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Eddie Van Halen And The Brown M&Ms

Eddie Van Halen has passed and gone to that arpeggio in the sky etc. And there’s one story that dogged the band, Van Halen, for decades.

Tour riders are the list of things that stars insist they must get backstage at a gig. So many bottles of this sort of soda pop, that many crates of whiskey and so on. Apparently – and it is apparently for me as I’ve no personal knowledge – Mariah Carey insists upon a couple of kittens to play with. Tales of demands for buckets of fried chicken would of course just be racist attitudes among observers of today’s popular beat combos.

Van Halen were known for a rider in their contract. X numbers of bags of M&Ms had to be decanted from their packaging and placed in a big glass bowl. With all of the brown ones removed. This was taken to be, as with so many of other such demands, just an exemplar of power politics. They were demanded because they could be.

David Lee Roth pointed out once that this wasn’t quite the point. Instead their touring rig was big, complex and above all heavy. Not something that every rural hay barn could support and they really didn’t want tonnes upon tonnes of equipment falling over the audience or perhaps, more importantly, themselves. So, there were specifications in their touring contract that each gig venue had to meet.

The brown M&Ms were a signal that whoever was organising the venue had actually read the full contract. And, presumably, had checked the weight restrictions etc. Not a proof of course, but an indication. For if they’d not read the clause about the M&Ms – which was placed in the contract well after the weight ones – then it was likely that they’d not read the weight ones. So, everything must then be checked and possibly the gig cancelled.

No bowl of M&Ms sans brown ones, contract not read, place not necessarily safe. Brown M&Ms est disparu? Well, we know the studied the damn rules at least.

Brown M&Ms were thus a signifier. You know, like anyone using Excel for anything large, complex and important. A signal that the whole thing has to be torn down and started again.

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3 years ago

I like that theory a lot, but am more attracted to your first take: They specified it to revel in being able to boss people around.

Bloke in North Dorset
Bloke in North Dorset
3 years ago

That’s given as one of the examples in the Freakonomics Self Weeding Garden podcast.

No link because the always get spammed, Google it yourselves, it’s amusing.

3 years ago

I don’t have the link to hand, but several years ago someone posted a scan of the entire 35-page contract. Indeed, the M&M clause is towards the end of what is an extremely detailed document, with lots of stipulations about adequate power supplies and sufficient structural integrity. I think Diamond Dave was speaking the truth.

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