U2 and Apple partnered together last week to sync “Songs of Innocence,” U2’s latest, mediocre album, to every single iTunes account on the planet. They seemed quite proud of their “largest album release of all time,” and didn’t stop to think that maybe there are a bunch of us out here in the wilds who don’t want a U2 album, even if it is free. There was some Twitter hub-ub, and today Apple finally gave people a chance to opt-out of their charity.
Are we all a bunch of ungrateful cretins for returning a gift? It was free. The files can easily be deleted from individual devices, if not easily removed from the cloud without Apple’s provided tool. We should just accept the generosity and move on with our lives, right? Why should something free cause so much fervor?
It’s because some of us still care about music. Some of us maintain a personal connection to our music collections. Some of us are even terrible snobs who refuse to have *sniff* U2 on our iPods, and it’s all a good thing. It means that the ease with which we access music and other media has not lost its ability to make us care. We might explore more music more casually than we have in the past, but it still has the power to affect us and we still care.
U2 and Apple have clearly forgotten this. What with U2, you know, making music for a living, you’d think they’d remember what it’s like to listen to music and actually feel something. Maybe Bono’s permanently sunglass tinted view of the world has somehow caused a dissociative disorder. He even claims that this is a more “personal” album. A personal album that he’d apparently like to shove into every digital pocket he can gain access too. Man, Bono gets a lot of crap, doesn’t he? I’m sorry, The Edge is probably an asshole too.
In fact the whole thing feels a lot like a grandmother who keeps offering bacon to your Jewish friend at breakfast and can’t understand why he refuses. Everyone likes bacon. It’s free bacon. What’s the problem? On some level there’s only so mad you can be at someone giving you something for free, but there comes a point of insistence where they are no longer being generous. They are being insensitive to your preferences and ability to consent.
My music collecting habits tend to cycle between fevered searches for new music and then digestion of that music. I’m like a python swallowing chunks of music bigger than my head and then letting it sort of move through me before taking a nap and going at it again. Despite access to nearly unlimited streaming music services like Spotify, Pandora and Rdio I’m still fairly selective about what music I actually download or put in a playlist. I have albums and playlists I go to when I feel, or want to feel, a certain way. I communicate to myself through music and communicate to others through music.
Skimming through someone’s music collection is a way to gather something about them that they would probably never be able to put into words. I have friends where most of our communication is prefaced with sharing music. It can be music that we liked or music that we thought the other person would like. Even if I’m off the mark the effort is appreciated. The attempt to understand another person’s tastes, how they came by those tastes and then to engage with those tastes is intimate.
Giving gifts in general is intimate, and Apple and U2 violated that intimacy. Gifts show thought and deliberation. It’s not just giving someone something. It’s saying, “I thought that you should have this.” A good gift says something about the giver and the receiver. All that giving away “Songs of Innocence” says is, “You have an iTunes subscription.” It’s essentially perverse. It eliminates all thought from the process and denies the agency of the receiver. Nobody accepted the album, nobody asked for it, they just have it now.
At no point in this interaction were people even thought about. They didn’t give you an album. They gave your iTunes account an album. U2 wasn’t trying to reach as many fans as possible. It’s almost a slap in the face to actual fans of U2. Musicians are forever doing things for the fans. They appreciate fans who come out to shows and buy albums and t-shirts. THey appreciate the people who choose to pursue and support their artistic endeavors, but U2 seems uninterested in their fans. They seem unaware that the people who show up at their shows are not simply the ones who COULD make it, but the ones who WANTED to make it. They dismiss the idea that there are people in the area who might be uninterested, even hostile to what they are doing. The people who show up are simply the subset of people who can fit within the physical confines of the venue they occupy.
So the natural reaction to this limitation, this inability for U2 to share their music with everyone simultaneously, is to change the venue. Obviously everyone wanted to be at the show, but those pesky walls just couldn’t hold the throngs. We all wanted to get in, didn’t we? They invaded our personal spaces and denied our personal preferences because they couldn’t conceive of a person, or at least a significant number of people, who wouldn’t want to hear a U2 album if given the chance to do so for free. Everyone can find something to like in a U2 album, right?
No, some of us don’t feel that a U2 album deserves a place in our musical world. Cliche though it is, music connects to the soul. To accept an unwelcome imposition on the soul is poison. Even silly, novelty music speaks to something in us. To some of us music, and the choice of our own music, is still something personal, and that’s a good thing, even if some of the biggest creators and distributors of music have lost track of that.
“The next night, in another restaurant, The Astronaut was scarfing up his chow — stone sober — when a fourteen-year-old boy approached the table to ask for his autograph. _____ acted coy for a moment, feigning embarrassment, then he scrawled his signature on the small piece of paper the boy handed him. The boy looked at it for a moment, then tore it into small pieces and dropped it in _____’s lap. “Not everybody loves you, man,” he said. Then he went back and sat down at his own table, about six feet away. ” – Fear and Loathing Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson