Reviewed: A Prince Among the Stones by Prince Rupert Loewenstein

His satanic Majesty: the man who managed the Rolling Stones' money.

A Prince Among the Stones: That Business with the Rolling Stones and Other Adventures
Prince Rupert Loewenstein
Bloomsbury, 272pp, £20

One of the best things about being in the Rolling Stones was that you got to go out with posh girls. Marianne Faithfull had roots in the Habsburg dynasty. Anita Pallenberg was the daughter of an artist in Rome and spoke four languages. “The younger members of the aristocracy discovered a new career by dropping out,” writes Prince Rupert Loewenstein.

The 25-year-old Mick Jagger, concerned that the Stones still weren’t seeing a decent profit from their music in 1968, decided to get a member of the Establishment to manage his money. He chose a 35-year-old banker descended from Bavarian aristocrats, whose ancestors had been involved in repelling the Huns. Prince Rupert had never heard of the Rolling Stones: he devotes the epilogue of his book to exploring why, to this day, he doesn’t like their music. “It is comfort food . . . But it moves millions. Why?”

This is one of the funniest rock books I’ve read, fuelled, in the way only an aristocrat’s memoir could be, by a sense of cheery entitlement and the random pursuit of amusement for its own sake. “I found shopping for New York lawyers to be hilarious,” he recalls. Getting the band out of their contract with the slippery Alan Klein (whose clients included the Beatles) is likened to a game of chess.

Under Loewenstein’s care, the Stones became the most profitable rock act in the world. He was quite literally responsible for their “exile” (as in Exile on Main St): he got them out of the UK and into the Villa Nellcôte in the south of France, paying a negotiated income tax to the Alpes-Maritimes authorities. Everything you have come to associate with the “rock aristocracy” – the suits of armour, the Tatler society pages and compulsive gift-aiding – it all starts here.

The prince got into banking in the first place because his family had lost all its money. In one of the engrossing passages about his childhood, he describes his mother disposing of an emerald necklace out of the window; when he is 14, she sends him off to sell a Balthus painting for £40 and spends the money on lunch. Faced with any display of rock-star excess, he’d seen much worse at home.

Characters from the new and old worlds collide with farcical consequences. Loewenstein uses a lot of deadpan reported speech: one of the finest society ladies of New Orleans leaves a Stones concert after half an hour, saying, “They are five ugly and pointless young men and I loathe their music.”

Loewenstein may share her feelings on the band’s output but manifests a strong affection for the individuals. He is “Mick’s man” but remarks, “Keith is, in a way, the most intelligent mind . . . His aura to me was that of a generation of circus folk . . . entertainers but also with something of the pilgrim.” Of the relationship between the pair, he makes the kind of psychological observations rock journalists never quite understand: their rifts amount to “a form of divorce, enormously complicated by being between two men each fighting to prove his sexual dominance”. Relations generally worsen, he observes, when Mick and Keith are not playing enough music together. When they turn up drunk to a near-disastrous meeting with CBS, he notes that at least they’re “enjoying that old antiauthority, band of brothers spark again”.

Loewenstein’s greatest impact on the Stones can be seen in the 1970s and beyond, when he transformed their tours into highly profitable juggernauts. He cleaned up mercilessly on complimentary tickets, scalpers and corrupt promoters, audited the cost of their entourage to the last penny and developed a precise hierarchy backstage to cut down on freeloaders – it was “just like a court: rivals, whispering, grades of status granting access, with others being used to fetch and carry”. He copyrighted their tongue logo, licensed “Satisfaction” for a Snickers ad and “Start Me Up” to Microsoft Windows; and the Stones became the first band to have an entire tour sponsored by one company (General Electric). He claims that, if he met with resistance from them, he’d reply, “What do you care? You’re selling a business product.”

The prince parted ways with the band in 2008, when they rejected his plans for a “takeover” of the Rolling Stones by an unnamed organisation “on the fringes of the entertainment industry”. The proposed deal would have brought them a big pile of cash and allowed them, as Loewenstein puts it, “to come into harbour”: now 75, he was worried about their future – Keith had fallen off a palm tree, then a ladder, while Mick, his insurer advised him, “ought to be put on the Pavarotti pile” (ie, only covered for three performances at a time). After 40 years of saying “yes”, the Stones said “no” to Loewenstein’s proposal – perhaps simply because he was imagining the day when they’d have to stop.

The Rolling Stones in London in 1964. Photograph: Getty Images

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

This article first appeared in the 04 February 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Intervention Trap

Photo: Getty
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Social media tome #Republic questions the wisdom of crowds

Cass R Sunstein explores how insulation pushes groups towards more extreme opinions.

Cass Sunstein, one of the leading public intellectuals in the United States and a former Obama administration official, has worried and written for more than 15 years about the effects of the internet and digital communications on democracy. This book, his third on the subject, tackles social media.

The heart of his argument lies in the cumulative, collective effect of what individuals do online. Networking, shopping, dating and activism are all transformed by the engine of opportunity that is the internet. But those new links and choices produce a malign side effect: “filter bubbles”, inside which like-minded people shut themselves off from opinions that might challenge their assumptions. Insulation pushes groups towards more extreme opinions.

Sunstein’s organising principle is the ­difference between consumer and political sovereignty. The former promotes individual choice despite its possible consequences; the latter takes into account the needs of society as a whole. His inspiration is Jane Jacobs, the historian of US cities who celebrated, in poetic language, the benign and enriching effect on democracy of random encounters between citizens on pavements and in parks. How do we now reverse or dilute the polarisation driven by Facebook and Twitter?

The solutions Sunstein proposes for this very difficult problem are oddly tentative: websites stocked with challenging ideas and deliberative debates, voluntary self-regulation and “serendipity buttons”. He rightly stresses transparency: we know far too little about the algorithms that sift news for our attention on the networks. Facebook has talked about trying to show news that is “engaging” and “interesting”, without ever engaging in detailed public discussion of what these words mean. The disclosure requirements for social networks “require consideration”, Sunstein writes, without saying whether Facebook might have to be required legally to explain precisely how it routes news to almost two billion users.

Sunstein’s most interesting arguments are myth-busters. He questions the “wisdom of crowds”, while refraining from pointing out directly that the single strongest argument against this idea is the inequality of opinions. Not all opinions are equally valuable. He warily suggests what only a very few American voices have so far dared to say: that the First Amendment to the constitution, which guarantees a free press, should not be treated – as the courts have recently tended to do – as an equally strong protection for the freedom of all speech.

Sunstein is nostalgic for the media system and regulation of the past. I spent years working for a daily “general-interest” newspaper (the Times) and regret the decline of those outlets as much as he does, yet there is no reversing the technological and economic changes that have undermined them. It might have been a mistake to deregulate television in the United States, and killing the “fairness doctrine” might have had unforeseen effects, but that does not deal with the dilemmas thrown up by WhatsApp or Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.

Users of these platforms face the problem of managing abundance. Writers such as Sunstein imply that people who lock themselves in filter bubbles are deplorably unable to break out of their informational isolation. But we all now live in bubbles that we design to make sense of the torrent of information flowing through our phones. Better-designed, heterogeneous bubbles include the unexpected and the challenging.

Yet the problem lies deeper than the quality of your bubble. Polarised societies can no longer agree on how to recognise the truth. Filter bubbles play a part, but so do a preference for emotion over reason, attacks on scientific fact from religion, decades of public emphasis on self-fulfilment, and a belief that political elites are stagnant and corrupt. Like many journalists, Sunstein treats the problem of a malfunctioning communications system as a supply-side matter: the information being generated and distributed ought to be better.

In the case of fake news, that is indisputable. But there is also a demand-side problem, one that hinges on the motives of those consuming information. If, inside their bubbles, people are not curious about alternative opinions, are indifferent to critical thinking and prefer stoking their dislike – of, say, Hillary Clinton – will they have even the slightest interest in venturing outside their comfort zone? Do we have a right to ignore the views of others, or an obligation to square up to them? Millions of Americans believe that one of the most important guarantees in their constitution is the right to be left alone – and that includes being left alone by the New York Times.

Sunstein does not venture far into this territory. He only hints that if we worry about what people know, we must also worry about what kinds of societies we build. Globalisation has reshaped communities, dismantling some and building others online, but the net effect has been to reduce deliberation and increase a tendency to press the “Like” button, or loathe opponents you can’t see or hear. The ability to debate civilly and well may depend on complex social chemistry and many ingredients – elite expertise, education, critical thinking, culture, law – but we need to be thinking about the best recipes. 

George Brock is the author of “Out of Print: Newspapers, Journalism and the Business of News in the Digital Age” (Kogan Page)

#Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media
Cass R Sunstein
Princeton University Press, 328pp, £24.95​

George Brock is a former managing editor of The Times who is now head of journalism at City University in London.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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