March 25, 2013
EXILE ON MAIN STREET: In the Wall Street Journal, Andrew Stuttaford reviews A Prince Among Stones, Prince Rupert Loewenstein’s newly-published memoirs of his financial adventures as the Rolling Stones’ lead accountant:
A mildly artsy upbringing had left him open to dealing with musicians too scruffy and too chaotic for most City financiers of that era. He understood that in swinging London the old hierarchies had swung apart. Besides, he was “rather bored.”
What he discovered was that the Rolling Stones’ finances were a shambles. What he appreciated was that they need not be so. For all their countercultural baggage, the band was a business, one that needed running properly. Mr. Loewenstein spirited them out from under the grasp of the British taxman and, so far as he could, replaced one-sided commercial arrangements on which they were on the wrong side with ones in which they were not.
As much as Mr. Loewenstein did not like their music (“I never played a Stones track by choice”), he recognized their strength as performers, a talent that, he saw, could be profitably exploited—but by the band and not just by promoters and other scavengers. So here, too, Mr. Loewenstein took charge, not only sorting out the contracts, and the merchandising, and the sponsors, but doing his best to bring a little more Ordnung, financial or otherwise, to the touring process. A leading figure in an “ancient” (naturally!) Catholic order, Mr. Loewenstein even modeled the band’s meet-and-greets on papal audiences. The author’s famous ancestor had died in an attempt to repel barbarians. A millennium later, his descendant embraced them, enriched them and, on the way, did pretty well for himself.
And so did the Rolling Stones: In 1971, multimillionaire British rock star John Lennon recorded “Imagine” with its notorious line, “Imagine no possessions.” That same year, the Rolling Stones’ didn’t need to just imagine it — their coffers really were empty, thanks to their previous mismanagement. Under Loewenstein’s advice, the Stones left England and moved to France, to avoid having their wealth confiscated by the rapacious taxation of high income earners by the British government, recorded Exile On Main Street, and never looked back. It’s a reminder of Conquest’s First Law of Politics, “Everyone is conservative about what he knows best,” particularly when it’s their money that’s on the line. (As opposed to grabbing more of yours.)