Brown M&Ms: The Rest of the Story

Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli
Brown M&Ms: The Rest of the Story

What can Van Halen and brown M&Ms teach us about reading the whole story?

Perhaps you remember as well as I do the Big Hair Bands that dominated the charts during the 1980s. These bands were known for their big hair, big concerts, big displays of pyrotechnics, big guitar solos, and big personalities. One of the bands that exemplified the image of the Big Hair Band was Van Halen. The stories of the antics that occurred off-stage were often as newsworthy as the music they performed onstage.  One such story was that the band – get this – demanded that M&Ms be placed backstage for them at concerts, but that no brown M&Ms would be tolerated.   No brown M&Ms? But M&M bags are full of brown M&Ms! Can you imagine the poor crew member that had to painstakingly remove every last brown M&M from the pile? How absurd! we all exclaimed. What divas! we all thought. Rock stars, we all sighed.  It must be nice to be so pampered.

And then there’s the rest of the story.

A brief article in the March 2010 edition of Fast Company magazine (, written by brothers Dan and Chip Heath, illuminated the truth behind the Legend of the Brown M&M.

Van Halen’s concerts, like many bands of that era, were incredibly high tech. (Nine big rigs full of equipment for any given concert.  Nine!) So, the set-up required meticulous attention to detail and a careful following of the band’s contract. Certainly the band would not have time before each show to check every light, amp, or pyrotechnic doo-hickey, so lead singer David Lee Roth had the idea to put the “no brown M&M” clause deep in the middle of the contract (“Article 126,” to be precise). This technique allowed them to make a quick assessment of the concert preparations – when the band arrived at a venue, all they’d have to do was look and see if there were any brown M&Ms in the bowl. To them, the presence of brown M&Ms meant that the crew hired to set up the show was not reading the contract carefully, and therefore Van Halen would call for a complete line check of the stage before starting the show.


How clever is that? I thought when I read that article. What geniuses! I mused. This is brilliant – get  this! I said to everyone that would listen.

Wow. What a totally different perspective, more than 20 years later. Spoiled Rock Stars? No. (Well okay maybe, but not because of this.) Innovative businessmen?  Absolutely. And for the rest of us, who smirked and whispered and rolled our eyes at the absurdity of their behavior? We were missing out on a great lesson on smart management and an even greater lesson on the basic truth that there is always more than meets the eye.

Are you taking the time to find out the rest of the story? 

Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.