Wednesday, September 10, 2014

U2 Is In Your Pocket Now

By: Ben Johnson

Apparently they can do this now. I have a U2 album on my phone, and it was not my choice.

I don’t even like to keep track of things like this. When my Twitter feed started jabbering about Apple this and U2 that, I thought “I can’t wait for two months from now, when all of this will be like a distant memory of a weird dream where there was a war in the back yard of an abandoned house and I was tiny and Spider Man was my friend.”

Still, you catch the basics. New iPhone and a new Apple watch device. U2 involved. Something about an involuntary free U2 album. iTunes. Lots of backlash and jokes, the kind that are the basic surface noise of anything ever happening now, but which also, by their nature, tacitly reinforce the importance of corporate messaging. Things like this should not even be worth making fun of. They should be stillborn, launched straight into a cinderblock wall and collapsing immediately with a thud, clinging nowhere, unstuck on the zeroth peg, with no more pegs to be taken down. But probably that’s what’s happening anyway and I’m just being impatient.

This is something, like all things now, that will probably go away, but which might not actually go away and which might also be a fretful, inconvenient reality from now on. Regardless, it’s definitely not something I want to actually know about. To care enough to understand what the fuck is actually happening regarding U2 and Apple is to participate in a conversation I’d rather not have. I have the agency not to, and I’d prefer to exercise that where possible, because agency is a precious commodity these days for non-bajillionaires.

no no no no no no no no no no no

And yet here I sit, with a U2 album on my phone.

I’ve been consciously ignoring U2 since 1991, when the “Mysterious Ways” video was on Mtv every thirty seconds. I was eleven years old and watching Mtv nonstop for continued confirmation of the existence of Nirvana. Luckily, I got regular doses, but I also had to swallow a lot of U2. More than I’ll ever need, really. Enough to understand on a gut level, even at that young and impressionable age, the basic fact of life that regardless of your feelings on the matter there are some things you’ll have forced down your gullet for the rest of your life. April 15th is tax day. Your driver’s license expires on June 10th. U2 has a new album out, and now you are listening to the lead single from it while you wait in line at Jamba Juice. You can’t do anything about it.

There are people who like U2 and actively choose to have more U2 in their lives than they would get from just being a human in human society. These people, presumably, buy U2 albums, and press “play” on those U2 albums, voluntarily, and then they listen to U2 instead of silence or anything else. These people spend a lot of money to go to U2 concerts, to witness first hand those famous Irish mawkish pop songsmiths who dabble in occasional pseudo-pretentious art rock. U2 plays “Mysterious Ways” at these concerts, and I imagine these U2-liking people actually get excited about experiencing this song in a live setting, which is to them like an extra amount of “Mysterious Ways.” Maybe one of them says to another one, “So glad they played ‘Ways.’”

I have always been jealous of these people. To be sitting, at age eleven, watching Mtv in 1991, and to be excited and relieved every time the "Mysterious Ways" video played was to be exposed to a neverending joy which I've rarely, if ever, known. To be a U2 fan is to have the totality of all media and culture gushed directly into your face, like drinking form a fire hose, only if you were somehow thirsty enough for that to be a good thing. "More please" say these fans of U2. I find that dumbfounding. I don't understand it because I don't feel that way. I wish I did. Life would be way less upsetting.

U2, and the powers that be over at Apple, and at whatever other conglomeration of corporate agenda-pushers, has been ramming U2 into our collective sensory receptors for thirty some odd years now. U2 is a fact of life. Somebody, somewhere, and several important somebodies in important somewheres, decided that U2 represents music. This is music. You are listening to music. Can’t we all at least agree that this is music, and that music is good? This music doesn’t make use of swear words or particularly harsh sounds. It is not sexual, and while it is emotive it is at least not specifically emotive. It is either upbeat or pretty or both. There is a guitar in it, but not, like, one of these guitar maniacs who plays riffs you can feel in any part of your body. It is undangerous. It is music. You can listen to it in front of your children. You can play it at the 2014 Annual Sales Force Conference. It will always be fine. It’s music. It conveys emotions musically.

U2 is a reliable source of music. They won’t let us down. They will make us some music. These deciders are, technically, correct about this. U2 is music. Music is good. Hating U2 is like hating music, in that preferring silence to a U2 song such as “Even Better Than The Real Thing” is an act of preferring silence to music. This can be a difficult truth to face, and probably one of the reasons why you’re more likely to hear “ehhhh, no thanks” than “I FUCKING HATE U2.”

People who are that adamant about fucking hating U2 have to build entire pain in the ass alternative lifestyle ecosystems in order to avoid U2 as much as possible. They have to do all their grocery shopping in dilapidated bodegas in Little Saigon, and they have to build all their own furniture out of rusting bicycle parts, and they have to steal all of their clothing from a dead great uncle’s closet. Committed U2 haters pay the price of arduous isolation and poverty, and to them it is worth it if that’s what it takes to avoid ever hearing “Beautiful Day.”

The rest of us have to just sit and take it. We are buying a lampshade at Home Depot in order to make our shabby apartments more livable, and we are currently listening to U2. It is coming from somewhere we cannot see. It may, at this point, just be the natural electric tone emitted from turning the cash registers on. We will never know, because choosing to know is more effort than necessary, and because one day we will die and there is no U2 in heaven. In heaven they play Black Sabbath in all the Jamba Juices.

But for now, here’s a U2 album in my pocket and I don’t know how or why, and I don’t care, and I instantly have to accept that this is a new involuntary way U2 has found to be in my life. If technology permits, U2 will one day be drilled directly into my skull somehow. I know this. That will not be my choice, just like having U2 on my phone is not a choice, just like being eleven years old and seeing all three versions of the “One” video six times each per day was not my choice. But I also understand and accept that by even owning a smart phone that can talk to the internet, I have made a choice to live a U2-permissive lifestyle, one which includes U2-permissive activities such as shopping for pants at Target, and eating ice cream in public near other humans, and tweeting LOLworthy glibness about the shit that Apple is currently pulling, and Googling "how do I remove this U2 album from my life?," and for that matter telling you any of this. In other words, this iTunes upload has confirmed what we already know: the world, and all the systems which run it is a U2 fan. I am not.

Seriously, though, how do I get this U2 album off of my phone? Anybody?

UPDATE: go to Settings > iTunes & App Store > Show All: Music. Switch it to off. This will "hide" all iCloud-hosted music displayed on your iPhone. The downside is you won't be able to see any music files not actually hosted on your phone, so if you're routing all of your music through the iCloud, you're going to have to futz with your iCloud until this U2 album isn't on it anymore. And to editorialize, this whole U2 on your phone one morning thanks to cloud computing thing is an example of why, if you value your ability to choose one thing rather than another thing, your music media of choice from now on probably should not be any less physical than an mp3 file.