“I’m not going to be singing rock & roll when I’m 60,” Mick Jagger told his accountant 50 years ago, matter-of-factly, when he was merely an ex-economics student who’d started a rock band. Jagger’s dogged defiance of his own proclamation — the frontman turned 76 earlier this year and the Rolling Stones wrapped a major three-year tour last month — became a source of lifelong motivation for that very accountant, Laurence Myers, who’s now publishing a memoir about his own zig-zagging career in the music industry.
That book is Hunky Dory (Who Knew?), out this week, which recounts Myers’ journey from an apprenticeship at a small London accounting firm to his stint working with the Stones — which included sharing his management office with the struggling, up-and-coming band when the members were kicked out of their own — to his decades as an industry-spanning entertainment executive in his own right. Meyers believed in David Bowie so much that he signed the artist from near-obscurity and invested his own money into helping him make promo discs, which led to major-label deals and eventually the albums Ziggy Stardust and Hunky Dory. He helped shepherd acts like the Animals, Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, The Sweet, and Billy Ocean into stardom by putting them in the right studios and handing them the right contracts. He witnessed the better part of music’s major moments in the Sixties and Seventies firsthand, and his memoir serves as an insider’s history, if a somewhat wistful one, of those impossible-to-replicate times.
“I became the go-to accountant for the music business when it was brand new, the wild west,” Myers, now 83, tells Rolling Stone. “I quit being an accountant because I didn’t like it, but after that I got to know the business even more. The inspiration for this book was that my grandchildren would always hear me say ‘Did I tell you about that time?’ and they’d say, ‘You boring old fart, write a book.'” While dozens of accounts of the time period have been penned by artists, Myers takes readers into the scene as a behind-the-scenes industry player. Chapters explore his relationships with various artists, as well as the deals he helped mastermind and the opportunities he, in amusing retrospect, missed. One example: Myers threw away most of the 500 copies of the original Bowie promo without a second thought, not knowing that they would sell in the future for as much as $10,000 each.
“My book is subtitled ‘Who Knew’ because — who knew? Every other paragraph seems to be saying it. I didn’t predict where things would go. At the time, Mick talked about his future and the possibility of not seeing rock and roll,” Myer says, recalling how Jagger, who’d attended the London School of Economics before diving into music, once asked him for help with moving into a career in the insurance industry. But luckily, “the Stones never stopped,” Myers says, pointing to their endurance in the zeitgeist even in 2019. “Nostalgia is just huge. People who bought their records as kids are now grown up and more affluent and they feel comfortable at a Stones show, a Led Zeppelin concert.”
Myers’ book ends in the 1980s — not because his adventures did, but because that was when he began stepping away from the music industry out of lack of personal interest in the new types of music that were emerging. “Rap and its various forms are the biggest watershed change in the music business, but I love the old pop songs,” Myers says, though he concedes that he does find himself in awe of how deeply certain contemporary works of music connect with a new generation. In recent years, the veteran has found himself turning toward film and theater, most recently worked as a producer on Judy, the biographical drama of July Garland starring Renée Zellweger. While he doesn’t have much to do with the music business these days, he does enjoy watching from the sidelines: “Some of the rappers these days, they’re poets, great poets, and they’re saying meaningful stuff and they make kids feel like they have a chance of saying something in music,” he says. “I think that will always be inclined to continue.”