Working on a Dream




Monday, March 4, 2013

Van Halen & "The Brown M & M"

The following is taken from Chip & Dan Heath's latest book, "Decisive." 

In it, they tackle the subject of decision-making. Something we all take for granted, do too quickly and forget that our approach will either make or break you. However, I will be applying the story they share to forming perceptions too quickly.  Below they share a story from one of rock n roll's most outstanding bands, Van Halen.

David Lee ROTH WAS THE lead singer for Van Halen from the mid-1970s to
the mid-1980s, an era when the band cranked out one smash hit after another: “Runnin’ with the Devil,” “Dance the Night Away,” “Jump,” “Hot for Teacher,” and more. Van Halen toured tirelessly, with over 100 concerts in 1984 alone, and behind the band’s head-banging appeal was some serious operational expertise. It was one of the first
rock bands to bring major stage productions to smaller markets. As Roth recalled in his autobiography, “We’d pull up with nine eighteen wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max.”
The band’s production design was astonishingly complex. The contract specifying the setup was, according to Roth, “like a version of the Chinese Yellow Pages because there was so much equipment and so many human beings to make it function.” A typical article in the contract might say, “There will be fifteen amperage voltage sockets at twenty-foot spaces, evenly, providing nineteen amperes...”

While Van Halen had its own road crew, much of the prep work had to be done in advance, before the eighteen-wheelers arrived. Van Halen and its crew lived in fear that the venues’ stagehands would screw up something and leave the band exposed to injury. (This was the same era when Michael Jackson’s head was set on fire by some
misfiring stage pyrotechnics as he filmed a Pepsi commercial.) But, given the band’s frantic touring schedule, there wasn’t time to do a top-to-bottom quality check at each venue.

-How could the band know when they were at risk?

During this same period of touring, rumors circulated wildly about Van Halen’s backstage antics. The band members were notorious partiers, and while there’s nothing particularly noteworthy about a rock band that likes to party, Van Halen seemed committed to a level of decadence that was almost artistic. As Roth writes in his
autobiography, “Well, we’ve heard about throwing a television out a window. How about getting enough extension cords … so that the television can remain plugged in all the way down to the ground floor?”

 Sometimes, though, the band’s actions seemed less like playful mayhem and more like egomania. The most egregious rumor about the band was that its contract rider demanded a bowl of M&Ms backstage—with all the brown ones removed. There were tales of Roth walking backstage, spotting a single brown M&M, and freaking out, trashing the dressing room.

This rumor was true—Roth bragged about it in his autobiography. The brown-free bowl of M&Ms became the perfect, appalling symbol of rock-star diva behavior. Here was a band making absurd demands, simply because it could.

--Get ready to reverse your perception.

The band’s “M&M clause” was written into its contract to serve a very specific purpose. It was called Article 126, and it read as follows:
“There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.” The article was buried in the middle of countless technical specifications.

When Roth would arrive at a new venue, he’d immediately walk backstage and glance at the M&M bowl. If he saw a brown M&M, he’d demand a line-check of the entire production. “Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error,” he said. “They didn’t read the contract ... Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show.”

In other words, David Lee Roth was no diva, he was an operations master. He needed a way to assess quickly whether the
stagehands at each venue were paying attention—whether they’d read every word of the contract and taken it seriously.
In Van Halen’s world, a brown M&M was a tripwire.
More than that, in Van Halen's world, a brown M&M could've meant death.

The Lesson?
= Do us all a favor, reserve your judgement(s).

Jesus says,  "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment."


Ann Mullen said...

Good heavens. Just goes to show that we don't know enough to make a judgment. I am humbled. Thanks, Anthony.

Anthony Kladitis said...

Ann, Thank you very much! I thought the same thing too!