I Invented iTunes
I invented iTunes. Back in the mid 70s, my friend Tom Scott was an early adapter of computer technology. He had a Navy surplus Teletype machine that connected through an IMSAI 8080 computer to a network of other Teletype machines. It could only send and receive capital letters, and top speed was four letters a second — it would have taken him six minutes to send The Gettysburg Address— but I was fascinated. Tom soon added a monitor and a telephone modem to his setup and started connecting to other computers over the phone lines. I lay in bed one morning, and envisioned a world where everyone had equipment like that in their homes. I imagined a little brick house with all the music in the world stored in it, and we could just connect to that building and hear whatever we wanted, on demand. Instead of developing my idea and revolutionizing the music industry, I took another hit of Thai weed.
I also conceived of the 1950s folk music craze. Late one night in 1954, as my father drove our family home from seeing Peter Pan on Broadway, we listened to music on the car radio. Even as an eleven-year-old I was appalled at the schlocky, saccharine pop drivel. I had the idea that if we made recordings of the folk songs we sang at summer camp, they would probably sell very well. Again I did nothing, and four years later the Kingston Trio recorded Tom Dooley, which rose to #1 on the BillboardTop 100chart and kick-started a nationwide folk music revival.
I’m currently sitting on a few other bright ideas. Three years ago I figured out the cure for short-term memory loss. Whenever I can’t remember something, like where did I just put my car keys, I simply wait a few minutes until it becomes a long-term memory and “Bingo!” I remember! I know I should turn this discovery into a bombshell self-help book or DVD, but I keep getting distracted. My latest project is an app called Red Light, which runs in the background on your iPhone or Android. As you are driving along and texting, the app activates whenever you approach a red or yellow light, or a stop sign. The screen on your phone suddenly displays an image of the appropriate traffic signal, prompting you to look up and hit the brakes.
I sometimes wonder, “Why me, Lord?” Even as I sit here writing, the ideas keep coming. Imagine that whenever you interact with Siri, Apple’s know-it-all concierge cum unpaid drudge, a super-cute puppy appears on your screen and realistically mouths the words she is speaking. If you ask, “Siri, how old are you?” a darling month-old Lab will gaze at you with devoted puppy eyes and say, “Old enough to be your assistant?”
I really can’t take credit for all these amazing ideas. It’s sometimes feels like I’m channeling Thomas Edison or Al Gore. Surely some entity way more intelligent than me is running the show and sowing the seeds of invention in my synapses. It’s like the story of the two old Jewish ladies who are driving down Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. Mabel shrieks, “You just ran a red light!” Gertie says “Oh. I thought you were driving!”
Perhaps it’s more like when the Pope’s plane landed at Newark airport when they were expecting him to land at JFK. He hiked up his robe and sprinted through the terminal, and when he reached the line of limos a driver kissed his ring and offered to drive him wherever he needed to go for free. “Quickly!” shouted the Pope. “I have to give a speech at the UN!” The driver started up the NJ Turnpike, with the Pope urging him to go faster and faster. Finally the Pope told him “I’ll drive!” and had him pull over and get in the back.
The Pope put the pedal to the metal, and soon they heard a siren. Flashing lights appeared in the rear mirror, and the Pope pulled over. The trooper walked up, looked in the driver’s window and gasped “Oh my God, your Holiness! Just a minute, I need to call this in.” He radioed his lieutenant and said “Boss, I pulled over someone really big.” The lieutenant asked who it was. “He’s really, really big!” repeated the trooper. The lieutenant asked again who it was, and the trooper said, “This guy’s so big, the Pope’s his chauffeur!”
I think that in the end, the same over-arching intelligence that makes me a font of brilliance and innovation — and leaves others happy to watch reruns of The Bachelorette — is responsible for my not bringing many of my bright ideas to fruition. That belief keeps me from wallowing in self-rejection and despair. Not for me to lament, “I could have been a contender!” Or maybe I was simply abducted by aliens who probed me anally and used telepathy to transfer advanced technical knowledge, but forgot the doer module. Not that I haven’t occasionally tried. I once sent a cartoon to New Yorkermagazine, depicting electrical outlets around the world. The Chinese socket looked like an ideograph, the Israeli like a Hebrew letter, and the Turkish one like a chicken foot. I still have the rejection letter.
I think aliens might have also abducted my father, but turned him into a super doer. He used to encourage me to rent a really nice apartment —one that I couldn’t quite afford — explaining that this would make me work harder to pay for it. He enjoyed his own very nice apartment by bringing home piles of trucking bills every night and checking the multiplication on each one to make sure the vendors were not cheating his $100 million a year company. He was in bliss, sitting there at the kitchen table with his calculator. It didn’t do much for my mother.