We’ve been talking recently in the studio about technical specifications, the importance of attention to detail and if the specification isn’t being followed or veers off course, how to spot it as soon as possible.
Enter Van Halen.
During their 1982 tour they used nineteen (19!) trucks to lug their stage show around. At the time a typical touring artist took three or four trucks. With this came some significant technical difficulties, be it the size of the stage, the size of the doors to get gear in and out of the venue, enough electricity to cope with souped up sound systems and lighting rigs. Many venues were unable to cope with such demands, but they wanted Van Halen to play their venue, who wouldn’t? They were selling out venues across the world.
To cover all eventualities they came up with a technical specification which came to resemble War and Peace. As the tour continued they quickly realised many promoters and venues were either missing key aspects of the spec or ignoring it entirely. Not a good situation to be in performing in front of tens of thousands of people night after night.
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.
They needed a way to easily identify if the specification was being adhered to or not.
So in the middle of the rider they included a demand for all Brown m&m’s to be removed from a bowl they were provided with. As catering is typically provided on arrival, the production crew could take one look at the bowl of m&m’s, if any brown ones were present they knew to expect problems later on at some point.
Unsurprisingly the media picked up the story and twisted it into something somewhat different. David Lee Roth touched on this in his autobiography:
“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?”
A lesson in both technical specification and media manipulation, cheers Dave.