June 16, 2008

Exhibit 21: East Coast-West Coast feuds

The concept of the East Coast-West Coast feud in popular music was hatched by Capitol Records' marketing department in 1960. In response to criticism of Nat "King" Cole's professionalism, virtuosity and unfailing politeness, marketing guru Henny Meninsky developed a detailed strategy in which Cole – born in Alabama, but professionally seasoned in Los Angeles – would initiate a feud with pop composer and singer Neil Sedaka, a Brooklyn native also known for his extraordinarily genteel nature.

The "Meninsky Memo" was a list of bullet points circulated amongst Capitol Records employees in 1960, outlining the specific nature and content of the proposed Cole disparagements against Sedaka in media outlets:

  • "I hate Neil Sedaka."

  • "I have a strong dislike for Neil Sedaka."

  • "You know who I don't like? That Neil Sedaka guy."

  • "Sedaka. Oooh, man, he makes me upset."

  • "When I find that Sedaka guy, I'm just gonna… well, I'm so mad, I can't articulate what I'm gonna do in that situation. That's how mad he makes me."

  • "I have it on good authority he files his nails."

  • "What kind of name is 'Sedaka'? It sounds like a foreign cereal brand. We got perfectly good cereal in America. I don't need some Brooklyn wise-ass telling me I gotta have that highfalutin Danish cereal. Doesn't he know there's a Cold War going on?"

  • "You see that picture of him in a ruffled shirt? What kind of man wears ruffles? It looks like he's playing Benjamin Franklin in a re-enactment of the signing of Declaration of Independence at Knott's Berry Farm. Ruffles! Damn fool's wearing ruffles!"

  • "Sedaka is a punk-ass motherfucker."

  • "He killed a man with a damper pedal."

  • "He doesn't tip well at the Carnegie Deli."

  • "Sedaka this, Sedaka that, Sedaka Sedaka Sedaka."

  • "Man, am I mad about Neil Sedaka."

The Meninsky Memo somehow leaked to the offices of RCA Victor, which was Sedaka's label at the time. In a hurried, frenzied meeting before a Sedaka appearance on The Jack Paar Show, RCA marketing head Maximilian Strombulus constructed a series of retorts Sedaka could make against Cole during his appearance:

  • "Nat 'King' Cole – oh, man!"

  • "Who's this Nat 'King' Cole guy anyway?"

  • "I'm gonna get that Nat 'King' Cole if it's the last thing I do."

  • "Nat 'King' Cole? More like Nat 'Big Jerk' Cole! Ah-ha! Ha-ha-ha!"

  • "Yeah, I'm gonna file my nails – right over Nat 'King' Cole's living room Persian! And then I'll strip to my skivvies and do the Nepalese dance of the dead."

  • "Knock knock. Who's there? Nat 'King Cole. Nat 'King' Cole who? Nat 'King' Cole can go stuff himself!"

  • "Who was it that thus cried? Why, worthy Nat/You do unbend your noble strength to think/So brain-sickly of things. Go get some water/And wash this filthy witness from your hand./Why did you bring these daggers from the place?/They must lie there. Go, carry them, and smear/The sleepy grooms with blood."

  • "Cole ain't shit."

  • "Cole this, Cole that, Cole Cole Cole."

  • "I need a seltzer."

Neither the Meninsky Memo nor the Strombulus directive ever actually got delivered to Cole or Sedaka, and the two composers frequently golfed together with Cole graciously spotting Sedaka a generous handicap of 14. Chagrined, Meninsky and Strombulus became lovers, resigned their positions and opened a bistro together in Providence.

However, the East Coast-West Coast feud became an attractive alternative marketing strategy, and several manufactured feuds became parts of pop music lore, such as Bob Dylan vs. Frankie Laine, The Four Seasons vs. Moby Grape, the Archies vs. the Fat Albert Kids (which escalated in a knife fight at a Hanna-Barbera office Christmas party), the New York Dolls vs. the New York Dolls of Anaheim, the Ramones vs. the Eagles, Hall & Oates vs. Donny & Marie Osmond, and Chicago vs. themselves.

With the onset of hip-hop, the East Coast-West Coast feud reached new, sometimes fatal extremes. The harshest East-West feud was the fracas between rappers Flavor Flav and Snoop Dogg, a long confrontation that was often conducted in the pages of popular music magazines and entertainment periodicals. Flavor Flav's comments in a 1992 issue of Spin magazine first fueled the fire:

FLAVOR FLAV: Of course Snoop is going to reject Descartes' mode of an elevated dimension; he's an empiricist. Granted, Descartes had some degree of difficulty with his establishment of all the universal properties as a mode of prolonging substance; by its very definition metaphysical dominion is a principle organized around intangibility, and fideism is commonly declaimed as the realm of the poet/shaman, a persona philosophy is conditioned to avoid. But do we therefore simply revert to the rustic principles of containment that reinforced man's crude self-idolatry? If we simply refuse that which is not a reflection of ourselves, we invite consequence that is dangerous, even primal if the communal extension is sufficiently sustained. Should we risk negating the power of the infinite for mere egoism? Shall we ascribe a ceiling to our sphere of enforced rationalism? I think not. No, I think not.

Within weeks of Flavor Flav's broadside, Snoop Dogg issued a refutation of his own to People magazine:

SNOOP DOGG: Flav's assertions, quaint as they are, cannot endure the harsh inquisition of skepticism with their fanciful imagery and reversely pious foundations. Indeed, I fear his arguments because they propagate a type of naiveté that folds into nationalism. Better to follow what Hume endorsed: to be "convinced of the force of Pyrrhonian doubt, and the impossibility that anything, but the strong power of the natural instinct, could free us from it." What Flav fails to recognize is that placing any perceived limitations on our cognitive resources is, in fact, the true skepticism. I was discussing this with my colleague Schoolly D, and he agreed: Descartes' position, though imbued with an admirable strain of altruism, nevertheless lends itself quite easily to the establishment of dogmatic thought. That, I opine, is the truly risky supposition in Flav's argument, and it would be folly to think it is anything more than a merely reactionary tenet, which of course is no tenet at all.

The Flav-Snoop feud fomented for several years, culminating in violence when rap mogul Suge Knight dangled a tenured UCLA professor off a third-floor balcony until he accepted free will.

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