I got a big trophy and got to shake the colonel's hand. And then for advanced training, same thing."
Tool and A Perfect Circle's future frontman was an excellent shot and a strong team leader. After he finished advanced training, he was invited to join the class at West Point, a highly selective school that has bred top-brass military leaders. It was then that he realized he didn't belong.
"In that moment, when you're staring at this thing going, OK, is this what I want to do? Is there something else? I had an overwhelming feeling that this wasn't what I was supposed to do," he says. "I'm pretty in touch with my intuition, and in that moment, I had to listen to it and decline the appointment."
Today, Keenan sometimes wonders where he would be if he had made a different choice.
"Recently, I reached out to an old classmate of mine from preparatory school just prior to West Point," he says. "I wanted to see where he's at. He's basically in charge of Afghanistan. He's a colonel now. And it makes me kind of wonder where I would have been had I taken a different path. Because if I had accepted my appointment and made it through the next four years, my career was set."
Although Keenan doesn't regret his decision, he is quick to point out that it wasn't made due to any pacifistic ideals. To the contrary, he says, "Human beings are capable — every one of us — of awful shit against each other, to ourselves, and because of that, we kind of have to arm ourselves against our darker side. We have to understand that there are monsters, and we need to arm ourselves against the monsters, whether they're our own monsters or someone else's monsters. So I absolutely am in support of arming yourself or doing whatever we have to do to preserve our way of life."
Below, See Maynard James Keenan train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and discuss the connection between fighting, creativity and sustainable living: