In 2011, Nick Bilton of
"I anticipated that," Isaacson replied. "But he didn't. He kept surprising me by insisting that he wanted no control over the book. … I honestly kept waiting for him to kill the book, but the more we talked and the more I wrote, he kept getting more and more open and more and more emotional. He encouraged me to talk to everyone, even his adversaries."
Jobs' decision not to control what would emerge as the definitive account of his life might not have been up there with the creation of the
Who is not excited to see that? Could Jobs have come up with that himself? Absolutely not. But consider how well that one crucial decision to back away from creative control, exactly the opposite decision from the one Jobs made in his professional life, has worked out for his legacy.
Not only are there now two Jobs movies kicking around (the other, a fraught indie, stars
How nice for Apple. How much Jobs would have enjoyed, and profited from, all this. The current Apple executives, who have been watching their stock price plummet, might yet get another Jobs-fueled bounce.
But the Jobs model is very rare. Especially when it comes to figures from the entertainment industry.
Take the very different decision made by
But instead of standing back and letting someone else write "Motown: The Musical," which opened a few days ago on Broadway, instead of allowing someone to assess what Motown means to the world, Gordy wrote the book himself, basing the musical on a book he'd written. There are great songs in the show — Jobs and Gordy both had a great stable of products — but no meaningful insight whatsoever. It has the opposite problem of the show and movie "Dreamgirls," which had a juicy Motown story but none of the actual songs. "Motown: The Musical" has the actual songs in abundance but not any kind of story we want to hear or that strikes us as true or revealing.
Gordy, apparently a cognoscente of the truth that dramatic heroes need flaws, does suggest that he made his artists so competitive with each other that, when they got better offers from bigger labels, they became competitive with him. But the most telling moment in the show involves an appearance by Gordy's paranoid lawyer, the central presence of whom is indicative of how far off track Gordy wandered. This attorney tells the almighty father of Motown, the genius who found us Stevie Wonder,
No doubt they do. But that is what Gordy is worried about? Heavens, that is the defensive message of spin doctors and image consultants. It has nothing to do with what a man's life and work meant to the world. At the end of his life, Jobs saw that very clearly and moved back behind the curtain, letting others spin his life into posthumous gold. Gordy, apparently, still does not see that consideration. He still is trying to contextualize himself.
Gordy is hardly alone in this mistake. Estates can be yet more controlling than individuals. In June,
Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is on record as not much liking
But "The Social Network" did an enormous amount for the popularity of Facebook and, of course, the Zuckerberg brand. It did far more than any authorized anything ever could. More important, it captures the enormity of what Zuckerberg achieved in a way that its subject could never have managed himself. Zuckerberg got lucky.
Perhaps he'll see that later in life. Perhaps Gordy will see the same light. Of course, the singular brilliance of Jobs was that he saw all this as his life came to an end, and by controlling nothing managed to control everything.