Apple v. Apple:
What if they gave a revolution
and nobody came?
The Beatles' Apple Corps should shun Apple Computer's iTunes music store.
Apple Records should get back to its roots and sell its music on its own website,
and encourage others to do the same.
Memo to Steve Jobs:
We need a champion to fight for our freedoms on our digital frontiers.
Know what, Steve? It ain't you, babe.
Posted July 6, 2006 -- This July 6, 2006, marks forty-nine years to the day since a sixteen-year-old boy named John Winston Lennon first laid eyes on a fifteen-year-old lad named James Paul McCartney.
The occasion was called a "Garden Fete," an annual festival at St. Peter's Parish Church, in the village of Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool. The year was 1957. Buddy Holly would still be alive for another year and a half. In six months Elvis would be drafted into the army. While setting up to perform for the church dance that evening with his washboard skiffle band, which he called The Quarrymen, John was introduced to Paul in the hall of St. Peter's.
St. Peter's hall: Exterior and interior of church hall where Lennon met McCartney in 1957. In church graveyard stands stone marking the grave of Eleanor Rigby. Visit the church website to read and view more photos.
The church yard also is the site of the graves of one Eleanor Rigby, and also George Toogood Smith, John's uncle. "After the breakdown of his parent's marriage when he was five," the church's website explains, "John lived locally with Uncle George and Aunt Mimi. It was George who brought John his first musical instrument, a harmonica. Whilst Aunt Mimi was a regular member of the congregation, John's visits to church were less frequent but he was a member of the youth group and sang occasionally in the choir at weddings."
At their first meeting, a left-handed McCartney, it's said, picked up John's right-handed guitar, held it upside down, and played a few songs, including "Twenty Flight Rock," and even scribbled down the lyrics for John. Clearly impressed by Paul's skills, John nevertheless hesitated to ask him to join the band. Paul had come to the garden party on his bicycle, looking for girls. He was dressed in a white sports jacket with metallic threads, his hair greased back in a duck tail. John would later confess to feeling a little jealous, and worried about losing control of his band. Still, even in his early days, Lennon was an experimenter.
At the invitation of one of John's friends, McCartney soon thereafter was casually asked to join the group. McCartney said he'd play in the band once he got back from scout camp. The rest, as they say, is digital rights management.
Lennon would say in a Playboy magazine interview given shortly before his death in 1980, "Because of my attitude, all the other boys' parents, including Paul's father, would say, 'Keep away from him.' The parents instinctively recognized what I was, which was a troublemaker, meaning I did not conform and I would influence their kids, which I did. I did my best to disrupt every friend's home I had. Partly, maybe, it was out of envy that I didn't have this so-called home. But I really did. I had an auntie and an uncle and a nice suburban home, thank you very much."
After all, Lennon reminds us, "Strawberry Fields is a real place. After I stopped living at Penny Lane, I moved in with my auntie who lived in the suburbs in a nice semidetached place with a small garden and doctors and lawyers and that ilk living around... not the poor slummy kind of image that was projected in all the Beatles stories. In the class system, it was about half a class higher than Paul, George and Ringo, who lived in government-subsidized housing. We owned our house and had a garden. They didn't have anything like that. Near that home was Strawberry Fields, a house near a boys' reformatory where I used to go to garden parties as a kid with my friends Nigel and Pete. We would go there and hang out and sell lemonade bottles for a penny. We always had fun at Strawberry Fields. So that's where I got the name. But I used it as an image. Strawberry Fields forever."
No matter what:
So long ago, was it just a dream?
What interested young Lennon back in July, 1957? Pretty much what he'd always interested him. He wanted a rockin' band, which was a constantly evolving enterprise that he variously named (again, in those days, without legal incorporation or lawyers) The Black Jacks, The Quarrymen (after his school, Quarry Bank High), Johnny and the Moondogs, The Beatlas, The Silver Beatles, The Silver Beats, and finally, The Beatles. Inspired by Buddy Holly and The Crickets, Lennon at last landed on a name that incorporated both an insect-sounding name, and the word "beat."
Young Lennon allowed himself to dream of fame and fortune. He says, "In those days, when the Beatles were depressed, we had this little chant. I would yell out, 'Where are we going, fellows?' They would say, 'To the top, Johnny,' in pseudo-American voices. And I would say, 'Where is that, fellows?' And they would say, 'To the toppermost of the poppermost.'"
John and cousin Stanley Parkes: The 'toppermost of the poppermost.' Visit the Lennon family website here.
Lennon was a writer. Inspired by performers like Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers, John Lennon aspired to do something seldom done in popular music of his day: to write and sing his own songs. His approach, his execution (artistically speaking), and his ultimate triumph, would be revolutionary, historic, and contribute much to our lives.
"In the early days, we didn't care about lyrics as long as the song had some vague theme... she loves you, he loves him, they all love each other," Lennon told Playboy magazine. "It was the hook, line and sound we were going for. That's still my attitude, but I can't leave lyrics alone. I have to make them make sense apart from the songs."
Lennon would confess to taking inspiration, and artistic license, from greats such as Holly, Lewis Carroll, Van Gogh, and Dylan Thomas. He also would bitterly complain that the Beatles were commercially robbed by record executives and promoters. Even so, he never had much use for lawyers or legal agreements. No legal agreement was ever written between John and Paul concerning the credit to their songs, he'd say. "Paul and I made a deal when we were 15," John says. "There was never a legal deal between us, just a deal we made when we decided to write together that we put both our names on it, no matter what."
As they sat working together in their earliest days, often in Paul's dad's house, Paul would carefully write down the words of their songs in a composition book, writing under each song's title that it was an original composition by Lennon-McCartney.
Lennon always seemed to take as much glee from artistic, and social, experimentation, as in writing and playing music. Why not give this lad Paul an invite to join the band? Why not give peace a chance? Why not imagine?
In interviews, Lennon would time and again say that his job as a songwriter, including many of his contributions with McCartney, involved conceptually asking where a song was going, and to take the song there. He'd criticize other writers for beginning a song, then simply "jamming out," and not really "going anywhere" with a concept or an idea. McCartney, he said, "had indications of a good lyricist. But he just hasn't taken it anywhere."
This, Lennon said, was also his politics. In the song "Revolution," Lennon wrote he wants "to see the plan."
Mother Mary, and Julia
And what was young Paul McCartney doing that first meeting in St. Peter's church in 1957? Pretty much the same as he's still doing, as Sir Paul turns 64. Showing the lads a tune. Entertaining us with a song. Entreating us to make a sad song better.
Roots music : While writing songs with John, Paul attended the Liverpool Institute (top). This is his class photo from March 1960. Click photo or here to enlarge. The McCartneys' house (middle), 20 Forthlin Road, Allerton, Liverpool. Photo from John Lennon: All I Want is the Truth, by Elizabeth Partridge (Viking 2005). Partridge writes, 'Paul's father, an avid gardener, sent Paul and (his brother) Michael out with buckets to collect horse manure from the streets ... garbage was still picked up in horse-drawn carts.' Photo by Elizabeth Partridge. Used by permission. The McCartneys' living room (bottom) where John and Paul wrote songs together, including 'One After 909.' Click photo or here to enlarge. Credited to Astrid Kirchherr/Starfile, and appears in the book John Lennon: All I Want is the Truth.
Whatever he was after, here's the outcome: McCartney today is credited as the most commercially successful music composer of all time. And, through it all, he's remained a gentlemen, a romantic and, by all accounts, a very decent chap.
Both boys had music in their families. McCartney's father, James, founded band called the Jim Mac Jazz Band in the late 20s. He was a self-taught pianist and trumpeter. To support his family, Jim gave up his band and became a cotton salesman. At family gatherings he'd still entertain at the piano, and he encouraged his son musically. Decidedly unlike Lennon, McCartney was a top student, and serious in his studies. His world was shattered at age 14, when his mother, Mary, died of breast cancer.
Both of Lennon's natural parents also had musical inclinations. His mother, Julia, could play the banjo and ukulele. John's father, Alfred Lennon, was a ship's waiter who more or less dropped from sight (save for a few harrowing reappearances) when his son was a year and a half old.
When Lennon was five he was taken away from his mother by social services. Julia had moved in with a man and had brought John along to live in the small apartment, where the three slept in the same bed. The social workers decreed that John would stay with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George, at least until Julia could find a larger apartment. Not long afterwards, his father showed up at Mimi's door and took the boy away to seaside Blackpool. He schemed to emigrate to New Zealand with the boy. Alfred Lennon meanwhile sold black market nylon stockings. Julia eventually tracked them down in Blackpool, and John was forced on the spot to choose between living with his mother or his father. John twice chose to stay with his father. As his mother went off sobbing, he ran after her, crying he'd changed his mind. Julia returned a traumatized John to live with his Aunt Mimi.
At Mimi's, John had his own room in a house they called Mendips. He developed a taste for books and literature, and would laugh at playful, half-meaningless Lewis Carrollesque goopidigobble. He studied, shall we say, best mostly on his own. Julia meanwhile remarried and had other children. She lived a short bus ride from her sister Mimi and John. As John grew into a rebellious teenager, he spent more and more time with his mother. Unlike his aunt, Julia was supportive of his musical leanings. Later, after John had formed his band and had begun writing, Paul became one of Julia's favorites. Feeling for the motherless boy, she'd ask John to bring McCartney around for food. Paul would later say that John appeared to love visiting his mother, but most always seemed sad afterwards.
In 1958, at age 17, John was waiting for his mother at her house when a policeman came to the door and told him Julia had been struck and killed in a traffic accident. After a visit to Mimi's house, on her way home to see John, Julia had crossed the street on her way to the bus stop, and was mowed down by a car driven by a drunk off-duty cop. (At trial, do in part perhaps to Aunt Mimi's yelling at the defendant in the courtroom, the driver was acquitted.)
Half of what I say is meaningless
But I say it just to reach you, Julia*
Paul would later suggest that his bonds with John were strengthened by the sharing of the tragedy of the loss of their mothers.
What was George Harrison chasing in the earliest days? Turns out, Paul says, it was the bus.
"George's passing (in 2002) saddened us all, especially those of us who knew him for a long time," McCartney tells Paste magazine in an interview published in November 2005. "In my case, I knew him longer than any of the other Beatles because he was just the little guy who used to get on my bus the stop after me. What I find happens is, I stop and think, 'oh gosh ... from that day when he first got on my bus to everything we went through, to his passing, it's a complete cycle.' ...looking back at our memories -- my memories of him -- it's just so warm and emotional. The time we hitchhiked to Wales together, the times we'd sit in cafes playing the jukebox together, the time we played Shea Stadium together...."
Lennon, for his part, said of Harrison in the aforementioned Playboy interview, "George's relationship with me was one of young follower and older guy. He's three or four years younger than me. It's a love/hate relationship and I think George still bears resentment toward me for being a daddy who left home. He would not agree with this, but that's my feeling about it.... I don't want to be that egomaniacal, but he was like a disciple of mine when we started. I was already an art student when Paul and George were still in grammar school." (the same as high school in the U.S.) "There is a vast difference between being in high school and being in college and I was already in college and already had sexual relationships, already drank and did a lot of things like that. When George was a kid, he used to follow me and my first girlfriend, Cynthia... who became my wife... around. We'd come out of art school and he'd be hovering around like those kids at the gate of the Dakota now."
In the end, it was, sadly, "one of those kids" hanging around the gates of the Dakota who took Lennon's life.
And Ringo? "Ringo was a star in his own right in Liverpool before we even met," Lennon says. "He was a professional drummer who sang and performed and had Ringo Starr-time and he was in one of the top groups in Britain but especially in Liverpool before we even had a drummer."
So what were John, Paul, George and Ringo about? For other recording artists of the day, the Beatles represented artistic and personal freedom. This was even the subtext when the Beatles visited Elvis in Graceland in 1965. "When John, Paul, Ringo and George walked in, Elvis was relaxing on the couch, looking at TV without the sound," Priscilla Presley recalls in her DVD Elvis by the Presleys. "He barely bothered to get up. Naturally he was curious about the Beatles. He respected them. Mostly he respected the way they had achieved their artistic freedom. He saw how they did whatever they liked to do."
Look what they've done to my song, Ma: (Top) Civil war reenactment? Goober sandwich with bananas? The cultural summit here is reenacted by fans. We're not really sure who's supposed to be whom.... (Middle) Holly and The Crickets; producers kept trying to make Holly sound like a hillbilly or a country singer, till finally someone got the telegram (bottom), 'Don't change his style at all.' Click photo or here to enlarge.
Lennon says of this visit: "I asked (Elvis) if he was preparing new ideas for his next film and he drawled, 'Ah sure am. Ah play a country boy with a guitar who meets a few gals along the way, and ah sing a few songs.' We all looked at one another. Finally Presley and Colonel Parker laughed and explained that the only time they departed from that formula -- for Wild in the Country -- they lost money."
The Beatles were, most importantly, creative writers, and that's how and why they changed everything for popular music, and musicians, and broader society. Lennon, for one example, explaining the genesis of the song, "I Wanna Be Your Man," relates that manager Brian Epstein wanted John and Paul to write a song for an up-and-coming group called the Rolling Stones. "We were taken down by Brian to meet them at the club where they were playing in Richmond," Lennon recalls. "They wanted a song and we went to see what kind of stuff they did. Paul had this bit of a song and we played it roughly for them and they said, 'Yeah, OK, that's our style.' But it was only really a lick, so Paul and I went off in the corner of the room and finished the song off while they were all sitting there, talking. We came back and Mick and Keith said, 'Jesus, look at that. They just went over there and wrote it.' You know, right in front of their eyes. We gave it to them. It was a throwaway.... We weren't going to give them anything great, right? That was the Stones' first record. Anyway, Mick and Keith said, 'If they can write a song so easily, we should try it.' They say it inspired them to start writing together."
That's not to say that the Beatles controlled their own financial and, so ultimately, their creative destinies. At the close of his life, Lennon told Playboy, "I've been baking bread and looking after the baby." Why had he become a househusband? Lennon was asked. "There were many reasons. I had been under obligation or contract from the time I was 22 until well into my 30s. After all those years, it was all I knew. I wasn't free. I was boxed in. My contract was the physical manifestation of being in prison."
In the last years of his life, Lennon the experimenter recognized the importance of getting rid of the lawyers. He and Yoko Ono began taking ever more charge of the business aspect of their lives, and careers. "We had to face the business," Lennon explained. "It was either another case of asking some daddy to come solve our business or having one of us do it. Those lawyers were getting a quarter of a million dollars a year to sit around a table and eat salmon at the Plaza. Most of them didn't seem interested in solving the problems. Every lawyer had a lawyer.... So we felt we had to look after that side of the business and get rid of it and deal with it before we could start dealing with our own life."
Lennon: 'Those lawyers were getting a quarter of a million dollars a year to sit around a table and eat salmon at the Plaza.... Every lawyer had a lawyer.'
"At first, my own accountant and my own lawyer could not deal with the fact that I was telling them what to do," Yoko added. "...A lawyer would send a letter to the directors, but instead of sending it to me, he would send it to John or send it to my lawyer.... There was all this, 'But you don't know anything about the law; I can't talk to you.'"
"They can't stand it. But they have to stand it, because she is who represents us," Lennon chuckled.
The failure of the Beatles to take charge of the business and legal aspects of their careers seeded clouds of trouble. It grew into a decades-long storm that continues to rumble loudly through today's headlines, and corporate board rooms. Take, for instance, Michael Jackson buying the publishing rights to the Beatles' song catalog. The catalog now is worth at least a billion dollars and is still heading north. Jackson bought the catalog for $47.5 million in 1985. (McCartney still complains about having to pay someone every time he sings one of his own songs.) Far from being the crazy insolvent as constantly portrayed in today's corporate media, Michael Jackson at this writing is worth anywhere between $300 to $500 million, thanks to his dwindling, though ever-inflating, ownership stake in the writings of John and Paul. On this long and winding road, Sony continues to wrangle to get complete control of the catalog from Jackson.
All this continues to be THE main event in today's digital rights playbill. The Beatles catalog is the My Precious these sick Gollums try to grab on to and hold. This fight for control in Pepperland, involving characters like Jackson, Sony, Citigroup bank, and others, writes Timothy L. O'Brien in the May 14, 2006, is, "a measure of how desirable the Beatles catalog has been and continues to be to the various financiers and advisers who have hovered around Mr. Jackson since he bought it two decades ago."
Meanwhile, you can sometimes hear touchstone songs like the Beatles' "All you Need is Love" hawking credit cards. "Revolution" sells sneakers. What would Che say? WWJD? What would John do?
The day they shook the apple tree
Recently, the business affairs of the Beatles took center stage again in the case of Apple Corps v. Apple Computer.
The Beatles founded Apple Records in 1968. (The company actually began in 1963 as The Beatles Limited, and twice changed legal names: in 1967 to Apple Music Limited, and finally to Apple Corps, Ltd., which today remains the name of the holding company.) The record company served as a tax shelter for the Fab Four, but the Beatles always said it was supposed to be more than that.
'It's a company we're setting up involving records, films, and electronics.... We want to set up a system where people who just want to make a film about anything don't have to go on their knees in somebody's office. Probably yours.'
John explained, "It's more of a trick to see if we can actually get artistic freedom within a business structure." At the 1968 press conference announcing the formation of Apple Records, Lennon famously expounded, "It's a company we're setting up involving records, films, and electronics, and as a sideline -- manufacturing or whatever. We want to set up a system where people who just want to make a film about anything don't have to go on their knees in somebody's office. Probably yours." Paul added, "It's just trying to mix business with enjoyment. We're in the happy position of not needing any more money. So for the first time, the bosses aren't in it for profit. We've already bought all our dreams. We want to share that possibility with others."
While Apple Records did discover talent and produced music of unknowns, most notably James Taylor (who sent a demo tape to Peter Asher, then head of Apple's A&R department), the idealistic promise of the company never really bore fruit.
The Apple logo -- a green granny smith apple spinning on side A of the phonograph record, and an apple sliced in half turning on the flip side -- became a well-known emblem to an entire generation.
Smartest guy no longer in room
So, who'd want to mess with that? In 1976, two young computer entrepreneurs in California, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, took a bite of the forbidden fruit when they named their startup company Apple Computer. They originally began selling products advertised with the help of a logo depicting Sir Isaac Newton napping unsuspectingly under his loaded apple tree.
The motivation for young Steve Job's selection of an apple for his company's identity has been debated for decades. Jobs and others have variously said the idea came about because a) Jobs had fond memories of working in an orchard one summer in the pacific northwest; b) apples were Jobs' favorite fruit; c) Jobs was looking for an alternative to the "soulless" machine naming convention of technology companies and products and wanted something more humanistic and inviting; d) as an homage to the Beatles.
What's in a name? It's really beside the point. Lennon, after all, took inspiration for the name Beatles from Buddy Holly's Crickets. The Doors ripped off Aldus Huxley, while the Rolling Stones stole from Muddy Waters. Bob Dylan purloined his nom de song from Dylan Thomas (and curiously has been known to threaten legal action against anyone who might also be so poetically inspired), and so on, and so on.
George takes bite out of apple: Perhaps sending a not-so-subtle message to Jobs & Co., this scene appears at the very end of the 1990 Apple Corps documentary Beatles: First U.S. Visit. The footage of George biting the apple actually runs while the Apple Corps copyright notice appears. Watch out lads, his teeth are sharp....
Anyway, the story goes, George Harrison one day spotted an Apple Computer ad in a magazine, and the computer company found itself sued for trademark infringement by Apple Corps in 1978, it's worth pointing out, while Lennon was still alive. In 1981 Apple Computer paid Apple Corps $80,000 to settle the suit, a pittance, really. It seems the smartest guy was no longer in the room. As part of the settlement, Apple Computer agreed to stay out of the music, recording and equipment businesses. The settlement did not settle much. What followed was decades of litigation, in which Apple Corps accused Apple Computer of repeatedly breaching the agreement. The Beatles' company generally made life hell for the computer maker. In 1989, for one famous example, an Apple Computer programmer, Jim Reekes, was told by company lawyers that the name of one system sound, which Reekes called "Chime" or "Xylophone," sounded too musical and might invite legal trouble from Apple Corps.
"So, upon hearing I had to change the name of my new beep," Reekes recounts, "I immediately thought of the perfect name, 'Let it Beep.' Of course, I was joking but it was brilliant right? As everyone was laughing, someone even took me seriously and said I could never get away with that! I said, 'so sue me' and that's when I realized my scheme. I told Sheila the new name would be spelled 's-o-s-u-m-i.' I asked she return the message to legal, but not to use voicemail (since she'd have to pronounce it) and instead send an email with some story about it being Japanese and not meaning anything musical."
By this time, in 1989, Apple Corps had sued Apple Computer again, this time over the Apple IIGS computer, claiming that a music synthesizer chip violated the terms of the 1981 settlement. This led to another settlement in 1991, in which Apple Computer paid Apple Corps roughly $26.5 million. This time, the computer maker agreed not to package, sell or distribute physical music such as CDs, although the door was supposedly left open for Apple Computer to distribute digital music.
The wording and interpretation of this agreement led to a 2003 breach of agreement lawsuit filed by Apple Corps against Apple Computer over the iTunes music store. In May 2006, a British judge decided the case in favor of Apple Computer, though Apple Corps has promised to appeal. The judge complained that a pertinent clause in the agreement between the two Apples had not been "happily drafted." (You can read the text of the judge's decision by clicking here.)
What brought this about in the first place? Lack of foresight, certainly. With Lennon now dead, no one seems to have had the prescience to imagine the wild gale that the music, video and publishing industries were about to ride in the battering seas of changing technologies. As John would surely have asked the other mop heads, "Where's this going? What's the plan?"
But it's not just Apple Records, and the traditional music, video and publishing industries at risk. All of us, and all of society, will be set back and diminished if we do not come to terms with the forces now in play. We all stand to lose, not gain. We all now are losing valuable freedoms to big money, and big government interests.
We all want to change the world
To get a better understanding of some of the problems we now face, it helps to get a better understanding of the motivations driving the tech industries. What, for starters, were the motivations driving the Two Steves, Wozniak and Jobs -- the founders of Apple Computer?
What was Steve Wozniak after? "My goal wasn't to make a ton of money. It was to build good computers," Wozniak recently told the San Jose Mercury News. "...I was just doing something I was very good at, and the thing that I was good at turned out to be the thing that was going to change the world. That wasn't my plan. I didn't think, 'I'm going to change the world.' No, I'm just going to build the best machines I can build that I would want to use in my own life. Steve was much more further-thinking. When I designed good things, sometimes he'd say, 'We can sell this.' And we did. (Jobs) was thinking about how you build a company, maybe even then he was thinking, 'How do you change the world?' He spoke like that."
Chairman Mao and nano: he would have preferred a little red U2 model, but The Edge insulted him at a party....
And Steve Job still talks like that. The phrase, "Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s," to this day appears at the bottom of every Apple press release. And the revolution, to hear Jobs talk of it, like Ol' Man River, just keeps on rolling along. "'iPod Nano is the biggest revolution since the original iPod,' said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO," goes the press release for Apple's small digital music player. You'd think a nano had just landed on a beach in Africa.
"Of course, this is Steve Jobs talking, and he says that about every new product when it's ready to launch," Time magazine gushed in a 2002 cover story about Jobs and the new iMac computer. "With him, it's always a revolution."
"The personal computer was created by the hardware revolution of the 1970's and the next dramatic change will come from a software revolution," Jobs is quoted by David Halliday, in Current Biography, in February 1983.
This guy has more revolutions going than Mao Tse-tung. Blah, blah, blah, Steve Jobs rattles on, wearing John Lennon glasses, and a face that he keeps in a jar by the door.
Free your mind instead
And what about Steve Paul Jobs? In an April, 2006, interview with the Seattle Times, Wozniak relates that he was never a close friend of Jobs. "Even when Apple really got started we weren't close friends," Wozniak says, "because (Jobs) had a different motivation in the company, which was to run a company, and mine was just to be a top engineer that did clever, clever projects. So we almost never saw each other in the company."
A day in the life: Woz and Jobs are shown igniting things with a piece of world changing, revolutionary hardware. It can't dial a phone, but we're sure it's 'blazing fast'....
Much has been written in the computer press of Steve Jobs' shoddy treatment of Wozniak, who, after all, was, and remains, the real inventor. Suffice it to say, Wozniak did not enjoy a "No Matter What" relationship with Jobs. Much too has been written about Jobs' ability to bully others. His "reality distortion field." His recruiting of Pepsi executive John Sculley to Apple, by asking Sculley, "Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to change the world?" In the old days, it was entertaining. Now it's getting borish, insulting, and socially dangerous.
What exactly is Steve Jobs? He's a Bologna Merchant. A seller of boloney. A bullshit artist.
As Jobs prepares to take a seat on the board of the Disney, having sold Pixar to the Magic Kingdom, the bologna machine seems to have been cranked into ubber extrusion. Even as Jobs is busy sucking juice from the echo of the Beatles, he'd like us to think he's some sort of Woody Guthrie of technology, whose red-ribboned circuit boards are made for you and me.
On May 26, 2006, the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, Star Tribune went so far as to publish an article entitled, "Peas in an iPod: Similar strengths and weaknesses make Bob Dylan and Steve Jobs an interesting entrepreneurial comparison." That's right, now Jobs is being compared with The Bard from Hibbing. Give us a break, will you?
Someone out there, and we think it's Steve Jobs, would have us think Jobs is somehow on the same creative level as Dylan, Lennon and McCartney, Matisse, Da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Typhoid Mary. Think different, Steve.
Decades, centuries from now, people will still be watching footage of the Beatles' first U.S. tour in 1964, and feeling wonder and goosebumps.
Fred Waring and blender: A revolution in drink mixing. Apple juice, anyone?
Computer hardware, on the other hand, circa 1984 to 2010, will be regarded roughly the same as we now regard old toasters. Steve Jobs, in reality, is more comparable to Fred Waring, the bland bandleader and marketer of the Waring Blender, who himself actually never invented the gizmo, but who bought and marketed the idea from the guy who did.
All this reality distortion would be laughable, if events of late hadn't taken such bad turns. Apple Computer lately has displayed a penchant for suing small web publishers for exercising their first amendment freedoms. The computer maker is putting forth the dangerous and highly irresponsible argument that an individual on the web does not, and should not, enjoy the same press freedoms as a lackey reporter who shills for a corporate newspaper, or a Rupert Murdoch rag. Well, listen to the money talk.
The American Bill of Rights states clearly that Congress shall enact no law limiting press and speech freedoms. Where then does this notion arise that a writer must have a lawyer on hand, and a large budget, to speak and write freely? The intrusion of the legal establishment into literary matters must, and will, be addressed, and curtailed.
By suing web publishers for supposedly publishing "trade secrets," Jobs and Company place themselves on the same onerous playing field as the Bush Administration, which regularly, and repressively, threatens reporters with jail time for writing about matters leaked from within Bush's own organization. As we'd say in farm country, "If you can't keep your horse in your barn, don't blame me if it runs in my field."
Some would have us believe that the internet, and computers, represent a step forward, and are a revolution in personal freedoms. As largely impoverished British writer Eric Blair (who wrote under the name George Orwell) warned us, these technologies also have every potential to take us on a giant social leap backward. Ask the Chinese.
Websites can be taken down with a flick of a switch, or a rap of a gavel. See electrons writ like water, and history changed. Ink on paper, on the other hand, is much more difficult to control, and suppress.
What was the computer/internet revolution supposed to be about? "Steve Jobs believes what people want is control over their digital lives," Time magazine gushed in its 2002 cover story.
That's what's promised in the manifesto: artists, business people, and all our citizens should have the freedom to create, produce, and distribute their own work, free of the traditional middlemen of the past. Job & Co. even sponsored the infamous 1984 tv ad, directed by Ridley Scott, showing a fleet-footed rebeller tossing a hammer into Big Brother's overbearing face.
What was promised in the manifesto? Artists, business people, and all our citizens supposedly would have the freedom to create, produce, and distribute their own work, free of the traditional middlemen of the past.
Today, we don't need another over-hyped Big Brother hardware, or a software, holding company. We don't need a digital middleman to replace the old brick-and-mortar middlemen. What we need is a champion to fight for our freedoms to create and speak freely on the web, and to ensure our privacy from snooping eyes and ears. We need expanded standards of fair use copyrights. And we especially need to demand first amendment rights for all.
We need a champion to fight for these freedoms on our digital frontiers. And you know what, Steve? It ain't you, babe.
Not long ago, Paul McCartney and his wife Heather rightly called on the public to boycott Chinese goods, due to the abhorrent Sino fur trade. It would certainly be right for thoughtful people everywhere to shun Apple Computer's iTunes music store, if only to protest Apple's treatment of web writers.
But a boycott isn't necessary to bring change. Web stores like the iTunes music store are antithetical to the promise of the net.
"The white man knows how to make everything," Sitting Bull shrewdly observed, "but he does not know how to distribute it." The iTunes music store is not a revelation, let alone a revolution. Far from it. It's merely another misguided attempt at centralized distribution. As such, it's doomed to fail.
What about Apple Records? Apple should shun the iTunes music store, and other centralized corporate web stores, and begin selling Beatles songs directly on its beatles.com or applecorps.com websites, and through downloads to cell phones.
By doing this, Paul and Ringo, Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison will get back to the idea of inspiring other musicians, artists and writers to produce and distribute their own work, on their own websites.
The public still has an alternative to centralized distribution schemes like iTunes and Amazon.com. Buy directly from the websites of the artists, writers and producers, before they're run out of business, censored or jailed.
As the 50th anniversary of its founding approaches, Apple Corps should again ignite fires of hope.
Half a century ago, on a day in 1957, one young man scribbled down boot-legged lyrics of a song, handed them over to another open-minded lad, and a fiery torch was passed, a true revolution ignited.
*compare, of course, Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam: "Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so the other half may reach you."