Brown M&Ms

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Due dilly Van Halen style, yesterday.


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The legendary rock ’n’ roll frippery: provide me with M&Ms but remove the brown ones, has been pitched as a story of petulant excess.

But, in honour of the passing of the great Edward Van Halen, and with thanks to the equally legendary Urban Legends website, here is the real rationale:

Van Halen would tour with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks of equipment. The your average bunch of rockers at the time had one rusty Commer Van with a dodgy alternator [Can confirm. — Ed.]. The stage rig weighed “like the business end of a 747”, and Van Halen suffered a number of technical errors — girders collapsed, or the flooring sunk in, or the doors weren’t big enough even to get the gear in in the first place.

Thus, their technical contract rider [a “service level agreement” to you and me. — Ed] read like a phone book [A big book with literally hundreds of thousands of “telephone numbers” in it — Ed.] because there was so much equipment, and so many people needed to make it function. For example: “Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes …” This kind of thing.

Just as a test, in Article 126, in the middle of nowhere, was this: “There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”

This was a test to see how seriously the promoters were taking show preparations. If they missed this, what else had they missed? As David Lee Roth observed, “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.”

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