Some people go online for the smut. We sign on for the dirt. And nothing the Internet has to offer quite matches our favorite guilty pleasure, thesmokinggun.com. While other gossip sites deliver rumor and spin, the Smoking Gun serves up documents.
Most recently, the Gun has been pointed at the backstage demands of some of the music world’s most popular acts, with deliciously dishy results. It’s even educational. Just look at what we learned with just a few clicks of the mouse:
When the Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chili Peppers come to town, concert promoters better be prepared to supply band members with free socks and boxer shorts. The Backstreet Boys, like their young fans, thrive on peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Christina Aguilera demands Flintstones vitamins, a spread of soy snacks and organic veggies backstage--and a police escort through traffic. Mariah Carey, the $23-million woman, asks for Cristal champagne and “bendy straws.” Matchbox Twenty and the Dixie Chicks want morning tee times at championship-caliber golf courses.
As for the don’ts, tenor Luciano Pavarotti’s contract insists: “There must be no distinct smells anywhere near the artist.” Elton John and Cher will wear just about anything--except laminated backstage passes. And, Mr. Promoter, don’t even think about padding the Dixie Chicks’ floral arrangements with ferns and baby’s breath.
Since the Smoking Gun posted the first few contracts last year under the banner “Backstage Pass,” hundreds more have fallen into the mischievous hands of the site’s three founders--journalists William Bastone and Daniel Green, and Bastone’s wife, Barbara Glauber, a graphic designer. Bastone, who’s been working on the site full time since selling it in December to Court TV, says Web surfers can expect to see even more pop-star concert contracts by June.
“We have scads and scads of them,” said Bastone, who used to write about organized crime for the Village Voice.
The musical paper chase began with a tiff between Michael Bolton and a European producer. Bolton sued, and while digging through the documents, the Gunners read the rider attached to the contract. “We thought it was hilarious,” said Bastone. In January, they posted a batch of riders as “Backstage Pass,” and now there’s a “Backstage Pass II” that is the talk of music chat rooms.
So far there have been few complaints--with a couple of notable exceptions. Puff Daddy’s publicist, Nathalie Moar, said she hasn’t seen the rider, but disputes other material the site has posted about her client. “Can I just tell you, they’re the thorn in my side?”
Aguilera’s mother, who called the Smoking Gun “total and complete trash,” told a competing Web site last year that the pint-sized diva has never eaten anything organic.
Others take the public airing of their contracts in stride. “I love Smoking Gun,” said Gayle Fine, spokeswoman for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “It’s not like that rider hasn’t been seen by hundreds of people.”
While Bastone won’t reveal his sources, he says he’s checked out the contracts’ authenticity with concert promoters around the country. When they start to look the same from city to city, he knows he’s got his hands on the real thing.
Backstage riders have been a rock ‘n’ roll staple since the 1970s. They spell out a band’s creature-comfort needs--everything from food and liquor preferences to the desired temperature of a performer’s dressing room.
In 1980, Van Halen placed a clause in its contract requesting bowls of M&M; candy, with the brown ones plucked out. The Rolling Stones responded a year later by demanding candy bowls filled only with brown M&Ms.; Now nearly everybody makes demands.
“The majority of it is really a joke,” said Spivak Entertainment’s John Witherspoon, who manages Tori Amos. (She has dodged the Smoking Gun so far.) “It’s a test for the promoter. Some promoters take it quite seriously and step up to the challenge, and those are the promoters the bands like.”
The Foo Fighters are in on the joke. “Dearest Reader: This rider is comprised of the things that make the band rock like a proverbial hurricane,” the band says in its rider. “The silly items like gum and candy bars make a difference to these boys that are far from their family and friends. The band travels on its stomach just like Foreigner or Motorhead.”
Prince and Puff Daddy--or P. Diddy, as he now wants to be known--are fussy about contaminants. Prince’s contract says that all items in his dressing room “must be covered by clear plastic wrap until uncovered by main artist. This is absolutely necessary.” Puffy’s rider insists, “Before serving, all food and ice must be inspected for hair . . . and catering staff must wear hairnets.” Elton John and Faith Hill don’t want lilies in their backstage floral arrangements; Cher and the Dixie Chicks insist on them.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers demand fresh ginger root, aromatherapy candles and a meditation room "(prefer not blue).”
“A lot of people think it’s just glam and glory,” said Fine, the Chili Peppers’ spokeswoman. “It’s hard work.”
Promoter Peter Marin, who recently worked behind the scenes at a Pavarotti concert near Palm Springs, said the artist’s demands for scent-free backstage area are not unusual. Some singers, he said, “don’t want things like fresh paint or anything that might constrict the voice or the sinuses.”
Still, Pavarotti’s contract insists that he stay at a two-bedroom hotel suite with kitchen--"the set-up should be like home"--six extra pillows and a bedroom “kept in total darkness.” He also reserves the right to sue the hotel if someone spills the beans about his stay.
It used to be so simple. Remember when the Beatles played Shea Stadium back in 1965? All they asked for was a limo and a few bottles of Coca-Cola.