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The Steve Jobs Nobody Knew

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At Apple, Jobs displayed a rebelliousness that bordered on self-destructiveness. By the early 1980s, the company had grown large enough that Jobs could no longer control every aspect of it, and the popular Apple II had already run its course. After seeing a prototype of a mouse and desktop icons during a visit to Xerox PARC, a research center in nearby Palo Alto, Jobs came away convinced that all computers would one day operate on such a model. But he couldn't get the top management at Apple to agree, so he simply hijacked a team working on another project, took the best ideas from Xerox and elsewhere, and added some of his own. The result was a renegade team at Apple, hidden away in a building off the main campus, that was tasked with creating the first Macintosh.

The dictum that Jobs issued to the Macintosh team was simple: Build the coolest machine you can. Every day, it seemed, brought a new crisis: The disk drive didn't work, the software was fucked up. Through it all, Jobs drove the team of eight programmers hard, working them day and night for months on end. "You'd work on something all night, and he'd look at it in the morning and say, "That sucks,'" recalls Capps, the Mac programmer. "He'd want you to defend it. If you could, you were doing your job and Steve respected you. If not, he'd blow you out of the water." Driven by his own demons, Jobs became legendary for his ability to humiliate others. "Steve simultaneously has the best and worst qualities of a human being," says Andy Hertzfeld, another key programmer on the Mac team. "They're both in him, simultaneously, living side by side with each other."

A control freak, Jobs demanded perfection and originality in every detail: When he could not find the precise color he wanted for the Mac, he ordered a special beige tint created. "His reverence for shape and sound and contour and creativity did not come from the boardroom," says Bono. "It came from that anarchic, West Coast, fuck-off attitude that rules the 21st century. He wasn't going to make ugly things that made profits. The big lesson for capitalism is that Steve, deep down, did not believe the consumer was right. Deep down, he believed that he was right. And that the consumer would respect a strong aesthetic point of view, even if it wasn't what they were asking for."

The launch of the new computer, with the iconic 1984 commercial that brilliantly positioned the Mac as a tool of liberation, gave the world its first glimpse of Jobs the showman. The machine itself became a huge success, selling more than a million units and transforming the computer industry, but Jobs was increasingly unable to control the company he had created. His instincts were still those of an adolescent – but as he quickly discovered, you can't run a Fortune 500 company like a garage band. Jobs recruited John Sculley, the CEO of Pepsi, to lend a steady hand, but he proved incapable of sharing power with the more experienced executive. The two men clashed constantly. Forced to choose between the rebel hothead and the even-handed adult, the Apple board tossed Jobs overboard. "At 30, I was out," he later recalled. "And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating."

Jobs was deeply wounded by his ouster from Apple. The central trauma of his life, after all, was being given up for adoption by his parents, and now he was being kicked out of his second family, the company he founded. A close friend of Jobs once speculated to me that Steve's drive came from a deep desire to prove that his parents were wrong to give him up. A desire, in short, to be loved - or, more precisely, a desire to prove that he was somebody worth loving. Whatever the psychological impact, it was clear that Jobs was devastated, and he didn't know what to do with himself. He was young, handsome, famous, rich – and lost. He took some time off to travel around Italy and talk about personal computers in the Soviet Union. He had also reached out to his biological mother and discovered that he had a sister – the writer Mona Simpson. The revelation that he had a talented, arty sibling pleased him to no end, and the two of them became fast friends. To his credit, he also used this time to connect with Lisa, his daughter with Chrisann Brennan.

Within a year or so, Jobs had a comeback plan. He decided he was going to build what he called "the perfect company," and it was going to be perfect in every detail, from the stylish logo designed by Yale art professor Paul Rand to the state-of-the-art factory that would churn out desktop supercomputers with unheard-of speed and grace, a wonder of modern manufacturing. Even the name of the company reeked of a kind of hubris: NeXT. Its success would be his revenge on the bozos at Apple who had tossed him out. He would show them.

It was around that time that my path once again crossed with Jobs. As it turned out, my wife had met Mona Simpson while working at a literary magazine, and she told us, very quietly, about how she had learned that Jobs was her brother. She talked about the troubles that Jobs was having remodeling his apartment in the San Remo, and how he encouraged Mona to buy more expensive clothes. She was proud of him, and protective, but in private she referred to him as "the Sun King," because he was so imperious.

In 1986, when Simpson's novel Anywhere But Here was published, the writer and editor George Plimpton threw her a party at his Upper East Side apartment. The party was full of New York literati, as well as Steve and Mona's mother, Joanne. I did not know that Jobs would be there - in fact, when he quietly walked up and joined a conversation I was having with several other writers, I didn't even recognize him. Gone was the jean-clad nerd I had known in the early days of Apple: In his double-breasted suit, his dark hair perfectly groomed, Jobs seemed more a metrosexual playboy than a computer geek. As the evening wore on, I noticed that women swarmed around him, though he appeared not to notice. Away from Silicon Valley, where he had spent his entire life, he actually seemed a bit unsettled - a man who had no trouble going toe-to-toe with big-time CEOs, but who went tongue-tied when confronted with someone as intimidating as a poet.

At NeXT, Jobs succeeded in producing a strikingly distinctive object – but one that proved way too expensive for the market. Consumers who bought NeXT computers still swoon over them, calling them the most beautiful machines ever built – but in the real world, nobody wanted to pay 10 grand for a beautiful machine. Jobs managed to persuade Ross Perot to invest $20 million in NeXT, but within a few years, it was clear that the company's machines were headed for computer museums as artifacts built by an obsessively perfectionist man who had confused art with commerce.

In the spring of 1994, I went to NeXT to interview Jobs for Rolling Stone. The offices, like everything else about the company, were a showcase of perfection, with a glass staircase designed by the celebrated architect I.M. Pei. It was a sunny day, and salty air from the bay blew through the building - but it was spooky as hell, because the place was deserted. There might have been a few last programmers plugging away in some backroom, but I didn't see them. Jobs met me in the conference room, which practically had cobwebs hanging from the whiteboard. He was 39, stocky and jowly, dressed in jeans. It was the first time I'd seen him with a beard. There was a Citizen Kane quality to it all - the formerly great man in the big empty castle. "Steve is a little like the boy who cried wolf," Robert Cringely, an influential Silicon Valley writer, told me at the time. "He has cried revolution one too many times. People still listen to him, but now they are more skeptical."

Part of the skepticism came from the fact that, at that moment, Silicon Valley was changing fast. A year earlier, a hotshot programmer at the University of Illinois named Marc Andreessen had created the first Web browser, and the dot-com revolution was about to take off. There was a sense that something big was on the horizon – something that Jobs seemed to have no part of. Not that he was oblivious: He talked a little about what was then being called "the information superhighway" and astutely noted that the computer was being transformed from "a tool of computation to a tool of communication." But nothing he was doing at NeXT was really connected to the online revolution.

He was clearly still bitter about what had happened at Apple – and he had even more bitterness toward his old nemesis Bill Gates, who, in a cruel bit of irony, was on his way to becoming the richest man in the world thanks to Windows, the operating system that Microsoft had modeled on the Macintosh. Jobs called Microsoft "completely lost" and cast its market dominance - and its stifling effect on innovation – as a threat to the U.S. economy. "Unfortunately, people are not rebelling against Microsoft," he told me. When I asked how he felt about Gates achieving dominance in the industry by essentially ripping off the approach that Jobs had pioneered, he snapped, "The goal is not to be the richest man in the cemetery. It's not my goal, anyway." Later, when I asked him what his goal in life was, he said, "In the broadest context, the goal is to seek enlightenment – however you define it."

As I listened to him, I once again thought of Orson Welles – a great genius who did his best work at 25 and ended up doing TV game shows and commercials for crappy wine. When I asked Jobs how he felt about the comparison, he had the wit to make light of it. "I'm very flattered by that, actually," he said. "I wonder what game show I'm going to be on."

But here's the thing about Jobs: You could never predict when he was going to say something lovely and profound. Near the end of the interview, I asked him how it felt to walk around in the world and see Mac computers everywhere. "The Macintosh was sort of like this wonderful romance in your life you once had - and that produced about 10 million children," he said wistfully. "In a way it will never be over in your life. You'll still smell the romance every morning when you get up. You'll see your children around, and you feel good about it. And nothing will ever make you feel bad about it."

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