Thursday 23 November 2017

Rolling in it... life as the Stones' princely money man

Somewhat in contrast to the rags to riches narrative arc of most rock 'n' roll memoirs, Prince Rupert Loewenstein's account of his adventures with the Rolling Stones, A Prince Among Stones, is more of a gentle amble from riches to greater riches.

Loewenstein was the well-connected merchant banker who sorted out the Stones' parlous finances in the early 1970s and went on to have a lucrative career as their business manager.

In place of the usual sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, his memoir focuses on accounting practises and boardroom meetings, which is about as exciting as it sounds. To be fair to Loewenstein, he doesn't get tied up in details, neatly summarising complex business arrangements with a cheerful clarity that has presumably served him well over three decades of dealings with the kind of clients who think nothing of turning up to meetings roaring drunk, accompanied by dancing girls, or peeing out of a window because it's closer than the nearest commode.

Somewhere in this relationship between imperturbable aristocrat and reprehensible rockers you can sense the bones of a comical culture clash, illustrating the shifting social parameters of post-war Britain. Unfortunately, the author's snooty and self-satisfied prose lacks any alertness to the abundant opportunities for either satire or pathos.

A background character in every Rolling Stones biography, it is initially intriguing to see Loewenstein come into focus, although his life story is not quite as interesting as the author finds it.

Loewenstein expends 66 pages easing through his frictionless early years as the privileged scion of an aristocratic European family. He is an inveterate double and triple-barrelled name dropper, and includes a 17-page appendix on "the ancestry of Rupert zu Lowenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg".

Although far too clever and able to be dismissed as a Bertie Wooster character, Loewenstein lacks perspective on the extent of his own advantages. He is given to making pronouncements about his family having no money in anecdotes involving maids, nannies and manservants.

The Rolling Stones are gratuitously and at times almost begrudgingly weaved through the narrative, as if the author is reluctant to acknowledge that his real claim on our attention is as a footnote in someone else's story.

For all his paternalistic indulgence of them as individuals, he can't quite cover up his condescension. He quotes, rather approvingly, Matilda Stream, "one of the great ladies of New Orleans", who announces (uninvited) that she "will come to the concert", then departs after half an hour, declaring "they are five ugly and pointless young men, and I loathe their music".

Loewenstein is at his best when he sticks to business. For young musicians, chapters on the years spent forensically examining and carefully extracting the Stones from nefarious contracts should make salutary reading. Loewenstein played a huge role in turning the Stones into a global brand, sending them into tax exile, copyrighting their tongue logo, establishing tour sponsorship with companies like General Electric and licensing classic hits for confectionery and computer advertising.

Loewenstein's lack of sentimentality or feel for the nuances of rock culture (something of which he is unduly proud) explains his hurt and bafflement at the Stones' rejection of a "reverse takeover" by an unnamed organisation "within the peripheries of the entertainment industry" that leads to a parting of the ways.

Loewenstein was reportedly stung by Jagger's response to this autobiography. "Call me old-fashioned," the singer recently commented, "but I don't think your ex-bank manager should be discussing your financial dealings and personal information in public. It just goes to show that well brought-up people don't always display good manners."

Jagger is quite right. Even at a slim 272 pages, this is little more than an exercise in self-justifying vanity publishing, riding on the coat-tails of celebrity with the shamelessness of any groupie's kiss and tell.

It is rudely marked throughout by Loewenstein's facetious distaste for the Stones' oeuvre, his comprehension of the band's appeal being bound up with some pedestrian notion of Jagger possessing a "star quality that transcends the banality of the medium".

There is something tragically self-denying and wilfully ignorant about an educated man spending three decades on the road with the greatest band on earth and never enjoying a concert, or even approaching a glimmer of understanding of what remarkable forces are at work when these individuals play together.

"Bartok it ain't" is the best he can come up with in terms of critical insight.

Maybe that's what you get when you let an accountant write about music.

Irish Independent

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