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The truth about Van Halen's green M&Ms

Posted September 12 by John Birmingham

Everybody knows about contract riders; those bizarre clauses in the entertainment industry that require a venue or producer to jump through fiery hoops on behalf of the talent. I heard of one author... oh all right it was Jeffrey Archer... who demanded that a freshly peeled Mars Bar appear in his dressing room less than a minute before he arrived.

Not good enough!

A showrunner of the Nine Network told me about hiring a chocolatier to strip away the outer shell of milk chocolate for Lord Archer, who had a second contract rider–he was never to see the confronting moment when the chocolate was removed, or the lonely minion who removed it.

So this guy allegedly had to strip away the chocolate in less than a minute, and then hide behind the door when Lord Archer appeared.

I don't know if was true, but I trust the guy who told me the story, and I desperately want it to be true, which is all you need on the internet.

One of the most famous contract riders was the demand by Van Halen that there be a gigantic bowl of M&Ms in their dressing room, BUT not a single green M&M could defile the bowl.

It's often cited as a perfect example of the selfishness and craziness of mega-celebrities. Turns out, not so much.

There was actually a method to this madness.

I was listening to one of my favourite podcast this morning—Pod Save America—and a country music star I’d never heard of before spelled out the reasoning behind Van Halen’s demand.

This guy, Jason Isbell, explained that because the staging requirements for a Van Halen show involved a lot of dangerous pyrotechnics and heavy equipment, the band’s lawyers added pages and pages of contract riders to the usual boilerplate to ensure that nobody was going to be hurt during the show (or before or afterward during set up and bump out) because some piece of equipment hadn’t been installed to spec.

Having a silly little clause about removing green M&Ms gave them a way of telling very quickly whether or not the venue managers had read the contract and adhered to all of the riders, most of which were about Occupational Health& Safety issues. If they saw green M&Ms in the bowl they knew somebody had cut corners.


Also brilliant? This Isbell guy. I'm not much of a country music fan and I'd never heard of him before. Pod Save America is a political podcast and I was sort of wondering why they interviewed him. Five minutes in and I wondered no more. Jason Isbell Is one of the smartest, funniest and purely clued in guys they had ever had on that show. I sat there listening to him, absolutely stunned by his self possession and wider awareness. I don't want to make this blog entry about Isbell, but if you have a few minutes and access to a streaming service you could do yourself a favour.

Warning, the song below has all the feels.

7 Responses to ‘The truth about Van Halen's green M&Ms’

insomniac would have you know...

Posted September 12
I find it a little too convenient that you have hidden behind others and not revealed your own, most likely completely outrageous, riders.

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Rhino reckons...

Posted September 12
I’m still waiting for the one that stipulates that Boylan and I must be flown there’, first class and expense account, to act as physical and litigious security.

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Bondiboy66 mutters...

Posted September 12
Interesting! Look up Iggy Pop's legendary rider sheets, most humourous!

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Barnesm ducks in to say...

Posted September 12
Jason Isbell is an interesting fellow, I agree well worth having a listen thanks for the suggestion.

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Brother PorkChop mumbles...

Posted September 20
I'd heard the M&Ms story before and it makes sense. Some riders do not though. Back in the 90s we had Mariah Carey stay at the hotel I was working at. She wanted everything in her suite to be white - a piece we did not comply with but she stayed anyways and another thing was unsalted potato chips, an item that did not exist so our chefs spent hours making the bloody things by hand.
I also got stuck in a lift with Tina Turner, a lovely lady, and ended up making her boiled eggs myself since the chefs could not get it right.
Then there was the RHCPs...... and the Baby Animals.....

Nocturnalist mutters...

Posted September 20
Okay, c'mon, spill, I want to know what the Baby Animals were like.

Brother PorkChop would have you know...

Posted September 20
They were great when sober. Hung out with MaryJane a real lot, ordered Nachos from Room Service, then threw them at me. Admittedly they were shit and I wouldn't have eaten them either but I was a night manger not a chef so....
But the Chillis were ever so cool and great to hang out with. So very laid back, but they were on holidays so you could expect that.

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