MCC Alumni Feature: Maynard James Keenan: rock star, vintner, entrepreneur, Spartan.

April 30, 2022

Maynard James Keenan

MCC Alumni Feature: Maynard James Keenan: rock star, vintner, entrepreneur, Spartan.

Spartan News is presented by Mason County Central Schools in partnership with Mason County Press. This special series of Spartan News features alumni of MCC. 

By Sarah Jensen, Contributing Writer. 

  • MCC class of 1982
  • Profession: Founder and vocalist, Grammy award-winning bands Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer; owner Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards

For a long time, the signature line on Maynard Keenan’s emails was “World Class Multi-tasker,” and it was a most apt descriptor. At any given time, he might be found pressing grapes at his winery or conducting a sound check at a concert venue or scheduling an interview with a music magazine or cooking up a batch of gnocchi with his wife and daughter at their Jerome, Arizona, home. He might even be heading back to Mason County for a bit of much-needed R&R.

Maynard arrived in Scottville the first time when he was in the eighth grade. He’d come to live on Darr Road in Custer Township with his dad, MCC science teacher and wrestling coach Mike Keenan and Mike’s wife, Jan, English and Spanish teacher. As the new kid in school, Maynard was unsure of exactly where he fit in the social scheme of things and took refuge in his album collection: Joni Mitchell and Devo and Kiss and Adam and the Ants. 

High school athletics gave Maynard a sense of belonging. Cross country in the fall, wrestling in the winter, and track in the spring brought structure and the satisfaction of knowing his talents contributed to a larger effort, a lesson he still applies as he collaborates with his band mates. 

In cross country and track coach Steve Bishop, Maynard discovered a mentor. Every morning, Bishop led his teams on training runs up and down the hills outside Scottville. He made it a point to understand his athletes’ strengths and weaknesses and encourage potential they may never have considered before. “He expected a lot from everybody,” Maynard recalls. “He was like, ‘We’re going to get things done, and we’re going to do them right.’” Under Bishop’s guidance, Maynard enjoyed his first taste of accomplishment, excelling in mile and half mile track events and receiving his first varsity letter for cross country when he was a freshman.

Bishop’s influence extended to his history and social science classroom. He didn’t spoon feed facts and dates, Maynard remembers. He challenged his students to discuss war and economics and the voting process, and his support helped them move from adolescent insecurity to a belief that their ideas mattered. 

History teacher O’Neil “Boots” Newkirk was a major influence on Maynard as well. “He got us to pay attention and think for ourselves,” Maynard remembers. And Duane Ingraham’s drafting class opened Maynard’s eyes to the interplay between the artistic and the useful, and he was drawn to art more than ever once he realized it could have practical application. 

Maynard joined the school choir in his sophomore year and sang in the chorus in the school production of the musical Oliver. Under choir director Ann Johnson, he learned not only harmonizing and breath control but the business side of things: how to place announcements in the Daily News and acquire performance rights from copyright holders.

Maynard remembers English teacher Ann Meeks being among the first to encourage his self-expression. In his junior year, she made sure his poems and pen-and-ink drawings were included in the spring literary journal, Aurora. “I started putting words together and people actually responded in a positive way.” he says. “I felt like I was onto something.” 

His efforts were rewarded when he was named Class Artist and Most Talented in the class mock election. And it wouldn’t be long before it became clear what that “something” was.

Maynard dreamed of attending art school, but he realized the only way he could follow that dream was by taking advantage of the Army College Fund. His three years of active duty stateside gave him the means to enroll at Kendall School of Design, where at last he could devote himself to sculpture and drawing and printing.

He wasn’t content to express himself only visually, though. With a group of talented friends, he formed his first band, CAD. “People tuning to each other to create rhythms and images made sense,” he remembers. 

By the time Maynard formed Tool, he’d channeled his artistic sensibilities into creatively organizing a pet store in Boston, crafting scenery and props for a Hollywood production company, and exercising his chops at a comedy club in LA. Tool, the best known of his internationally acclaimed rock bands, signed its first record deal in 1991 and in 1997, won its first of nine Grammy Awards.

On May 3, voters in the Mason County Central School District are being asked to decide on a 1.95 mills bond request that will raise $33 million towards school facility and technology improvements. Highlights of the bond include safety and security upgrades in all five of the school buildings, upgrades to the high school (including renovations to B and C halls, new administrative offices, renovations of A.O. Carlson Gym and construction of an auditorium), repairs to the school campus streets and athletic facility upgrades.

Maynard has performed in cutting-edge venues worldwide and recognizes the importance of quality facilities at MCC. Forty years ago, he remembers, choir practice was held in the band room. “Good facilities haven’t been allocated to those activities,” he says. “And back in the day, the wrestlers were relegated to mats laid out in the cafeteria. Recently, they’ve been behind the bleachers above the gymnasium. There’s never been a dedicated space for practice. It would have been nice to have an actual wrestling room.”

“Not that everybody needs coddling,” he continues. “But when students make an effort, it would be nice to know that that effort is appreciated.”

He envisions an updated high school as a key component of a renovated Scottville. “People remember how wonderful Scottville was in its heyday,” he says. “They remember how wonderful it was to have the Harvest Festival, how wonderful it was to have two suit shops in town and several restaurants, two hardware stores and a movie theater. Across the country, quaint little Americana towns like this are being revitalized. That gives people a reason to stay – and an attractive place to come back to retire.”

  Updated school facilities would create an inspiring learning environment, Maynard believes. “If students develop that artistic muscle, they will understand how to be creative entrepreneurs and contribute to the town. They will learn what they can do artistically from a utilitarian point of view.” 

The proposed performance space, in particular, dovetails nicely with initiatives currently under way.

“The Riverside Park and the Optimist hall are being redone,” Maynard points out. “I think a performance center in the school would complement them. They would work together. A stage play or a string quartet concert would work in the indoor performance space. The outdoor space would work for dance, music – and the Scottville Clown Band, of course.”

Maynard owns property in the Mason County Central school district, and despite a grueling schedule, he often returns to the area he still calls home. A few years ago, he stopped by the high school to assist wrestling coach Jim Allen, getting down on the mat and practicing with the wrestlers in the hopes of instilling the same sense of discipline, work ethic and confidence his MCC coaches and teachers instilled in him.

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