Paul Allen: Making the world more interesting

 Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen holds the Vince Lombardi Trophy next to quarterback Russell Wilson after they defeted the Denver Broncos in the NFL Super Bowl XLVIII football game in East Rutherford, New Jersey, February 2, 2014. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

Reading about Paul Allen’s life, one can’t help but feel a bit queasy.

Giving meaning to the phrase ‘Filthy Rich’, one can’t help but be reminded of the newsreel at the beginning of Citizen Kane. You just know that this man lived in Xanadu. But besides enormous wealth, there’s not much in common between Charles Foster Kane and Paul Allen.      

Allen was not your typical billionaire. 

Here’s a small flavour; a short bio written for Allen by writer Steven Pinker for Time Magazine’s 2007’s 100 most influential people:

“Paul Allen is the world's most obscure celebrity, its hippest geek, its most flamboyant introvert. He is also one of its most successful dropouts. The other is Bill Gates, Allen's Seattle high school chum, with whom he founded a company called Microsoft in 1975."

"Having made his fortune as innovatively as he did, Allen has always been diligent about spending it just as imaginatively. He bought the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL and the Portland Trail Blazers of the NBA to keep them in his beloved Pacific Northwest, and he bankrolled SpaceShipOne, winner of the Ansari X Prize for the first private manned spaceflight."

"Most promisingly, he established the Allen Institute for Brain Science, which has produced an atlas of gene activity in the mouse brain, mapping 20,000 genes so far. Nobody, arguably, needs to know that much about the brain of the mouse, but science always needs to know more about the human brain, and since the first often serves as such a fine template for the second, Allen's work can help advance the entire neuroscience field. Shy in personality but dashing in vision, Allen shows how a thoughtful billionaire can make the world not just a better place but also a far more interesting one.”

Extending the Citizen Kane metaphor, one wonders, what was Paul Allen’s ‘Rosebud’?

It depends on how you interpret the meaning of Rosebud as a metaphor here. It’s not about the loss of innocence or love as is widely considered to be the meaning of the phrase in the film. It’s about wondering what the man who had everything lived for?

This is what Allen once said: “What should exist? To me, that's the most exciting question imaginable. What do we need that we don't have? How can we realise our potential?”

Allen certainly realised his. He basically shaped Seattle, his hometown and brought many things into existence from his imagination:

  • The Allen Brain Institute (nonprofit research institute)
  • The MoPop museum (a museum of pop culture)
  • Allen Library (University of Washington)
  • Seattle Sounders (Seattle based soccer team)
  • Stratolaunch ( private-spaceflight company)
  • The Cinerama movie theater
  • The Upstream Music Festival
  • He redeveloped the entire South Lake Union neighbourhood (where Amazon now sits)
  • Won the Super Bowl as Seahawks (NFL team) owner
  • Owned Portland Trailblazers (NBA team)
     

The man dipped his fingers into everything. He even produced documentaries and films that have won Peabody awards and Emmy awards.

In other corners of the internet, he has been compared to Jimi Hendrix by record producer Quincy Jones. Excerpt from the Jones interview:

Were there any rock musicians you thought were good?
I used to like Clapton’s band. What were they called?
Cream.
Yeah, they could play. But you know who sings and plays just like Hendrix?
Who?
Paul Allen.
Stop it. The Microsoft guy?
Yeah, man. I went on a trip on his yacht, and he had David Crosby, Joe Walsh, Sean Lennon — all those crazy mother******s. Then on the last two days, Stevie Wonder came on with his band and made Paul come up and play with him — he’s good, man.

There is also a video that proves his guitar shredding skills.

It was only two weeks ago that the 65-year old put up a tweet announcing his illness: 

Allen’s death came as a shock to everyone but his legacy is also cemented, among other things, in the condolences pouring in from around the world.

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Paul Allen: Making the world more interesting

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