A recent headshot of Steve Hayden.
Steve Hayden as a student at Interlochen Arts Academy.
Steve Hayden with his cello during his first year as a student at Interlochen Arts Academy (62-63).
Hayden's famed "1984" commercial for Apple.
As a part of the Sputnik generation, Board of Trustees member Steve Hayden (IAC/NMC 62, IAA 62-64) remembers watching his brothers build rockets and homemade gadgets. Though not an uncommon sight in their California home, his youth was not singularly filled with diodes, resistors and soldering irons. His mother, an opera singer, instilled a sense of love for music in her children. “There happened to be a cello sitting in the house,” said Hayden. “There was this kind of ‘You're going to play the cello,’ moment. ‘Okay,’ I thought. ‘Great instrument.’” Hayden continued his cello studies through his youth, and spent his summers in St. Louis, Mo. studying with the first chair of the St. Louis Symphony.
“Interlochen actually had fairly good national awareness because every Sunday NBC would broadcast a concert from Interlochen, and my parents often listened to that and marveled that a high school orchestra could sound that good,” said Hayden. “I was going through the usual teenage adjustment problems that kids tend to have, and my mother said, ‘Eight weeks at Interlochen would do you a world of good: advance your cello practice, your abilities with the instrument and put you in an environment with other kids.’” Hayden applied, and spent his the summer of 1962 in the land of stately pines. From there, he was admitted to the then-fledgling Interlochen Arts Academy, and was among some of the school’s first graduates.
Following Interlochen, Hayden went on to study with acclaimed cellist Gregor Piatigorsky at the University of Southern California. “Piatigorsky was a cellist of enormous talent,” said Hayden. “[Piatigorsky] always recognized me. He always called me backstage. He always had that kind of tremendous integrity wherever he went.” Comparing himself to his peers, Hayden worried that he was not advancing far enough with his instrument to be able to land a career in music. Hayden entered an essay contest sponsored by the USC English Department and won. It was then that an English professor asked him to consider switching majors. After some soul-searching, Hayden made the switch to English, making music his minor.
After graduating from USC in 1968, Hayden spent the next few years moving between the advertising world and Hollywood. Eventually, the youthful hobbies of Hayden’s siblings came back to him as an adult in an unexpected way. Early in his advertising career, Hayden found his focus in the tech sector; working on ads for heads-up displays for jet fighters, General Motors and even the first microcomputer—the Altair 8800. His knack for translating the arcane to the general public led him to the advertising agency Chiat-Day where he began working with chairman Lee Clow for a new agency client, Apple Inc. It was during this era when Hayden first met Steve Jobs, and, together with his peers, went on to create the now-revered Orwellian “1984” Apple Macintosh commercial. The commercial only aired twice, and its only national broadcast was during the third-quarter of the Super Bowl XVIII telecast on Jan. 22, 1984.
On April 24, 2018, the American Advertising Federation will celebrate Hayden's legacy and contribution to the industry by inducting him into their Hall of Fame. Prior to that celebration, we spoke with Hayden about his life, work and how Interlochen set the foundation for his truly venerable career.
Interlochen: Can you talk about your initial experience at Interlochen?
Hayden: It certainly was an adjustment moving into a cabin with a bunch of other boys my age. Before Interlochen I attended a school with a significant gang presence, and that was not a good experience to have. So, finding out that there were other kids who were kinda nerdy like me was a tremendous relief, and I often jokingly refer to Interlochen as a soft, well-lighted place for nerds. I think the biggest adjustment for me in getting there was challenges, because I had never heard of challenges. I think I heard people whispering about it, but I didn't know anything about that whole process of voting, putting your heads down, all that stuff. When I started, my cello instructor wound up placing me in second chair in the World Youth Symphony, but when challenges struck I was so completely shattered by that experience. I lost 16 chairs. It absolutely shattered my confidence! It was a scar I bear to this day. Luckily, by the end of summer I was really thrilled with Interlochen, the people I had met, the experiences I had, and the general surrounding of that culture of the arts. Dr. Maddy needed students for the newly formed Arts Academy, and they came to me as a likely candidate.
Interlochen: What is your favorite cello suite?
Hayden: I think the one that strikes me is the darkest one, which is J.S. Bach’s Suite No. 5 in C Minor, where you retune the strings of the cello to permit these almost modern-sounding thoughts from Bach to come through. It's especially the slow movements [that] are very, very powerful. And of course, Suite No. 1. God knows how many times we've used that track. It's just in everything. But I think Suite No. 5, for its challenges,was always incredibly attractive to me. Probably for the same reason I like Sonata for Solo Cello by Zoltán Kodály, because of its darkness and humor.
Interlochen: You once wrote that the first thing you said to Steve Jobs was, “There's something about computing that reminds me of Bach." Could you elaborate on what that meant?
Hayden: At the end of the Baroque era, [artists] were evolving into Classical style. There were these set rules of musical language and harmony. So, if you take a harmony class, it's very much like a computer language. There are certain things you do, certain things you don't do and certain things that are valued as harmonic versus dissonant. And it's at that passing dissonance and precision that reminded me of the way that computing kind of works. It’s a rule-based language that can do a wide variety of tasks and things; whether it's creating colors to creating words. So, to me, that analogy just seemed too obvious, and I'm surprised [Steve] Jobs didn't slap me around. Maybe that struck him as kind of like, "Well, that's a pretty good thought." I could see that.
Interlochen: It’s not uncommon for art, literature or music to find its way into advertisements. How do you decide what makes the cut?
Hayden: That's a very complex thought, because who the heck knows where a thought comes from or where power derives? I think a lot of it is being somewhat in tune with the culture and being able to see the changes with your audience as the audience evolves. You’re assuming a certain education, cultural education and frame of reference, at least on the part of some or most of your audience. Hence the reference to "1984.” That generation everyone who went to any kind of college read George Orwell's “1984.” So, that was a virtually universal reference. At the same time the advent of the Xerox copier, oddly enough, in the Eastern Bloc permitted the flourishing of a semi-free press called the Samizdat where they would actually transcribe stories from the BBC, the radio Free Europe and The Voice of America. They were able to pass around these stories that they weren't getting in the Eastern Bloc, and our thought was, “Well, if a copying machine can make that much difference in communication imagine the difference that a kind of graphically-oriented computer could make in terms of delivering power to the people.” This was still the height of the Cold War, and the thought was power to the people. Basically, that simple.
Interlochen: As you prepare to join the Advertising Hall of Fame, what do you feel to be your greatest accomplishment?
Hayden: I think that the best parts of my career have all been team-and-people dependent. This goes back to Interlochen days, whether it was friends you made in your cabin, a particular instructor, a class, a performance, an assignment, it's always been the same. There's this magic period of time and if you're lucky, you'll have it once in your life. I've been fortunate to have maybe four or five times when you kind of get a team together, and however daunting the challenge, you're able to support each other in a way where my weakness is compensated by your strength and vice-versa. In these situations you can do things that are extraordinary. So, I think in my career I've been really fortunate to be around just some great people. They say that a teacher appears when a student is ready. Sometimes the teacher appears when the assignment is due.
Interlochen: What has motivated you to stay involved and supportive at Interlochen for so many years?
Hayden: I was given a break by being given the Interlochen experience. Being in an environment where I was encouraged to make weird stuff or be creative around so many other majors taught me that culture was not a static thing. At Interlochen you are allowed to find yourself, discover what interests you and learn how to work collaboratively with sometimes very different people. I was given the chance to see how the parts somehow fit together to accomplish something greater than you could accomplish on your own. The very idea of an ensemble, the very idea of an orchestra doing something greater than a soloist could do, became a lifelong inspiration. We now live in an ever-fragmented world. So, wanting others to have that experience becomes more important than ever.