Is Tool Really a Band for Stupid White Trash?

The music we like is often seen as a shortcut to express who we are or what we're all about, so the world will pre-judge you based on the bands that you listen to and the musical cultures with which you affiliate. For the most part these assumptions sit in nice little established boxes: Grateful Dead fans are hippies, politically aware dudes love Rage Against the Machine and any man in an Eagles t-shirt is automatically assumed to be a dad with a cover band. (Too soon?)

But I somehow went more than half of my life without knowing that Tool fans were nearly universally thought of as annoying, stupid white trash.

As a teenager in the '90s, my favorite albums were by Nirvana, Elastica, Otis Redding, Echo & the Bunnymen and, weirdly, Tool. My group of dude friends (now grown men who I still affectionately refer to as “The Basement Boys” because we always seemed to be hanging out in someone's unfinished suburban basement) introduced me to Tool right before the release of Ænima in 1996. I thought that some parts of the Undertow album were alright, but that all of Ænima was awesome.

The Basement Boys fancied themselves quite the teenage intellectuals and they'd sit for hours and debate the merits of an album, a song or a drum solo. I thought the other 90s “boy music” that they liked was mostly okay (Deftones were cool but I had no love for Korn) but we didn't talk about those bands nearly as much: it was always Tool, Tool, Tool.

There's a bunch to talk about when it comes to Tool, really. The lyrics were dense and you could spend hours unraveling and attempting to decode the possible meanings behind some phrasings. Even in 1996 there were already rumors that the members of Tool were into exploring psychedelic realms and sacred geometry. (Ideas basically proven by using Alex Grey's art on their album covers and drummer Danny Carey's admitted occultist leanings.) Also, this was a time when we barely had the internet (!) so most of these revelations were passed on from person-to-person, which just served to heighten the band's mystique.

Because of all of this, I'd always thought that Tool was for smart, thoughtful people. (And possibly even pretentious people.) But the more Tool fans I met the more wrong I felt about that assumption. I'd go to Tool shows and feel overwhelmed by the audience. Nearly all of the people in attendance were Busch-chugging, thick-ball-chain-necklace wearing, violent-at-any-moment aggro young men who were super pumped on adrenaline. For the most part, these were not people who appeared to be thinking deep thoughts about the universe and synchronicity and fractal vegetables. These were people who were out to rage and then possibly smoke some meth. I expressed this thought to a friend and he said, “Duh, everybody knows that Tool fans are stupid white trash.”

But I didn't know that everybody thought that at all. I'd only ever thought of Tool fans on the whole as being nearly obsessive or religious in their love for the band.

The reason why Tool is so successful now twenty years later is because the people who became fans back then somehow managed to stay fans. This is truly an against-all-odds success story for the band. Being a Tool fan is a unique experience. As some genius put it nearly a decade ago:

“Tool can do no wrong in the eyes of its fans. In fact, the band inspires so much respect from its audience that it’s nearly creepy. Tool gets away with things that would cause lesser bands to be written off or completely forgotten: There have been huge gaps between album releases (up to five years), infrequent tours, high ticket prices and band members who have been known to play in the dark and barely address the audience. But all of this somehow works in Tool’s favor. Far from feeling slighted or ignored, fans are supremely excited when an album comes out and are willing to pay as much as necessary for the rare live show. And instead of regarding band members as egotistical jerks, fans view them as mysterious and humble. This kind of blind worship is part of what makes the Tool experience so amazing.”

Add to all of that the fact that Tool singer Maynard James Keenan recently called fans of his band “insufferable people.” Do you know what most fans thought? They thought it was funny.

There is absolutely no way that this band should have such a devoted following in the year 2016. There is positively no way that each Tool show should sell out immediately. There is certainly no way that anyone should pay around $90 for a ticket. But they do. And I recently did, too.

About a month ago I was out with a dude friend and we wound up in a conversation with a couple of young construction workers at a bar. They weren't the brightest bulbs in the box (one of them actually believed that the Earth was flat) but they were friendly and chatty in that amusing potential-alcoholic kind of way. They switched topics from conspiracy theories to music and they were shocked that I could talk about Tool with them. Many high-fives were exchanged. I was pleased with myself for being able to impress them and started delving into some deep thoughts on Tool's last album, 10,000 Days. They smiled but stared at me blankly and then the more boisterous of the two cleared his throat and said, “Well, I don't know about all of that, but that guitarist rips!”

Yeah, that's true, too. Maybe these dudes didn't care about Carl Jung or Bill Hicks, couldn't give a crap about abstract definitions of prog and wouldn't know the Fibonacci sequence if it kicked them in the face, but they did know that Adam Jones rips. And I guess that's enough. So if I see them at the show tonight I will buy them both a Busch while I try to get over myself, because as Tool fans we're all equals. Morons, but equals.

About The Author

Jaime Lees

Jaime Lees is the digital content editor for the Riverfront Times.
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