The Infamous Brown M&M Clause

This morning I came across this amusing and detailed infographic of Van Halen’s infamous 1982 contract with venues. What made it infamous was the clause buried deep in the legalese that specified a bowl of M&Ms was to be provided with the brown ones removed. When the band arrived at a venue where this clause wasn’t met they proceeded to trash the place.

Van Halen Contract Infographic

Van Halen Contract Infographic

This story rates high in the list of all-time rock and roll excess, though it’s been said that the obscure clause did serve a bigger purpose. At that time Van Halen was touring with an extensive lighting and sound rig and playing a lot of “mid-market” venues. Often these venues had inadequate facilities or staff to handle a production of this size. The “brown M&M clause” was used as a sort of canary-in-a-coalmine for the band. The logic being, “if they can’t get the M&Ms right, they sure as hell can’t get the power or safety requirements right”.

There’s a certain logic to this. Whether it’s true or not, we’ll probably never know. Like most things in life (especially when David Lee Roth is involved), the truth is probably somewhere between the worst of rock and roll behavior and clever legal maneuvering. Though I suspect that venues are probably much better about going through contracts than they were thirty years ago.

If you want to do some first-hand research, The Smoking Gun claims to have a copy of one of these contracts for your viewing pleasure.