Sticky Figures: The Man who Turned the Stones into an Empire

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Sometime in the early 1970s the members of the Rolling Stones went from being fake English bluesman to fake English bluesmen/European royalty, pairing their Muddy Waters covers with champagne.

Judging by this fascinating Times obit, it was a Bavarian aristocrat who led that metamorphosis. Judging from the story, Prince Rupert zu Loewenstein may have been the truest genius in the Rolling Stones organization. While Keith Richards merely wrote “Wild Horses,” Loewenstein created the world’s largest and most successful corporate rock machine.

When Loewenstein got involved with the Stones, they were at their peak artistically and their nadir financially. Their gangster-like American manager Allen Klein had effectively robbed their entire fortune and swindled the rights to all of their songs written before 1971.

Where Klein treated the Stones like the Tiki restaurant the gangsters partner with in Goodfellas, Loewenstein saw the quintet as the potential centerpiece for a global empire. He re-wrote their concert contracts and got major corporate sponsorship for Stones concerts. He set up the band with globally minded tax evasion schemes while creating an enviable brand identity by spearheading the creation and copyrighting of the Lips logo, which was subsequently slapped on t-shirts, coffee mugs and credit cards the world over.

And while it wasn’t his most profitable move, his successful court argument that Keith Richards was too wealthy to be a heroin addict was probably his most inspired.

The Times obit contains one of the oddest aspects of Loewenstein’s association with the Stones: he couldn’t tolerate their music. That’s hilarious and illustrative of the possible corrosive influence Lowenstein had on them.

By the time the Stones got involved with Lowenstein, Beggar’s Banquet, Let it Bleed, “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Jumpin Jack Flash” and “Brown Sugar” were behind them. They had still yet to record Exile on Main Street and maybe Sticky Fingers (not sure when he joined up with the Stones) but they were sloping downwards towards the oblivion of “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Angie.”

And while Lowenstein’s fiscal guidance was good for the Stones’ bank accounts, it was probably disastrous for rock fans. Being penniless in the mid 1970s would have been the best thing to happen to Mick Jagger, et al. Instead of fracturing into heroin addiction and jet-setting, the band members might have been forced to have a mid career renaissance, either together or apart, just to stave off eviction from their mansions. Instead of the zero sum equation of Some Girls, maybe they would have put out a string of mean spirited disco and punk inspired albums. Or Keith Richards would have joined the Faces and shaped up that second-class organization.

In any event, R.I.P. Prince Rupert zu Loewenstein. Your lasting legacy will be that you sold “Start Me Up” to Microsoft for millions without ever actually enjoying the song.

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