3 min read

Friday, July 28, 2023

[insert joke about changing the newsletter name to X here]

I am once again engaged in international travel, but I will not let that stop me from publishing yet another issue of this fine newsletter.

There's this story you've probably heard before, about how Van Halen's concert riders (the non-standard contract terms for their tours) mandated that venues provide the band with M&Ms, but take out all the brown ones. The original narrative on this story was that Van Halen were a bunch of obnoxious prima donnas making ridiculous demands just because they were famous and it was fun to be annoying.

But a "well, actually" explanation soon arose to counter the original narrative: you simpleton, you utter fool... Van Halen are not spoiled - they're business geniuses! The M&M clause, tucked quietly away in the middle of a huge, complicated contract, is a test. The rider doesn't just include terms about what kind of food the band likes, you see. It has language about how to set up the instruments. How much power they need for their equipment. And a million other little details that ensure that they can perform to the audience's satisfaction. But if Van Halen walks into the green room and sees a single brown M&M, they know the venue didn't read the contract. And if the venue didn't read the contract, they didn't read all the important stuff that Van Halen included therein to make sure they have what they need to put on an awesome, rockin', and - most importantly - safe, show.

That latter explanation is the one I grew up with, and it's very appealing. It subverts your initial impression of the band, it's a very clever idea, and it explains why you always hear about various idiosyncratic things in artist riders.

But for every "well, actually", there is an equal and opposite "well, but actually". Doug Mack of the Snack Stack Substack looked into this one and found some answers. I won't spoil it except to say that no, it does not appear that Van Halen are business geniuses.

Bonus reading: this sort of reminded me of how map-makers regularly include "paper towns" - fake towns and other markings - as traps to catch competitors copying from their maps. Dictionaries do the same things with Mountweazels. Amusingly, Google got caught scraping Genius song lyrics and reusing them in Google search answers because Genius used subtle punctuation formatting to spell out "red-handed". Also amusingly, Genius lost in court because Genius didn't own the copyright to the lyrics either.

Item 2: a list

Streaming video services, ranked (2023 update)

This is a holistic ranking taking into account 1) new/upcoming shows & movies; 2) content library; 3) website/app UX/UI; 4) subscription price; and 5) my personal experience. If there is an ad-free tier, that’s the one I am ranking. My distaste for the executives running these services is not accounted for herein.

  1. Max (nee HBO Max / HBO Go)
  2. The Criterion Channel
  3. Hulu
  4. YouTube Premium
  5. Peacock
  6. Disney+
  7. Paramount+ (which now includes Showtime)
  8. AMC+
  9. Netflix
  10. Apple TV+
  11. Kanopy
  12. Amazon Prime Video

Here’s what the list looked like when I last looked at it in January 2022:

  1. HBO Max
  2. Disney+
  3. Netflix
  4. Apple TV+
  5. The Criterion Channel
  6. Peacock
  7. Hulu (no ads)
  8. YouTube Premium
  9. Kanopy
  10. Amazon Prime Video
  11. Paramount+
  12. Hulu (ads)

This was the list in March 2021 (although I didn’t actually have/use ESPN Plus then, nor do I now):

  1. Disney+
  2. Netflix
  3. HBO Max
  4. The Criterion Channel
  5. Kanopy
  6. Hulu (no ads)
  7. Amazon Prime Video
  8. Apple TV+
  9. Hulu (ads)
  10. Starz
  11. CBS All Access (aka Paramount+)
  12. ESPN Plus
  13. Peacock

Item 3: a media recommendation

"Bring Me To Life" by Evanescence - Otamatone Cover

Item 4: word of the week


The skeletal pachyderm stumbled out of the desert, dropped to its mighty knees, and thunderously fell across the CVS threshold. Its desiccated trunk quivered as it inched like a furfuraceous centipede across the worn industrial carpeting, reaching desperately for the Jergens Ultra Healing Dry Skin Moisturizer.

Item 5: a photograph

this man is spitting water all over a frickin' rooster
Panom Archarit, 2nd Place, Thailand National Award, Sony World Photography Awards 2015

See ya!

Thank you for reading. See you next week!