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At least in its most upfront interpretation, this is about child abuse. In early interviews, lead singer Maynard James Keenan apparently was quite vocal about his dislike for his stepfather, and the video supports this theory quite well. However, the autobiographical nature of this song is purely speculative.
When discussing the release of "Prison Sex" as a single, drummer Danny Carey had this to say: "It will annoy a lot of people... which is half the fun." (thanks, Landon - Effingham, IL, for above 2)
This song is definitely about abuse, but not only from the perspective of the victim. Throughout the piece the lyrics change from the frightening realization of what is happening to the individual to the insatiable appetite to force the same on another. It is about the cyclical nature of abuse and the reason that certain learned behaviors are perpetuated. (thanks, greg - Memphis, VT)
According to Tool guitarist Adam Jones in Revolver Magazine Presents Tool, "Contractually, the record label was supposed to talk to us about any sort of publicity stunt they pulled on our behalf, especially with us paying for part of it. But without telling us, they made little kid T-shirts for the single 'Prison Sex' with our Tool wrench logo on there, which is actually a phallic symbol. So the label was going to send the shirt to all the radio stations because Nirvana did that with one of their songs. And we're going, 'Well, first off, you didn't even talk to us about this.' And they went, 'No, you don't understand. Nirvana did this and it was a huge hit with radio.' And Maynard goes, 'Do you know what that song's about? It's about getting f--ked in the ass as a little kid.' They never sent the shirts out." (thanks, Jamin King - Puyallup, WA)
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