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Bono Again Apologizes for U2’s iTunes Stunt: ‘I Take Full Responsibility’

Bono has once again apologized for U2’s The Songs of Innocence showing up unsolicited in iTunes libraries around the world, with the singer detailing the thought process leading up to and backlash following the 2014 stunt.

“I take full responsibility,” Bono writes in his upcoming memoir Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story, an excerpt of which was published Saturday in the Guardian.

“I’d thought if we could just put our music within reach of people, they might choose to reach out toward it. Not quite. As one social media wisecracker put it, ‘Woke up this morning to find Bono in my kitchen, drinking my coffee, wearing my dressing gown, reading my paper.’ Or, less kind, ‘The free U2 album is overpriced.’ Mea culpa.”

In the memoir, Bono opens up about his conversation with an incredulous Apple CEO Tim Cook about the idea of giving away the band’s then-new album for free.

“‘You want to give this music away free? But the whole point of what we’re trying to do at Apple is to not give away music free. The point is to make sure musicians get paid,’” Bono writes Cook told him. “‘No,’ I said, ‘I don’t think we give it away free. I think you pay us for it, and then you give it away free, as a gift to people. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?,’” likening the move to Netflix buying a movie and distributing it subscribers for free.

“You might call it vaunting ambition. Or vaulting. Critics might accuse me of overreach. It is,” Bono continued. “If just getting our music to people who like our music was the idea, that was a good idea. But if the idea was getting our music to people who might not have had a remote interest in our music, maybe there might be some pushback. But what was the worst that could happen? It would be like junk mail.”

While U2 fans likely appreciated the freebie, many iTunes users did not: Soon after its arrival on Sept. 9, 2014, Apple — in response to the backlash — issued instructions on how to delete the album from libraries. Bono even apologized to fans a month later during an online Q&A.

“I had this beautiful idea and we got carried away with ourselves,” Bono said at the time. “Artists are prone to that kind of thing: [a] drop of megalomania, touch of generosity, dash of self-promotion and deep fear that these songs that we poured our life into over the last few years mightn’t be heard. There’s a lot of noise out there. I guess we got a little noisy ourselves to get through it.”

(A study six months later found that only a quarter of iTunes users actually listened to at least one Song of Innocence.)

Elsewhere in the excerpt, Bono talks about meeting with Steve Jobs in 2004, a conversation that resulted in the iconic “Vertigo” iPod ad. Then a new single, U2 offered the track to Apple to use for free, though the band attempted to get “some Apple stock” in exchange.

“‘Sorry,’ said Steve. ‘That’s a dealbreaker,’” Bono wrote. Instead, U2 settled for their own branded iPod.

Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story arrives Nov. 1. In an exclusive excerpt to Rolling Stone, Bono recalled the unexpected death of his mother and how he turned the loss into music.  

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