Friday, October 7, 2011

You're still someone if Steve Jobs never called you at 3 a.m.

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I was just sitting at home late one night, counting my money, when the phone rang. "It's Steve. That column you wrote was a piece of crap. Here are my ideas for the next iPod, iPad, manned space station and cure for AIDS. I am telling you all of this because this is what I do. I'm Steve Jobs, and I reveal myself in mysterious ways, especially when I confide in you. Now here is my plan for conquering Hollywood."

That never happened to me, of course. Like millions of others, my closest contact with Steve Jobs was in watching Apple's carefully choreographed video feeds, and through reading his endearingly curt, deus ex machina messages to customers on emailsfromstevejobs.com. ("Yep." "Nope.")

But in all the coverage of Jobs's death — a couple pieces of which I have been responsible for — you get the sense that everybody else in business or journalism had some kind of special lifeline to the great man, randomly accessed but always deeply meaningful. Writers of all kinds recalled Jobs phoning at odd hours with specific reactions to their pieces, underscoring the significance of their work. TV personalities dangled meaningless connections. Business leaders beamed about the abuse and cajoling they regularly got from him; like groupies recounting their encounters years later, they always eagerly gave in.

Many of these connections were surely real. Jobs did of course have a habit of calling some key journalists, like Walt Mossberg. But make no mistake: there are very, very few Walt Mossbergs out there. It reminds me of something my esteemed former colleague Bernard Holland once wrote about the many spurious claims of familiarity after the death of Glenn Gould, another famously private and irascible personality:

In death, Gould came to life. Music business operatives appeared suddenly and in hordes, claiming hitherto unnoticed intimacy with the great man and eager to share their experiences in articles, interviews and books. It was amazing how many had known Gould so well, spent so many hours exchanging deep thoughts during marathon middle-of-the-night phone calls to area code 416.

So take those stories of late-night calls from Jobs with a grain of salt.

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