What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at www.aycinena.com. She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.
Pop Pop iPop :: Prince King Potentate
June 28th, 2012 by Peggy Aycinena
The week of Fourth of July in the U.S. is a short work week and one where most people are on vacation, or at least thinking about it. So let’s take a break from the day-to-day stress of work and worry, and think about other things as well – things like innovation.
The following was first published in October 2011 in EDA Confidential, just a few days after Steve Jobs passed away.
Over the last 60 years, three wildly different anarchists have grabbed the Common Man by the throat, forced him to take off the blinders, stop signing on the bottom line, and cease obsessing about crossing those damn t’s or dotting those accursed i’s. In so doing, these three more than any others of their time redefined the modern zeitgeist and created 20th Century Man, a hominid unrecognizable from any that came before.
And, because the risks of fomenting chaos often – and perversely – generate great rewards, these guys also raked in an outsized share of the cosmic pie and were anointed, respectively, Prince of Pop, King of Pop, and Potentate of iPop.
It wasn’t all goodness and light, however; the Fates insisted on having the last word in the unscripted and tumultuous glories of the three. Clearly flying too close to the sun, not a single one of them lived to see a 60th birthday.
Andy Warhol, born Andrew Warhola in 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was different from the start. His parents were foreign, having emigrated from Slovakia in the early part of the century, and then survived those decades when America was most isolationist and least disposed to look kindly on those who spoke English badly. Having left the tumult of a disintegrating Eastern Europe behind, Andrew’s father supported the family through the 1920’s and 30’s on his coal miner wages, and then died accidentally in 1942 when Warhola was only 13. Things only went downhill from there.
It seems quite possible that Andrew Warhola hated his parents’ lives. Even as a child, he could see they were powerless over their destinies, either back in the Old World or here in the New, where the rules were not to be broken, even though nobody could tell you exactly what those rules were. Hence, like so many anarchists before him, Warhola came to understand that the rules were as unclear and capricious, as they were unforgiving.
Early on, he seemed to know he would voluntarily pay the wages of sedition against those rules, and through the visual arts would articulate the landscape of this Land of the Free that destiny had plopped him into. He would use ink and paint, celluloid, multi-media, and theater to portray mid-20th Century Man, particularly the one who reigned supreme in the 1960’s.
And because his was not a flattering portrayal, but one that eventually captured and/or invented the growing perception that post-War America had been reduced by Madison Avenue to mindless, zombie-like consumerism, Andrew Warhola became – in name and truth – Andy Warhol, pop culture icon and household name.
After studying art at what today is Carnegie Melon, Warhol enjoyed years of success as a graphic artist, including extensive work designing record albums from a host of different musical genres. Warhol hit his stride in New York City in the 1960’s, however, his voice and artistic vernacular distilled down to an increasingly crisp – albeit, at times verbose – expression of his vision of Modernity. Warhol was everywhere, his art even more so, and the Prince of Pop was crowned.
To capitalize on his growing cultural cache, Warhol opened a studio in lower Manhattan. More than just an art studio or colony of disaffected social observers, The Factory was a place where boatloads of anti-art, across a variety of mediums, were cranked out in volume, or individually, piece by piece. Warhol’s Factory served as the ultimate up yours to a society that so loved the idea and narcissism of revolution and anarchy, it happily shelled out fistfuls of capitalist-generated dollars to own the stuff: “I’m so cool, I can buy Warhol, loath my own existence, and brag about it to my friends.”
Warhol’s art and vision were mesmerizing, shallow, profound, profane, and pedestrian all at once. An acknowledged genius, he was ofttimes faithless to friends or cruel to associates, and was ultimately a jealous gatekeeper and promoter of the economic value of his own intellectual property, which he churned out in ever-greater quantity over the last several decades of his life.
He also survived a close-range assassination attempt, was reputedly a life-long hypochondriac, and closeted gay man, and all the while a practicing Eastern-rite Catholic. There was nothing simple about Warhol, yet it was all so simple. Tragedy and freakishness and brutal candor and innovation frequently are.
Andy Warhol died, unexpectedly, in 1987 at the age of 58 due to post-operative complications of gall bladder surgery. A world-renowned artist, he left an estate valued somewhere between $200 million and $600 million, all of his own making.
Both the medical care at the time of his death and the true valuation of his estate were subjects of multiple lawsuits over the next several years, and the source of ongoing contention between various interested parties.
No matter the chaos he left behind, however, Warhol’s creative genius changed the world. And, it was his endless breaking of the rules, and revolutionary innovations, that made Andy Warhol in the 1960’s the undisputed Prince of Pop.
By the last several decades of the 20th Century, the Revolution had indeed been televised. It was increasingly hip and cool to be an ethnicity other than White, a gender other than Male, and of a sexual orientation other than hetero.
Those things, however, were not true in 1958 when Michael Jackson was born Black in Indiana. Of course, like many who America calls Black, Jackson had both Caucasian and African blood coursing through his veins. No matter, however, because over the next several decades, the chances that a man of Jackson’s generation and racial profile would spend time in the penitentiary were greater than the chances he would grow up to be a doctor, lawyer, or president.
Jackson’s father was a tough guy, but unlike Warhol’s parents Joe Jackson knew the rules were far from obscure; they were written in giant letters on the side of the barn: 1) You’re not wanted. 2) If you step out of line, you will be hurt. 3) If you want to succeed, do what your kind are supposed to do: entertain.
And entertain he did. First with his own band, and then by promoting a band comprised of the fruits of Mrs. Jackson’s labors, 3 boys out of the ten Jackson children born in the 50’s and 60’s. Joe Jackson squired his increasingly popular Jackson Brothers all over the Midwest, and in rehearsing them endlessly to the exclusion of all else, the group was primed and ready when two more sons graduated from diapers and into the act, including 6-year-old Michael. A small child will do most anything to please, and avoid a whipping, and please is what precocious Michael did best. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. Year after year. To the exclusion of all else.
Joe Jackson had been around the music scene long enough to see that with Michael, he had the secret sauce needed to take the act to the next level. The Jackson 5 began recording in 1967, moved to legendary Motown Records in ’68, and Epic Records in ’75. Over those years, Michael emerged as the premier talent in the act, and for the next 40 years he never left the public eye.
Recording solo, with family, and other collborators; appearing and/or contributing to film, live theater, advertising, and most notably to the emerging vernacular of the music video; garnering inspiration from James Brown and Diana Ross, among others; Michael Jackson’s many decades of legendary, ground-breaking output earned him international fame, dozens of Grammys and American Music Academy awards, induction into multiple halls of fame, a weird trip to the Reagan White House, millions of fans, and many more millions of dollars.
His creative genius in vocals and composition, his revolutionary innovations across all forms of entertainment and dance, found him unequivocally crowned the King of Pop.
From the mid-90’s until his sudden death in 2009 at the age of 50, however, Jackson’s astonishing career found itself sharing the limelight with an increasingly bizarre freak show of notoriety: eerie marriages, children born through surrogate mothers, a baby dangled over the edge of a hotel balcony, endless, radical changes to his face and skin tone, disturbing weight loss, and most sordid of all, accusations of child-abuse which put him in and out of court multiple times.
And, of course, through it all he was endlessly and mercilessly pursued by the paparazzi. Even in death, his corporal self has been afforded no privacy. There was nothing simple about Jackson – the tragedy and freakishness and creativity and innovation were all parts of the same continuum.
In his later years, Jackson also seemed hell-bent on bankruptcy, spending millions on his Neverland Ranch in Southern California, and many more millions trying to quench an unquenchable thirst for high-end goods.
At the time of his death, Jackson’s debt was thought to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Here in 2011, however, reports suggest that since his death, the Michael Jackson “franchise” has earned over $1 billion, including his part stake in the Beatles ouvre, which he successfully purchased in 1985 at the height of his popularity and earning power.
Of course, finances were not the only controversies left a’churn following the drama and pathos of Jackson’s death: What to do with the remains of his shattered world tour? What to do with his unpublished works? Who would have custody of his children? Who would control his estate? Who would be held culpable for his death?
All of those questions aside, and no matter the chaos he left behind, it was Jackson’s iconic innovations in music and dance that made him by the 1980’s the undisputed King of Pop. Whether pursuing his muse or fleeing his demons, his creative genius changed the world.
The first decade of the 21st century blew in along with the Y2K/dot.com crisis, the 9/11 attacks, and the spectre of widespread pandemic. Titillating as it all was to Doomsday groupies looking for The End of Life as We Know It, things happened between 2000 and 2011, and products were introduced, that took the ferocious optimism and belligerant innovations of the late 20th century right up through to the end of the first decade of the 21st. And those things, in particular over these past 12 days, have been attributed to the vision and take-no-prisoners attitude of the one and only Steve Jobs.
With his passing on October 5, 2011, it apparently now falls to his grieving accolytes, and other mere mortals, to somehow move forward and attempt to find a way to reinvent and recreate Jobs’ legendary atmosphere of disruptive change – an atmosphere that promotes ever newer, ever more cutting edge products, and ever newer, ever more cutting edge visions of a Modernity that seamlessly integrates the human/technology gestalt.
But can it be done, can that atmosphere be maintained? Or, does the death of Steve Jobs presage the end of the historic levels of innovation that have defined Life as We Have Known It for the past 60 years? Is it over?
Born in 1955 …
Yeah, yeah, the illegitimate child of an American woman and Syrian man, Jobs was adopted by a Silicon Valley-based family. Come on, he was hardly the first to have ever been adopted, although it is unusual that his biological parents ended up marrying and bearing another child, something Jobs apparently didn’t know until later. But, if this was all the motivation needed to drive one to be an innovator, the whole world would be incandescent with free, original thinkers. So, where were we?
… and building on the free-spirited attitudes of the 60’s, Jobs dropped out of college in the 70’s, worked at [a very early] Atari, went to India, embraced The Buddah, returned to Atari, renewed his working realtionship with Steve Wozniak, the other Steve, and together they founded Apple in 1976. The rest hardly bears repeating, given the overwhelming coverage over the last 12 days: Apple I, Apple II, Apple III, Lisa, Macintosh, just for starters.
But there’s more to the narative than just product specs: In 1978, Apple fought The Beatles over the use of a word. [Hey! I love you guys, SO MUCH, I want to pattern the revolutionary attitudes in my nascent company after the revolutionary attitudes in your music & publishing company!] That battle continued for 30 years. In the late 70s, Jobs reportedly became involved with Joan Baez, per the lore, to slake his obsession with Bob Dylan.
In 1979, Xerox allowed the Apple guys access to its newly developed graphical user interface in exchange for lotsa pre-IPO stock options, and Jobs et al took the GUI to market. By 1980, Apple went glamorously public, but subsequent internal turf wars [read, “Jobs liked to rumble.”] roiled things up endlessly. By 1985, Jobs was fired from the company he’d helped found, by the CEO he helped bring on board.
Then Jobs’ story became really interesting. He founded NeXT; he bought Pixar from LucasFilms; he drove things to Infinity & Beyond. Disney bought Pixar and Jobs rumbled with those guys. Then Apple bought NeXT in ’96 and got Jobs back in the process, who thereby re-entered the fray at the company he’d founded 20 years before. Even after all of this, however, he was still not royalty.
It was only in the decade after 2000, the decade of the mind-altering successes of the iMac + iPod + iTunes + iPhone + iTouch + iPad jugernaut, that Steve Jobs was unequivocally crowned the Potentate of iPop.
It was in this decade where he seems to have taken his previous 30 years positioning himself as a 60’s-era rebel, and leveraged that revolutionary ambience to totally shake things up at Apple. In fact, they say he demanded ultimate sign-off on every single feature of every single product. Was it true, or just hype generated by the Apple Marketing Machine?
We’ll never know because it was at this point that Steve Jobs began to take on the persona of a superman, a savior, a visionary, a once-in-a-millenium godlike freak of nature, the man who single-handedly invented the aesthetic of consumer electronics, and in so doing, ushered in the Next Epoch of Human Existance.
Tragically, in the same decade as his coronation, however, Jobs developed cancer, had a liver transplant, excused himself from running Apple several times, got thinner and thinner, and eventually succumbed to disease at the age of 56.
The Potentate who could never fail, for whom the ovations and commendations were endless, the Leader who despite his legendary “profanity-laced tantrums” [USA Today] was revered, honored, sought after, emulated and adored? That Potentate is gone.
The estate he has left, presumably to his wife and children [even the one he famously denied fathering long ago], is valued in the billions. The value of the legacy he’s left to his company, however, is less easily quantized, because they’ve got a problem. The company’s invested so much in the Power of the Potentate, his face, his galvanizing leadership, his magic touch, it’s not clear where they go from here.
But, no matter. No matter the chaotic adulation, or the stunning void in his company’s cache that his death has left behind, it was Job’s endless ability to promote innovations in this past decade, to think outside the box, to demand market-shattering excellence in Apple’s iProducts, to push his company, and his own image, up to a Pinacle of Power, and hence overwhelm both the semiconductor industry and international business, that made Steve Jobs here in the closing moments of the 20th century the undisputed Potentate of iPop.
First off, the lives of Warhol, Jackson, and Jobs seemed to have been intertwined endlessly.
Warhol rendered Michale Jackson, and Bob Dylan. Dylan knew Baez, and apparently so did Jobs. Jackson recorded with Paul McCartney, then battled with his agents in the fight over the Beatles catalog. Warhol also imaged the Beatles, and of course Jobs adored the Beatles. Everyone in Silicon Valley knew several years ago when Apple finally secured the rights to include the Beatles on iTunes; Jobs’ triumph generated what seemed like a million billboards all over the Bay Area celebrating the fact. Meanwhile, Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis, and Warhol also imaged Elvis.
All of this intertwining is of little consequence, however, compared with the overarching reason Warhol, Jackson, and Jobs together constitute the Regal Trinity of Power and Influence that has effectively defined popular culture over the last 60 years.
They were world famous. They made bazillions of dollars out of their creative Chi. They had passionate disciples who wept when they died, and passionate critics who did not. They generated millions and millions of units … posters, albums, and electronic devices.
Never forget that as much as any one individual, during the course of a lifetime, may come up with new ideas, disruptive innovations, or game-changing concepts – if those ideas, innovations, or concepts are not commercialized and translated into significant revenues, neither that individual, nor the things they invented, will wield the levels of influence of those that are.
But, the principle reason why Warhol, Jackson, and Jobs should be invoked in the same reverent breath?
They learned early that they could break the rules, and should break the rules, and that nobody would take them to task for their personal anarchies – as long as their breaking of those rules generated influence and revenue, and terrified the bejeezus out of the competition.
And for all three – as the world bowed low before them, and they grew ever more addicted to that adulation – Warhol, Jackson, and Jobs each happily mounted their thrones, never looked back, and innovated their guts out up until the day they died.
They turned the world on its head, broke all the rules, aggressively reinvented popular culture, over and over again, and in so doing, completely redefined what it meant to be 20th Century Man.
Free. Angry. Creative. Crazy. Wild.
Admittedly, not everything about Warhol, Jackson and Jobs ties together neatly. Warhol and Jackson may have had teams of people working for them at The Factory or in various recording companies, respectively, but the ideas behind their production were clearly of their own making. When they died, the value of their intellectual property increased sharply; there would be no more output, and therefore what existed took on additional posthumous value.
Steve Jobs, on the other hand, was not an engineer; Wozniak designed the early Apple products, and by the time of Jobs’ death, thousands upon thousands of people at Apple were involved in designing, debugging, manufacturing, packaging, marketing, and selling the company’s product line. Steve Jobs’ contribution might be more appropriately seen as that of the flamboyant impresario, something like Louise Comfort Tiffany who put his company’s name on a diverse set of items, but was not the actual designer of many of those items.
When Steve Jobs died, what he had ‘created’ did not take on additional value, as the world expects more new output to emanate from Apple indefinitely. How that expectation dovetails with the company’s long-standing campaign to “Create Jobs” has not yet been explained.
Nonetheless, Jobs’ motivational style, his fierce and demanding expectations of excellence, seem to have been the secret sauce behind the success of Apple’s consumer electronics over the last decade. Would these things have happened without him?
How can we ever know?
* The painting of the Campbell Soup can was the creation of Andy Warhol. 
* The B&W portrait of Andy Warhol was the work of Richard Avedon. 
* “Billie Jean” was the creation of Michael Jackson. 
* The B&W portrait of Michael Jackson was the work of Annie Liebovitz. 
* The iPod was developed by Apple under the leadership of Steve Jobs. 
* The B&W portrait of Steve Jobs was the work of Diane Walker. 
* Andy Warhol’s painting of Michael Jackson is shown on an Apple iPad2. 
“What supports innovation? Ecosystems of partners, speed and agility, leveraging your business assets, and the business case.”
– Viktor Arvidsson, Ericsson
“Silicon Valley promotes Innovation as more than a Way of Life. It’s apparently a Religion.”