Universal Greed

Seagram's merger invites a look into how the suits took record labels away from the true music enthusiasts

Giant Cash Bonanza: Sold to MGM for $2 million in 1960, thus explaining how Frank Zappa, the Righteous Brothers and Janis Ian wound up on the label.

What follows now is the template of today's music-biz executive and why it's all gone so horribly wrong. Here's a guy who wanted to be a Hollywood mogul and was so named in the press as recently as the January 10 Parade magazine. Instead of pursuing films directly, he latched on to music as a viable fast lane. He publicly admits that he listens only to Mozart at home. He showed his ignorance by booking his label's leading act, Guns N' Roses, featuring the publicly homophobic Axl Rose, to perform at an AIDS benefit for the Gay Men's Health Crisis. In fact, "AIDS" was one of the names Axl had originally wanted for the group.

When the GMHC refused to include a band that sang "Immigrants and faggots . . . spread some fucking disease" in its show, this label prez likened the snub to refusing a blood transfusion from Adolf Hitler. Now, in Paul Harvey fashion, here's the rest of the story.

Former Pseudo-Great Record Label: Geffen Records
Founder: David Geffen
Founder's Connection to Music: A former William Morris agent, he latched on to singer-songwriter Laura Nyro and made his first millions selling her publishing. Later he co-managed Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, discovered Jackson Browne and the Eagles, and formed Asylum Records.

Humble Starting Point: Hardly one, since he was worth $30 million after selling Asylum to Warner Communications. Still, he made Warner Bros. pony up $25 million for 50 percent of Geffen.

Label's Identity: Geffen becomes the George Steinbrenner of rock by building his roster with already established superstars like Elton John, John Lennon, Donna Summer, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. The David Geffen Company (DGC) establishes itself as the alternative branch of Geffen, with acts like Nirvana and Sonic Youth.

First Sign of a Shark's Tooth: He opened other people's mail at the William Morris Agency and lied about being a college grad.

Giant Cash Bonanza: Geffen is sold to PolyGram for $500 million.

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