Rock stars. They’re just like you and me. Except for the global fame, money and groupies. OK, scratch the groupies … a few privileged "regular" folks – for instance, certain über-cool newspaper columnists – are privy to the rabid adulation of enthusiastic female fans (translation: middle-aged ladies at my church).
Groupie love aside, music performers are lavished with luxuries unlike no other breed of human, including film/TV stars. Much of this indulgence is due to a little piece of paper that says they can have what they want, when they want. It’s called a rider and it’s pretty much the pre-nup of concert negotiations.
The rider is the part of the artist’s contract outlining facilities and amenities the concert promoter must provide before, during and after a show. Besides lighting, sound systems and other equipment needs, this list includes food, beverages and in some cases, animals. Hey, you never know when Ozzy Osbourne might have a sudden craving for bat's head soup.
The most infamous rider is Van Halen’s "no brown M&M’s" clause. Actually, there was a method to the band’s madness. Touring with elaborate, complex equipment left no room for mistakes, so they issued meticulous set-up instructions for safety and liability reasons. In the middle of the contract was the proviso to remove all brown M&M’s from the group’s candy bowls. If there were no brown M&M’s, the band reasoned, the promoter had read the contract thoroughly and the show would run smoothly and free of technical errors.
Unfortunately, the shrewd thinking behind Van Halen’s legendary rider got lost in the translation. What remained was a seemingly outlandish, spoiled-brat command that has influenced many of today’s artists to go overboard with their eccentric and egocentric demands.
Backstage riders are intended to give the artists the comforts of home and then some. Requests range from the ordinary – sandwiches, fruits, bottled water and other beverages, towels, ironing boards – to "oh, puh-leese!" – e.g., P. Diddy’s behest for napkins with his name printed on them. That’s no small order, considering his name could change before the ink dries.
Some rider requests belie the performers’ senses of humor. For instance, ‘70s rockers Foreigner asked for a dozen blueberry pies for an end-of-tour pie fight – a much sweeter way to blow off steam than say, bashing a paparazzi vehicle with an umbrella.
Shock rocker Marilyn Manson requires that his dressing room be air-conditioned practically to sub-Arctic temperatures. Now we know how he maintains that flawless, Night of the Living Dead pallor. Manson also asks for Kool-Aid – the next-best thing to pig’s blood – and gummi bears, so he can savor the sweet, sweet tang of their sugary blood as he tears into their soft, gelatin flesh.
On one tour, singer-rapper Pharrell demanded 20 crates each of Bacardi Rum and Grey Goose vodka, 15 magnums of Perrier champagne, a troupe of belly dancers and a Rolls Royce with driver. Who does he think he is … P. Diddy?
You can read more backstage riders at http://www.thesmokinggun.com/backstagetour/, which lists the requests of some 200 performers. In the meantime, I need to go call my groupies. Hey, somebody’s gotta dispose of those brown M&M’s for me.