April 26, 2011
The Truth Behind Van Halen's Famous M&M's Rider
This may not exactly be news, but if you haven't read David Lee Roth's autobiography, it is likely news to you. We got this contracts story when we downloaded the most recent podcast of This American Life called "Fine Print 2011." More posts may follow once we finish listening to the entire show. Actually, it's not news to our Meredith Miller, who blogged about the earlier version of This American Life's "Fine Print" show.
The basic story is as follows: rumor had it that Van Halen insisted on a bowl of M&Ms backstage whenever they performed and that -- this is the crucial part of the infamous rider -- all brown M&Ms be removed from the bowl. As This American Life's Ira Glass explains, this story has usually been read as epitomizing the extent to which our celebrities demand that we pamper them. But David Lee Roth (pictured to the right) provides a different explanation in his aforementioned autobiography, helpfully excerpted on Snopes.com here:
Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We'd pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors -- whether it was the girders couldn't support the weight, or the flooring would sin in, or the doors weren't big enough to move the gear through.
The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function. So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say "Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes . . ." This kind of thing. And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: "There will be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.
So, when I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl, well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you're going to arrive at a technical error. They didn't read the contract. Guaranteed you'd run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.
It's a nice story, but I don't buy it. If you are concerned about girders not being able to support the weight of your show, check the girders, not the M&Ms. Moreover, Meredith's earlier post links to the relevant page of the rider from TheSmokingGun.com, and it does not threaten forfeiture or anything else.
Another nice excerpt from the autobiography:
I came backstage. I found some brown M&Ms, I went into full Shakespearean "What is this before me?" . . . you know, with the skull in one hand . . . and promptly trashed the dressing room. Dumped the buffet, kicked a hole in the door, twelve thousand dollars' worth of fun.
Two problems. First, the rider does not seem to permit twelve thousand dollars worth of fun. That's not covered under the term "forfeiture." Second, Hamlet doesn't say anything like "What is this before me" when he contemplates Yorick's skull. I think Roth is thinking of Macbeth's dagger monologue, which begins, "Is this a dagger which I see before me?" And then in some productions he dumps the buffet and kicks a hole in the door.
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