One of the most unlikely pairings in rock and roll is a titled prince taking over the finances of the Rolling Stones. In this breezy autobiography, Prince Rupert Lowenstein tells that intriguing story. Over the years, he was bank manager, psychiatrist and nanny to the band. With the recent announcement of the Stones’ new tour, this is an especially timely autobiography. Celebrating their 50th year in operation speculation runs deep about if and how the Stones will tour after this juggernaut wraps up.
Lowenstein’s parents never paid attention to money, so it was always scarce despite facades to the contrary. In May 1940 Lowenstein was on board the very last plane of civil passengers that flew from Paris to England before the French capital fell. How old was he? Not yet seven. At eighteen he could have been called up by the German, British or Spanish armies given his peripatetic upbringing. All of that history worked well when he became part of the Stones’ travelling rock and roll circus.
In the decades not too far removed from those portrayed in Downton Abbey, and in much the same milieu, Lowenstein tells of parties, charades and dinners with all kinds of dukes, counts, earls and dons from Cambridge and Oxford (he studied with the former for exams at the latter).
The Oxford University Appointments Board helped him look for a job. “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know, but I want to make money. Where can I make money?” He had three opportunities: one with a metal box company in the Midlands for £600 a year, another in Leeds for the same amount. Bache & Co were paying only £400, but it was in London. “Well that’s the one!”
When he finally married, theirs as a mixed wedding, as Lowenstein was Catholic and his wife was Protestant, an all-too-familiar routine back in the day.
Invariably, the mechanics and economics behind the Rolling Stones is the most interesting aspect of the book, and Lowenstein was at that epicenter. Jagger and Lowenstein met because the band was selling records and selling out shows, yet remained broke. Lowenstein reveals a nice tidbit that Jann Wenner offered Mick and the band 49% of his newly launched magazine for $5000, but the Stones were too broke to raise the funds.
Lowenstein provides a telling difference between English and American lawyers in the early heyday of rock and roll; the latter were keenly aware that money could be made in popular music. The English lawyers, perhaps as a result of the horrific 90% tax rate, could not see any money being made in the popular music business. Indeed, that probably had something to do with Lennon’s fateful interest in Allen Klein (yet McCartney went with John Eastman, probably not only because of the American lawyer’s lovely daughter Linda).
Lowenstein started working for the Stones in the late 60s and discovered that the band’s deal with Klein was the reason they were broke. The Stones finally settled with Klein three years later and Lowenstein finally got paid by the Stones for the prior work. That gap caused much consternation among Lowenstein’s business partners, who essentially underwrote all the travel and other massive expenses for the three year gap.
Even as late as 1978 Lowenstein had to disabuse the touring crew not to accept paper bags of cash, as any subsequent audit would immediately trigger tax fraud implications. Lowenstein had moved the band in the late 60s out of England to avoid the crushing tax rate. The band’s residence in the south of France, a region very familiar to Lowenstein, was fertile music ground for the likes of Exile on Main Street, which is the only big seller in music directly referencing a tax situation.
Not all promoters come in for pleasant scrutiny; Bill Graham apparently allowed certain people through a specific turnstile that did not register. Lowenstein grudgingly accepted that he will not be able track the 10% skim rate of tour receipts, so instead he concentrated on securing the remaining 90%. The famous tongue and lips logo gave the band an identifiable brand, but “at one stage we were paying more than a million dollars a year for copyright protection, and we only made any real money when the band were on tour.”
Lowenstein describes a great moment in the negotiation with Waltert Yetnikoff picking up the Stones deal for CBS. Lowenstein negotiated a parity rate for CD and record sales, whereas other artists were forced to take far lower royalties for the then-new CD format.
Keith’s drug arrest in Canada it triggered a massive internal enforcement reflecting Lowenstein’s position that he did not care what people did own their own as long as it did not jeopardize the tour’s success.
After leaving his private bank partners in the 80s Lowenstein briefly broadened his client base to include Cat Stevens, Terence Trent D’Arby and David Gilmour, later negotiating the split between Pink Floyd and Roger Waters. Lowenstein then turned his attention back solely on the Stones.
Lowenstein provides interesting discussions about corporate sponsorships; Nike’s offer of $250,000 was insufficient for the band to wear the company’s athletic kits on tour. Lowenstein’s flight to Microsoft’s headquarters resulted in “Start Me Up“ being the music that launched Windows 95. Oddly, he makes no mention of the Jovan sponsorship of the Stones’ early 80’s tour, one of the first rock and roll sponsorships.
Lowenstein discusses a slight possible detour into live theatre when Tim Rice and Cameron Mackintosh pursed Lowenstein’s idea of a musical about Machiavelli with the working title “Sympathy For the Devil,” but Mick put the kibosh on that enterprise.
Lowenstein observes that Mick is very intelligent but concludes that Keith is even more so.
By the early 80s the new CBS had been signed, there was a relative truce between Mick and Keith and there were only occasional flare ups with the Klein litigation, all of which left Lowenstein more time to devote to charitable work. He had always arranged for a portion of the Stones’ tour receipts to be donated to charity, but he was rebuffed by Catholic orders in Naples and two South American countries.
Toward the end of the book the narrative detours into his devout religious life (both Lowenstein‘s sons became priests and his daughter is a publicist for the Stones). The book ends with a description of Lowenstein’s audience with the Pope. Through a series of antechambers and guards and hierarchies, Lowenstein eventually has the chance to meet the Pope and kiss the Fisherman’s Ring, a process which Lowenstein drolly compares to the escalating layers of backstage passes allowing closer access to the band. The equivalent ring would be Keith’s skull ring.
Lowenstein freely admits at the end of the book that the Stones’ music in particular and rock and roll music in general does nothing for him, but Lowenstein is probably the most important figure in turning it into a far more organized business than before he stepped in.