Back in 1989, the normally pacifist campus of Haverford College witnessed a no holds barred grudge match between its two all male a-cappella singing groups: Skip Doo Wop and the Humtones and the Ford S-Chords. The Humtones were the older of the two groups, and viewed the S-chords as a bunch of scrappy upstarts, which indeed they were, having been founded just a few years before by a couple of singers upset that the Humtones had not scheduled auditions.
I joined the S-chords in the spring of 1987 when the founding members were still part of the group, so naturally I am fiercely partisan. Individual S-chords and Humtones were occasionally able to connect in bipartisan relationships - I was in a production of Godspell with a couple of Humtones and was friendly with one or two others - but this was like the friendships between Justices Scalia and Ginsberg, or Senators Kennedy and Hatch. Business was business and whatever we thought of each other off the stage, we were rivals in earnest when it was time to get our games on.
Back in my day, a-cappella groups were to our college what athletes are in Division One schools. We were like John Stewart blended with Rod Stewart, kings of the hill and cocks of the rock, and what we may have lacked in polish we made up for in attitude. With all that testosterone and 4 part harmony, things were bound to get ugly.
It was customary to do clever intros for some of our numbers, and these provided ample opportunities to poke fun at our rivals. The Humtones had some very funny guys, including Mark Hudis who is now a Hollywood screenwriter, and on one particular evening when the Humtones performed, they let us have it with full, relentless broadsides.
All may be fair in love and war, but rather than throwing down the gauntlet this was more like a barrage of mailed fists to the jaw. The part we remember as the cheapest shot was a top ten list why they were not S-chords that includes something to the effect that the spending allowance of one of our founding members, Clipper Robinson, was more than the net worth of the Humtones.
Clipper came from money but you would never know it from the way he acted and it was the very last thing he wanted you to know about him. He drove a beat up Chevy station wagon and none of us made anything at all out of the net worth of his parents. We considered this crack well below the belt and planned our revenge.
The S-chords had a concert several weeks later in newly renovated Founders Hall. For reasons now lost in the sands of time, but attributable to John Capen, another of our Founding members, the S-chords traditionally open their shows by dashing on stage with a raucous cheer of "Boola Boola Boola, Ha ha ha!" Not this time.
We started up the aisle in a slow procession whose leaders intoned the chant of the flagellate monks from Monty Python's Holy Grail - "Pie Jesu Domine dona eis requiem." - pausing at proper intervals to bash themselves in the forehead. We bore Clipper at shoulder height reclining on a litter, wearing an ascot and dinner jacket and smoking a huge cigar. Two of us knelt so he could step onto our backs when alighting to the stage. Clipper snapped his fingers and another S-chord ran up and grovelled with palm outstretched for him to extinguish his cigar. He paused, looked smugly out at the audience, and in his best, stiff jawed impression of Thurston Howell III, announced;
" The Top Reason why I'm an S-chord....because I bought them!"
The house erupted and we launched into "Violent Love" by Dr. Feelgood. Game, Set and Match to the S-chords.