So, there’s this story about Van Halen and brown M&Ms. Perhaps you’ve heard about it before. If not, the gist of it is that tucked away in the 53 pages of the band’s rider (a contract that lists out their requirements for the venue) for their 1982 show was a little gem: There was to be provided a bowl of M&Ms – which seems normal enough. However! There was a caveat: Absolutely no brown ones.
Which, on the one hand, seems like some weird arrogant stuck up super band celebrity weirdness and excess.
But, it wasn’t. There was method to their seeming madness.
The 1982 VH tour was a large and intricate affair, requiring equally extensive and complex setup. It was perhaps one of the largest rock concerts of the time. It required serious prep work by the venue to ensure that the show went off without a hitch (or without anyone being injured).
The brown M&Ms, then, were an integrity check.
If the band went into the dressing room and found brown M&Ms, they were tipped off that either the promoter hadn’t read the rider carefully – which is bad enough – or that the promoter’s integrity was lacking and that if this thing was missed then more important aspects of the setup might well have been botched. (Which meant the band would then spend the time to double and triple check everything.)
Integrity isn’t about morality; it’s about honouring your word as yourself. It’s also, more importantly in this case, about doing complete and proper work. And like on a racecar, even something a little bit loose, or missing, is not just a small ‘out of integrity’ – it will almost certainly cost you the race (and might lead to a crash).
Thus, the M&M rider. A small detail whose legend is as big as the band’s, and a great little story to latch on to as we ponder the meaning of integrity and our relationship to it.