The end of an era for A&M and Geffen -- The two record labels were taken over as a result of a Universal/Polygram merger

By Chris Willman
Updated February 05, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

For a few hours on Jan. 21, the A&M Records sign above the company’s historic Hollywood lot was swathed in a black armband, while ex-prexy Al Cafaro treated dozens of wet-eyed employees to Dom Perignon and Domino’s pizza. Earlier that day, all but 30 of the venerable label’s 200 staffers had been fired — Cafaro included — as a result of the multibillion dollar Universal/Polygram merger; the campus (built by Charlie Chaplin in 1917, acquired by A&M in ’66) will be sold. Universal’s Interscope label, which is absorbing the spoils, is expected to jettison more than 45 of A&M’s 65 acts. Dropping in to pay respects were two of A&M’s biggest ’90s artists, Sheryl Crow and Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell. ”I feel like I’m being traded to another basketball team,” said Cornell, who’ll shortly deliver Interscope the solo debut he recorded for A&M.

Simultaneously, Geffen Records employees held their own wake — at the old metalhead hangout, the Rainbow — after 80 percent of the staff was sacked. Not surprisingly, there was some corporate touchiness about the perception that these institutions are basically deceased. Interscope president Jimmy Iovine told the L.A. Times he looks forward to heading up Geffen and A&M, which will survive as imprints. And when word about A&M’s black armband got to Universal’s Black Tower, an angry exec ordered it removed, lest anyone mistake these labels’ end-of-an-era decimation for a death.