Classic rock fans celebrated a milestone birthday on July 26: Rolling Stones front man and rock legend Mick Jagger turned 75! If that doesn’t make you feel old, try these on for size: Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler is old enough to collect maximum Social Security benefits. Cyndi Lauper still just wants to have fun, but now she’s on Medicare. And 80s icon Madonna can finally take money from her IRA without paying a 10% penalty on early withdrawals.
In 1969, Jagger and the Stones scored one of their biggest hits with “Gimme Shelter,” a bleak, brooding meditation on the war and violence that characterized the late 60s. But did you know that “Gimme Shelter” describes the band’s philosophy on taxes, too?
The Stones’ troubles with taxes go back nearly as far as their troubles with the police. Starting in 1968, British authorities had accused the bandmates of taking a certain laissez-faire attitude to controlled substances laws. Later, reports surfaced that they had taken a similarly lax approach to tax laws, too. As Jagger recalls, “So after working for eight years I discovered at the end that nobody had ever paid my taxes and I owed a fortune. So then you have to leave the country. So I said &@#& it, and left the country.”
At that point, guitarist Keith Richards paid $2,500/month for the 16-room Belle Époque-style Villa Nellcôte overlooking the Mediterranean on the French Côte D’Azur. (He should have bought it — in 2005, a Russian oligarch dropped $128 million for the place.) There, the band hosted a summer of legendary debauchery: drinking, smoking, snorting, and injecting anything that didn’t move. Somehow along the way, they also managed to record Exile on Main Street in a makeshift basement studio they had soundproofed with cheap carpet and (probably) more drugs.
Running from the law has a wonderful way of concentrating the mind, and the Stones vowed not to repeat their financial mistakes. (The drugs were another story.) Jagger put his London School of Economics education to work, and the band started jamming with some top-notch tax planners. They eventually set up a series of Dutch corporations and trusts which helped them pay just 1.6% in tax over the last 20-odd years. More recently, they established a pair of private Dutch foundations to avoid estate taxes at their deaths.
“Mick would come and visit me occasionally in Switzerland and talk about ‘economic restructuring,'” Richards wrote in his 2010 autobiography, Life. “We’re sitting around half the time talking about tax lawyers! The intricacies of Dutch tax law vis-à-vis the English tax law and the French tax law. All of these tax thieves were snapping at our heels . . . Mick picked up the slack; I picked up the smack.” (It’s worth mentioning that Richards — now heroin-free for 40 years — makes his home in decidedly unglamorous, but, relatively speaking, low-taxed Connecticut.)
As for us, we may not be able to make beautiful music. But our tax planning rocks. And we think paying less beats fleeing the country. So call us for when you’re ready to pay less and see how much you’re wasting right now. We’re here for you, and your bandmates too!