The New Supergroup

Crap! Now I gotta go out and buy an iPod.” That was my friend Steve’s reaction to news that Apple this month will roll out a special edition U2 Ipod.

Steve has always had a healthy respect for Apple products, but like many PC users, he has yet to break down and buy any of them. Like me, he downloaded U2’s latest single, “Vertigo,” the first day it was on iTunes. But he was still toying with the idea of buying a Sony mp3 player—until the special-edition $349 black-and-red U2 iPod, featuring the band members’ signatures engraved on the back, was announced. The fact that Apple is also releasing U2’s first digital box set, The Complete U2, featuring more than 400 tracks, including the band’s upcoming new album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, helped seal the deal. (The U2 iPod comes with a coupon for $50 off the $149 box set.)

Steve and I used to share a house in San Francisco and a lot of music. I would load his favorite CDs into my iMac; he would load mine into his Dell. Both long-time U2 fans, we also saw them in concert together on their last tour. So Steve offered to drive me to San Jose for last week’s Apple event outlining the Apple/U2 co-branded products. On the way, we discussed the alliance.

Was the band with the biggest heart in rock ‘n’ roll selling out? It’s about music, Steve said. They’re not shilling for an oil company. For me, it’s like seeing two of my favorite brands coming together for a special jam session. The price of entry? A powerful new black box—the “uPod.”

Taking the stage at the California Theater last week with guitarist The Edge, Bono joked that with bass player Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. absent, Steve Jobs would have to fill in on drums. Bono noted that music and technology have always been intertwined, from Jimi Hendrix’s distortion pedal to drum machines and samplers. “It’s kind of extraordinary that music companies didn’t crack the problem of piracy,” he said. “Isn’t that a bit mad?”

The Edge, known as the technology guy in the band, said that when Napster got up and running, “I was simultaneously very excited, ’cause I’m into that kind of thing, and appalled about where it might lead us. As long as we find a way for us to get paid, it would ultimately be a good thing. I think it had to be a technology company that broke new ground. It is the future.”

Bono gave a nod to “Jonny iPod”—Jonathan Ive, Apple’s main designer. “There is poetic side to the technology,” he said. “To me, [the iPod] is the most interesting art product since the electric guitar.” He also gave shout-outs to Jimmy Iovine, chairman of U2’s label, UMG’s Interscope Geffen A&M Records, and to TBWA\Chiat\Day’s James Vincent, who helped negotiate the iTunes deal and get the “Vertigo” music video/commercial produced within a few days. Bono and The Edge then played two new songs, “Original of the Species” and “All Because of You.”

As my friend Steve and I made our way back up to San Francisco, I fumbled with my tape recorder. The least I could do was let him hear the new tunes. Suddenly, we were pulled over for speeding. “Are you late going somewhere?” the cop asked. We apologized, but Steve couldn’t resist. He explained how I had just seen U2 at an Apple event, and that we had gotten a little distracted listening to the tape. The cop didn’t say much, but he did shave eight miles off our speed.

As we drove off, I pulled out the recorder again. “All because of you,” crooned Bono. And because of U2, Apple has another switcher—and may even perk up the music industry in the process.

For the Record: The profile on Lee Garfinkel was inadvertently cut off in last week’s issue [Oct. 25]. To read the complete story, please visit the In Print section of