Wednesday, September 17, 2014


This article originally appeared in the 9.18.14 issue of Metroland.

This week let’s tear down without building up.

            Let’s talk about U2.

            For years, U2 has been at the forefront of the idiot chatter about the evils of the internet and downloading music.  The band and especially its manager, Paul McGuinness, would regularly sound off about how Google could easily stop “piracy” and how all this business about “free music” was an insult to musicians and was devaluing music, and that music is sacred and yada yada yada.  These pronouncements were some of the most stupid and tone-deaf music-biz drivel out there.  And they were rightfully ignored, because what they said really didn’t matter.

            And so how odd that last week, as part of Apple’s big unveiling of the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch, here’s U2 playing a new song and then sharing a chummy onstage announcement with Tim Cook that Apple is giving away U2’s new album to everyone who has the iTunes program.  Which is most of us.   And as you are probably painfully aware, this isn’t a situation where you can go to some website and download the album, or buy a newspaper and get a free CD.  Nope, Apple instead dropped the album into everyone’s iTunes cloud account (which many people, including myself, didn’t realize they had), and depending on the settings for the cloud account you may not have known you had, the album typically loaded automatically into your computer or phone.  There.  You own the new U2 album, like it or not.

            The reactions were immediate and damning.  And for good reason.  Nobody wants stuff, any kind of stuff, rammed down their throats.  Nobody wants their music library messed with. That Apple thinks it can just stick stuff on your machine, and that U2, of all people, are cool with it, is just mind-bogglingly wrong.  As one commentator said: a gift on my doorstep is one thing. A gift that you left in my house, after letting yourself in, is something different.”  Apple’s notion of personal privacy appears to be different than ours.

            And we learn that a great many younger folk have no idea who U2 even is.  The website contains thousands of tweets from outraged teenagers around the world, asking who is U2 and why are they (or him, or it) on my phone?  It’s hysterically funny.  This is not how one builds a fan base. 

            U2’s reaction has been clueless.  The band’s new manager Guy Oseary (McGuiness retired last year, replaced with this young guy who used to work with Madonna, which ought to tell you something) said: “If you don’t like this gift, you should delete it.”  Duh, right.  Except apparently getting rid of the album isn’t that easy. Online how-to articles popped up with titles like How To Get That Awful U2 Album Off Your Computer; after a few days, Apple mercifully issued a one-step removal patch so folks could ditch the album from their phones and computers.

            Bono, ever prone to the misdirected faux-heroic statement, said this: "For the people out there who have no interest in checking us out, look at it this way: The blood, sweat and tears of some Irish guys are in your junk mail."  How very nice.  And to the allegation that all of this flies in the face of U2’s prior damning of free music?  Why, the album isn’t free, you see, because U2 got paid for it.  The latest estimate I’ve seen is that Apple paid U2 120 million dollars for the right to infect your devices with the U2 album.  That’s a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears, Bono.  And it’s still free music, dude.  To everybody but you.

            What a ridiculous, avoidable, bone-headed situation.  I suppose that it’s great that U2 got paid, although that’s an obscene amount of money for an album, especially these days.  Innovative ways of getting music into consumers’ hands is good, too.  But not like this.  From Apple’s perspective, what were they thinking?  They’re still trying to deal with the fall-out from the massive hack of photos from iCloud a couple of weeks ago and now they want to demonstrate how easy it really is?  And U2 is cool with having their precious, sacred music reduced in people’s eyes to a nasty computer virus?

            Don’t get me wrong.  I love Apple, I use their stuff and wouldn’t think of switching.  Not yet anyway.  And I generally like U2, have liked them since I saw their very first US appearance at the Ritz in NYC in 1980.  I don’t even mind Bono’s bloviating to world leaders about world hunger and stuff.  I do object, however, to those goofy glasses he wears, those plastic things that look like those big sun-glassy things old ladies wear over their glasses.  What’s up with those?

            But this was just about the dumbest thing either Apple or U2 have ever done.  And that’s saying something.  Nothing good will come of this, except that something like this will never happen again.  And both Apple and U2 got some ‘splainin to do.

Paul Rapp is a frisky local entertainment attorney who would swing baseball bats on TV whilst telling you how great he is if he thought it would do any good.


At 8:01 PM, Anonymous Pete Delocis said...

The allusion to Negativland is priceless.

At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Rikki Bates said...

Dear Apple,

NO I DON'T2. Maybe U2, but hell no, not me, I never did and never will. So if you love2 2 so much why don't Ujust2 all by yourself and leave me alone?

And FU2.


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