Maynard James Keenan is one of the most mercurial figures in all of popular music. Intensely private, highly disciplined, and a polymath who has done everything from sketch comedy to winemaking, Keenan keeps in the shadows during Tool performances, rarely does interviews, and disdains explaining the meanings behind his lyrics.
It’s not because they’re tossed off ideas either. Keenan is a thoughtful and incisive lyricist who often brings philosophic ideas, purposefully crude humour, and even mathematical formulas to the table when composing and arranging his melodies and lyrical motifs. But there has been an important figure in Keenan’s life who has inspired numerous compositions within the Tool discography: his mother, Judith.
Judith Marie Keenan was a devote Baptist who suffered a paralysing cerebral haemorrhage when Maynard was just 11-years-old. Judith would remain paralysed for 27 years until her death in 2003, and the amount of time Judith spent paralysed would inspire the title track to Tool’s fourth studio album, 10,000 Days.
Judith’s faith was only solidified upon her haemorrhage, and while Maynard was known to be staunchly anti-religious, he viewed his mother’s devotion as reason enough for her to be granted wings and ascend to heaven. “Ten thousand days in the fire is long enough/You’re going home.”
Judith would inspire a small number of other Tool songs beyond ‘10,000 Days’. ‘Wings for Marie’, the track slotted just before ‘10,000 Days’ on the album, contains many of the same themes of religious devotion and struggling to understand and appreciate the faith that Maynard did not share. ‘Jimmy’, from 1996’s Ænima, also makes reference to the incident, with Maynard recounting his experience with the lines: “Eleven and she was gone/Eleven is when we waved goodbye.”
Maynard’s most explicit reference to his mother came outside of Tool in the A Perfect Circle song named after her, ‘Judith’. He’s far more critical on ‘Judith’, addressing his mother by saying, “You’re such an inspiration for the ways/That I will never, ever choose to be,” and “Oh, so many ways for me to show you/How your saviour has abandoned you.” As he matured, it seems as though Maynard took a more contemplative and hopeful approach to his mom’s religious intensity. But as always with Keenan, the answers are never that easy.