Van Halen & the Truth Behind Brown M&M's
by Laurnie Wilson
Don’t mess with Van Halen when it comes to brown M&M's. That’s one lesson from this week’s dive into candy pop culture history. But what was really behind their very particular distaste for the candy? As it turns out, the strange bias had nothing to do with the candy itself!
Most people probably remember Van Halen as a crazy, go big or go home type. Their tours required huge amounts of equipment and certain structural bearings to ensure that the lights could function properly, the stage could be used safely, and no one in the band or in the audience would be hurt in the process.
The Contract Rider
In the 80s, many music venues were not equipped to support Van Halen’s stipulations, but, because promoters often didn’t read the contract rider, nobody knew there was a problem until it was too late. So, to be sure that important technical details would not be overlooked, and the venues would be safe for the performance, Van Halen added a stipulation to their contract rider that demanded no brown M&M's be allowed backstage. If brown M&Ms were hanging out in the candy bowl, the promoter would have to cancel the show, at no cost to the band.
Van Halen knew that if promoters weren’t reading their rider, then they would run the risk of serious technical and safety problems during the show. And since a failure to comply with the band’s technical requests could be a life or death situation, this was no small matter.
On the occasion that brown M&M's made an appearance, the band would trash their dressing rooms to get their point across. And while the tabloids chalked their behavior up to a demanding rock-star lifestyle, in truth, it had much more depth than that.
So why didn’t the band put an end to the rumors early on and just come out with the truth? Well, as lead singer David Lee Roth said, “Who am I to get in the way of a good rumor?”
Sometimes a good rumor is better than reality. But, in this case, I think the truth shows a side of Van Halen that people may not have expected. We often want people to live up to the idea we’ve created in our own minds. We want the rock stars to trash the dressing room on a whim because they can. But these guys were just trying to have a safe show. Granted, they expressed themselves with a fair amount of rock and roll flair, but they were way more concerned with safety than it seemed. Ultimately, I guess we really can’t judge a book by its cover, or a band by its M&M's.