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Riders on the storm

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Prompted by a comment on this post on Blogcritics, pertaining to an outrageous rumor of a requirement by Tom Cruise in his contract rider that expressly forbids eye contact from his interview, I did a little research on the contractual oddity known as the “rider.”

The rider is simply a statement of requirements, in the case of a performer. Like the above example attributed to Tom Cruise, many of them are simply rumors. There are others, however, such as that attributed to Christina Aguilera recently. Her gigantic rider is confirmed to contain requirements like “Soy cheese and Oreos . . . Flintstones chewables and votive candles.” (Read on – the Smoking Gun has more, as usual.) It’s easy to attribute stuff like this to prima donna performers because none of it makes any sense to us “normal” people. However, these ridiculous requirements started out as a useful tool.

You may recall the rumor that Van Halen required that nowhere in their backstage area was there to be seen a brown M&M – or the band would call off the show with the venue forfeiting all money to the band. This seems completely ludicrous, doesn’t it? Surprisingly, it’s not. I went to legendary de-bunkers, Snopes.com for the scoop:

As Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth explained in his autobiography:

. . . Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. We’d pull up with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max. And there were many, many technical errors — whether it was the girders couldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in, or the doors weren’t big enough to move the gear through.
The contract rider read like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment, and so many human beings to make it function. So just as a little test, in the technical aspect of the rider, it would say “Article 148: There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes . . .” This kind of thing. And article number 126, in the middle of nowhere, was: “There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”

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.

Nonetheless, the media ran exaggerated and inaccurate accounts of Van Halen’s using violations of the “no brown M&Ms” clause as justification for engaging in childish, destructive behavior (such as the newspaper article quoted at the top of this page). David Lee Roth’s version of such events was decidedly different:

The folks in Pueblo, Colorado, at the university, took the contract rather kinda casual. They had one of these new rubberized bouncy basketball floorings in their arena. They hadn’t read the contract, and weren’t sure, really, about the weight of this production; this thing weighed like the business end of a 747.
I came backstage. I found some brown M&M’s, I went into full Shakespearean “What is this before me?” . . . you know, with the skull in one hand . . . and promptly trashed the dressing room. Dumped the buffet, kicked a hole in the door, twelve thousand dollars’ worth of fun.

The staging sank through their floor. They didn’t bother to look at the weight requirements or anything, and this sank through their new flooring and did eighty thousand dollars’ worth of damage to the arena floor. The whole thing had to be replaced. It came out in the press that I discovered brown M&M’s and did eighty-five thousand dollars’ worth of damage to the backstage area.

Well, who am I to get in the way of a good rumor?


(My lawyers want you to visit unproductivity.)

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About Tom Johnson

  • JR

    Diamond Dave’s book goes on like this for 300 pages; it’s self-indulgent and hilarious.

    I have to say I’m still not sure which came first, the no-m&m’s clause or his rationalization of it.

  • Eric Olsen

    Great idea and interesting info Tom, thanks!