Monday, August 17, 2009
Perhaps the most famous contract in rock history is Van Halen’s 1982 World Tour rider. It contains the legendary requirement that the band be provided with a bowl of M&M’s in the dressing room, with all brown M&M’s removed from the bowl. Actually, the rider states, on the topic of Munchies:
M&M’s (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES)
You can check out the rider here if you’d like.
Until recently, the famous Brown M&M’s rider seemed nothing more than an example of the frivolity of the rock star ego. Then I listened to an alternative explanation, courtesy of NPR’s fabulous radio show This American Life.
In an episode titled “The Fine Print,” with the help of John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants, we are offered a business reason for the M&M's clause of the rider.
Apparently, beyond the backstage food and drink requirements, tour riders contain very important instructions that affect how smoothly the show will run -- for example, electricity or weight requirements for the band’s gear. Well, if the promoter at the local venue does not read the rider, it is likely that something will go very wrong at the show. So, Van Halen used the M&M’s for signaling purposes: if there were no brown M&M’s in the bowl, the band knew that the local promoter read the rider. If the brown M&M’s were there, the band knew that the local promoter had not read the rider carefully, and technical and safety requirements might not have been met.
You can give the show a listen here. The Van Halen part is in the very beginning of the show, but it is well worth listening to the entire show.
[Meredith R. Miller]