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David Lee Roth, Esquire – Brilliant Legal Strategist

August 6, 2009

Who knew you could actually get smarter while being hot for teacher all throughout school?

Apparently Van Halen Bros. and Co. had a reason for their infamous contract rider requesting a jar of M&Ms with brown ones taken out other than (exclusive to but not excluding) being gigantic egotistical dickweeds.

According to snopes, the band buried absurdly specific details like this in order to make sure that the other, more important technical details in the contract had been read and precisely followed.  If brown M&Ms were found in the jar, sure enough, something was messed up with the pyrotechnics, lasers, or anything else that belonged in a paranoid supervillain’s underground fortress defense.

This strategy, heretofore called (by me) the “Panama Option,” might only be matched in terms of cleverness by the poison pill… though maybe it’s more analogous to the canary in the coal mine.

Which reminds me (please indulge me) about my first experience with entertainment riders.  When I was working with the Emory web radio station, we put together a concert featuring the Fiery Furnaces.  It was a free concert open to the public so we had to pay the band up front.

When we booked the venue on campus, we were told that the capacity was 175, so we put this in the contract rider and convinced the band to come.  Unfortunately, we were later told by the fire marshall that in the case of rock concerts, we were only allowed to let in 125 people, a fact that, upon hearing it 2 hours before the opening act, pissed off the Furnaces manager to no end.  She threatened to pull the band, sue Emory, play a half set, and generally made our lives miserable with her screaming.

We were college kids; our station was made of chemistry and political science majors, not entertainment lawyers.  Our promotions team was on the verge of tears.  I was trying to keep calm while being dressed down by a woman whose tattoos I inferred signified that she was willing to brutally kick my ass if necessary (this was actually quite explicit.  One depicted my ass precariously positioned near her foot, and the text literally read, “willing to brutally kick if necessary”).  The band needed party dip, and right now.  We were in panic mode.

Our workaround, which the manager reluctantly compromised with us on, was to let in the additional 50 people after the fire marshall left.  This was of course an extremely irresponsible move, but at the time we had to decide between breaking our contract with a national act, and the very slight risk of having the concert shut down prematurely (in which case the Furnaces would still be compensated and we’d be SOL).

This led to the strange, sudden influx of 50 or so scenester kids all wearing flannel (for it was in at the time) and Chuck Taylors about 5 songs into the set, a ruckus quite noticeable for a venue that size. I seem to remember Nick Brubaker sitting down directly in front of Eleanor Friedberger for some unrelated reason.  Other than that the concert went without a hitch, and safety wasn’t compromised besides the fire that caused the trampling deaths of 73 students (just kidding).

The Furnaces cared so much because part of the reason they agreed to come was the free exposure to their music.  If the exposure was cut by 50 souls, that fact should have been reflected in the price to make it worth their while.  But we didn’t get a thank you for the organic guacamole that we went OUT OF OUR WAY TO GET!

So what I’m basically saying is that you don’t have to be an arena rock band to treat college students like shit, nor, as Van Halen’s brown-averse rider implies, do you have to be a college student to totally fuck up a contract with an entertainment act.  I wonder how many ridiculous demands we unknowingly assent to in those cursed End User Licensing Agreements?  Just remember the next time a request is made in writing, be thorough if the other party has the ability to drunkenly trash your personal property. Running with the devil is in the details.

Disclaimer: as soon as I finished this I realized that the rest of the tech blogosphere has picked up this story.  Damn you reddit.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Kevin Lowe permalink
    August 13, 2009 7:06 am

    Yeah, Diamond Dave was definitely the brains behind classic Van Halen. The name was thought up by him and he even encouraged Eddie to put the stripes on the frankenstrat. And of course the midget bodyguards…

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