26 July 2009

mmmmmm, mighty tasty crow

One of the stories on today's "This American Life" mentioned the infamous Van Halen contract-rider clause: must supply bowl of M&Ms backstage with all brown M&Ms removed.

For years, this has been cited as the ultimate rock-star indulgence, although while researching a feature I wrote for the Dallas Times Herald in 1984, I found several more that seemed to go way farther than adding a little extra labor to the task of pouring M&Ms into a bowl. Sammy Hagar's demand that each venue supply a bottle of expensive vintage wine -- not for after-show drinking but to add to his personal collection -- comes to mind.

The point of the radio mention was that, far from being indulgent, this was actually a very visible quality check for the band. In his autobiography, David Lee Roth wrote that when he arrived at the venue and saw either no M&Ms at all or a bowl complete with brown ones, he knew that someone on the management end either hadn't read the contract thoroughly or wasn't keen on detail. And with a production as extensive and complicated as Van Halen's, ignoring the specs about load-bearing stages and massive electrical requirements could prove disastrous or possibly even fatal.

So Van Halen, I stand corrected and I apologize for perpetuating the indulgence myth. But your apparent belief that incorrectly supplied M&Ms gave you license to trash the backstage turns that crow I'm eating from entree into tiny tapas.

Late-breaking rewrite aside, that was one fun article to put together. Every concert promoter and venue manager I talked with had some eye-rolling excess to brag about having to endure. (When I find the article I'll post some here.)

Among all of the foodstuffs, doggie perks and general silliness I heard about, the most touching came from Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers. Maybe he was a little more candid with me than he might have been with some other journalist -- after all, he was my first boyfriend, many years before -- or maybe he was, just for a moment, wanting to transcend the extremes of the Butthole Surfer image.

Paul told me that their contract had no special food-related requests beyond a vegetarian meal for one band member and no pork for another. Being a self-contained, seasoned touring group, the most important thing for them, he said, was six pairs of new cotton socks at each venue. Looking at my own overflowing basket of freshly washed laundry nearby, my heart ached for these itinerant boys. Clean laundry is hardly an indulgence, but in some circumstances it can seem like unattainable luxury.

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1 comment:

jayne said...

have you ever looked through the performer riders at the Smoking Gun? The Foo Fighters' is my fav.