John Oates – part of the Hall and Oates hit-making duo – had a panic attack so severe after he learned he was broke that he thought he was dying. The scene is highlighted in his new memoir, Change of Seasons, in which he also reveals how he eventually recouped some of that well-earned money.
“Daryl [Hall] and I were always isolated from all that,” Oates writes of his knowledge of his band’s finances. “In a sense, the situation was not dissimilar to that of a dysfunctional family. We were the kids, encouraged to enjoy the wild, crazy, protracted-adolescence life of a rock star. You know… run around the world, get laid, bask in the spotlight, and buy a lot of s-. Let Daddy take care of the important stuff.”
In this case, “daddy” was Sigmund Balaban – the accountant and financial advisor of Champion Entertainment (the duo’s management company) – who Oates had “rarely met” in person. According to the book, in 1987, Balaban called him into his office to gave him the life-changing news: the duo was broke.
Oates, now 68, learned that though he had assets, he had no money. And he was astonished.
In the cab back to his apartment, the full import of the loss hit him in the form of a “tightness” in his chest.
“While a dull thick ache radiated up into my neck and down my arms, a strange and macabre thought raced through my mind: My dead body in the backseat is really going to ruin this cabbie’s day… on the bright side, I’d really only be broke for less than an hour,” he writes.
Later on, Hall and Oates recouped some of their losses by claiming old royalties that had been unpaid for years. This was part of a larger investigation into the music industry, which was led by Bob Donnelly (who represented a number of artists) and New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s office. According to a 2004 New York Times article, a settlement was reached in which record companies owed numerous artists (including the likes of Dolly Parton and David Bowie) $50 million.
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This was a succor to Oates, who writes that he and his partner gained “several million dollars’ worth of royalties” through the settlement. The duo was also eventually able to reclaim their rights to their music, and put up their catalog for auction in a “validating” bidding war.
“For all we had been through over the years, finally we were in control of our own destiny,” write Oates. “But true to form, once we reclaimed what was ours, rather than rest on any kind of laurels, rather than take any victory laps, we did what we always did: buckled down, hit the road, and worked as hard as we ever had.”