David Lee Roth, Visionary Businessman
The on-again, off-again Van Halen chief’s impressive trick
Scroll favorite David Lee Roth, to whom we paid tribute here, and Van Halen were famous for their stories of excess while the rock band was on tour in the 1980s. One infamous proviso of their 1982 tour rider stipulated that each venue must have a massive amount of M&M’s candy at the ready for the band backstage, specifying that no brown M&M’s were to be tolerated whatsoever.
If the concert promoter didn’t follow through with the demand, the promoter would forfeit his fee for the event, needless to say, a significant amount of scrilla. In a series of interviews released last year, David Lee Roth explained (at some length) that the M&M demand wasn’t just about the candy.
“Van Halen was the first to take 850 par lamp lights — huge lights — around the country,” explained singer David Lee Roth. “At the time, it was the biggest production ever.” Many venues weren’t ready for this. Worse, they didn’t read the contract explaining how to manage it. The band’s trucks would roll up to the concert site, and the delays, mistakes and costs would begin piling up.
So Van Halen established the M&M test. “If I came backstage and I saw brown M&M’s on the catering table, it guaranteed the promoter had not read the contract rider, and we had to do a serious line check,” Roth explained.
If you’re wondering how this legend has any modern relevance, Ezra Klein writes about how Van Halen’s little slice of business acumen (disguised as eccentric and unreasonable neediness) has a policy analogue in the Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as Obamacare). It’s a smart piece, not only because it makes proper use of this little bit of Van Halen trivia.