Even if you know next to nothing about rock n’ roll or Van Halen, everybody knows the brown M&Ms story.
For the uninitiated, there was a famous clause in Van Halen’s tour rider that a bowl of M&Ms had to be backstage for the band, and all the brown ones had to be removed. At one show where they weren’t removed, Van Halen trashed the backstage area, and the band got chastised for being prima donnas over something so trivial.
Yet years ago in a rock magazine called Seconds (now defunct), David Lee Roth went on to explain the reason for the brown M&M clause: It was to make sure the concert promoters were paying attention to the band’s contract. If they showed up to a gig and the brown M&Ms were removed, it usually meant all the band’s other requirements were taken care of.
If the brown M&Ms weren’t removed, chances were nothing else was set up right either. And funny enough, somebody recently told me about going to see Van Halen on the 1984 tour at the L.A. Forum, and backstage she saw someone frantically running around with his hands full, saying he had to take care of something for the band. His hands were full of brown M&Ms.
So I happened to stumble upon a story written for L.A. Weekly where Barry Fey, a famed concert promoter from Denver, recalled this, and he also wrote a book called Backstage Past. As Fey recalled, Van Halen was playing The University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo, and it was the first time he heard about the M&Ms clause. On the band’s tour rider, “Virtually nothing was left to chance,” Fey recalled. “Someone suggested they put in ‘no brown M&Ms’ as a gotcha; if there were no brown M&Ms, then whoever was supposed to read the rider didn’t and other important details might have been overlooked.”
As Fey continued, “In their Pueblo dressing room, the band found brown M&Ms, and the boys, who had proven that they didn’t need much of an excuse to damage hotel rooms, tore up the college’s dressing room. Tore it up so badly that the University banned not only Van Halen, but all rock concerts at the school.” When Fey booked the US Festival, he brought a big silver chalice filled with brown M&Ms to the band backstage, and they all broke out in hysterics.
Fey was also part of another rock n’ roll urban legend, that he allegedly held a gun to Axl Rose’s head to prevent him from storming away from a gig. Apparently it was Lars Ulrich of Metallica who told this story with the gun to the head part of it, but as with many urban legends, there’s parts of it that were either misheard and retold, or parts of the story were added for embellishment. It was on the Metallica / Guns N Roses co-headline tour that Axl pulled this disappearing act, one of many he’s pulled throughout his career.
This took place at Mile Hile Stadium, close to 50,000 people were there, and Axl walked off during Welcome to the Jungle, got into a limo, and took off. The band kept jamming on stage, and Fey went to the guy who ran the limo company, telling him, “You ever want to see another dime of this company’s money, you get that car back here.” While people were waiting for Axl to maybe return, Fey saw fans taking their Guns N Roses shirts back to the stands, trying to trade them for Metallica shirts.
Fey tried to get Metallica to go onstage to jam with Guns and try to prevent a potential riot, and Lars refused. Then Fey got his .357, put it in his back pocket, and put security on both sides of the stage when Axl came back so he couldn’t leave again. As Fey concluded, “[Lars] swears I put the gun up to Axl’s temple and said, ‘Get on that f*cking stage of you’re going to die.’ It never left my pocket. But every time he sees me today, he says, ‘Barry, are you packing today?'”