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

Getty
Show Hide image

Ned Beauman's Madness Is Better Than Defeat brings jungle fever to a story of cinema

The author's lustrous and smart fourth novel never quite coalesces into purposeful significance.

“We were in the jungle… There were too many of us. We had access to too much money, too much equipment. And little by little, we went insane.” That’s Francis Ford Coppola describing the filming of Apocalypse Now, but it’s also a fair summary – give or take a few hundred pages of CIA machinations, mega-corp skulduggery and hallucinogenic-fungus consumption – of the plot of Ned Beauman’s fourth novel, a teeming shaggy-dog comedy of megalomania and obsession in which nothing and everything seems to be going on at once.

The setting is the Honduran jungle in the late 1930s. Under the command of a visionary director, a Hollywood company sets out to make a film (called Hearts in Darkness, ho, ho) on location at a freshly discovered Mayan temple. When they arrive, they find the temple already half-dismantled by a team of New Yorkers in the service of a reclusive billionaire. The Angelenos scuttle up the steps of the hemi-ziggurat; the New Yorkers pitch camp at the bottom. Decades pass and the two sides, lost to the outside world, evolve a demented micro-civilisation.

Or is that the setting? The setting is also 1930s California, where a studio magnate creeps silently through a mansion. The setting is prewar New York, where a playboy is kidnapped by goons at an octopus-wrestling match. The setting is Virginia in 1959, where a CIA operative called Zonulet sifts through a warehouse packed with innumerable spools of film. The setting is a hospital in Maryland, in which Zonulet may be imagining the events of the book after inhaling a deliriant hallucinogen. The setting is Borges’s Aleph, or Leibniz’s monad: that mystical point in the universe “from which all other points are visible”.

As the narrative moves forward and Beauman gleefully particle-collides his various fascinations – postmodern paranoia, Hollywood screwball comedy, occult mysteries, spy fiction and the real-life on-set horrors of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo and the 1930s film serial The New Adventures of Tarzan – such interpretations flicker in and out of probability like quantum states.

Beauman is a sparkling writer, and his book bustles with diverting micro-narratives. There’s a murderous fugitive Nazi who persuades the camp that he’s part of the “German-American Alliance” that won the war, a mousy anthropologist who becomes a leader of men, a newspaperman who gets a Murdoch-style stranglehold on the temple’s occupants, and many more.

But the underlying order is symbolic. The director of Hearts in Darkness, the sprawling meta-movie at the centre of the novel, argues that all good cinema follows a simple rule: its narrative intensifies in five or six escalating steps before “giving way to a thrilling interval of weightlessness or flight, then returning to the status quo”. Represented as a diagram, this trajectory resembles a side view of half a ziggurat, which can also be seen as a diagram of a succession of people following in each other’s footsteps. For example, a novelist writing about someone making a film of a doomed expedition into the jungle. Madness begets madness in this novel, almost as if some conspiracy or occult order were being worked out.

Is any of this familiar? Narrative as geometry, with diagrams. Chipper 1930s banter. Funny but significant names (Poyais O’Donnell, which references a 19th-century con trick; Zonulet, which means “little zone”). Nazis. Contagious insanity. An octopus. An airship. A nightmare conspiracy that may just be a druggy hallucination. A few years ago, Beauman told an interviewer that the work of Thomas Pynchon has had “no impact on British fiction, really, apart from perhaps on me and Tom McCarthy”, but this book isn’t so much influenced by Pynchon as colonised by his work. In chapter after chapter, one can feel the shadow of Gravity’s Rainbow sweeping across the text like the spaceship in Independence Day.

Perhaps there’s a point here. Beauman recapitulates Pynchon as Hearts in Darkness recapitulates Heart of Darkness, and so the shape of the half-ziggurat is redrawn. But when a writer steers this close to his models, comparisons are inevitable, and Beauman’s writing, lustrous and smart as it invariably is, lacks much of the moral and emotional seriousness – the fear, the loss, the sorrow, the threat – that acts as a counterweight to Pynchon’s comic and intellectual games. The result is a novel of great intelligence and humour, cleverly structured and brimming with tricks, that never quite coalesces into purposeful significance. It’s a tremendous rainbow, but I’d have welcomed a bit more gravity. 

Madness Is Better Than Defeat
Ned Beauman
Sceptre, 416pp, £16.99

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear