Friday, December 4th, 2009
19

Very Recent History: A Dispiriting End To An Earlier Decade


This weekend, Sunday, December 6th, marks the 40th anniversary of Altamont, the free concert the Rolling Stones put on at a speedway outside San Francisco to end their U.S. tour in 1969. It was meant to be like Woodstock. At a press conference before the event, Mick Jagger said, "It's creating a sort of microcosmic society which sets example to the rest of America as to how one can behave in large gatherings." More than 300,000 people attended. But things went very wrong. Hired as security, but full of acid and beer, the Hells Angels motorcycle club were not on the same blissed-out flower-children vibe as much of the crowd. Rather, they beat people with leaded pool cues.

The heaviest violence occurred right in front of the stage. In the worst of it, a horrible moment captured on film by Al and David Maysles, who were shooting footage for their documentary Gimme Shelter (which, if you have not seen, by all means do: it is the best movie ever made about rock n' roll), 18-year-old Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death after pulling out a gun. Music journalist Stanley Booth witnessed the incident and wrote about it in his book The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones (which is florid and nasty, and one of the best books ever written about rock n' roll).

"There was a sudden movement in the crowd at stage left. I looked away from Mick and saw, with that now familiar instant space around him, bordered with falling bodies, a Beale Street nigger in a black hat, black shirt, iridescent blue-green suit, arms and legs stuck out at crazy angles, a nickle-plated revolver in his hand. The gun waved in the lights for a second, two, then he was hit, so hard, by so many angels, that I didn't see the first one-short, Mexican-looking, the one who had led me onstage?-as he jumped. I saw him as he came down, burying a long knife in the black man's back. Angels covered the black man like flies on a stinking carcass. The attack carried the victim behind the stack of speakers, and I never saw him again."

The concert has since become symbolic of the end of the '60s, the day the hippie dream melted into a bad, bad trip.

19 Comments / Post A Comment

Abe Sauer (#148)

1969 things that were supposed to be meaningful and progressive and revolutionize society that are now 40 years old and comparative failures include "music" (especially woodstock) and the space program. The 1969 things that were not celebrated that are now powerful, national forces include Monday Night Football and the Internet. What does that say? I don't know.

HiredGoons (#603)

It's always the quiet ones.

Dave Bry (#422)

Interesting thought. And i go a ways with it, too. But I think you're selling short the importance of music (and maybe even the space program?) in american culture since 1969. Also, seems to be some unevenness between categories. Can we say "football" rather than Monday Night Football? And if we do, wasn't Joe Namath's representation of the new, progressive "60s" mindset hugely celebrated right along with Woodstock and the moon landing (and the Mets!) in 1969? And while football is a powerful national force, i don't think we'd say that it revolutionized society. And pop music is certainly a powerful national force, too. So the assertions don't perfectly match up? (Though, yes: compared to the potential people saw in music and the space program to lead us to utopia: failure.) Maybe i'm missing something of your meaning about football. Is it something specific about Monday Night Football? Or televised sports?

The internet, I don't know what that is.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Yes. I'm talking about the potential. They are failures COMPARED to what they promised at the time. While the other two are massive successes (agreed, with the MNF being a stand in for the NFL) compared to what little attention they got at the time.

The space program gave us microwaves, and Tang. I don't know why people always discount these contributions to society. Think of a world without 3 minute popcorn or instant beverage crystals. Not very pretty.

Dave Bry (#422)

Excellent point. I wish I'd remembered Tang in my reply to Abe.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Tang sucks. It is only good for destitute alcoholics to make screwdrivers.

LondonLee (#922)

The Angels also beat up Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane so they weren't all bad.

KarenUhOh (#19)

Gimme Shelter isn't just the best film about rock and roll (although Monterey Pop, as music doc, surpasses it), it's one of the great films ever. It's chilling not just for the sickness near the stage, but for the self-absorbed narcissism of nearly every person in it (Melvin Belli, Dick Carter, and, yeah, Mick Jagger), driven by a frenzied, toxic culture as amuck any in our lives.

Bittersweet (#765)

Mick Jagger is a self-absorbed narcissist? Huh. Never saw that one coming.

Screen Name (#2,416)

For me the 60s were really about a lost generation of dreamers, loosely affiliated by our love of the sea, and left stranded by society's cruel winds, seemingly forever bound together by the sheer happenstance of finding ourselves washed ashore upon the same deserted isle. In the early days things seemed black and white, but inevitably the forces of technology brought our desperate fate into a more vivid technicolor reality. I guess the end for me was when Gilligan dropped the radio the professor had built into a tar pit.

Dave Bry (#422)

Nice one.

HiredGoons (#603)

Will you be my friend?

Screen Name (#2,416)

Forever.

HiredGoons (#603)

Story time:

A few years back when I worked on Great Jones street, I was walking to get lunch in the East Village when I noticed the entirety of 3rd street was shut down for hours, with helicopters and cops with huge guns on rooftops and swat teams all around.

I asked what was going on but the cops ignored me – I called my dad and asked him to check the news and he informed me it was a raid on the Hell's Angels.

http://wcbstv.com/watercooler/offbeat.news.hell.2.241859.html

Also, the Hells Angels were recommended for security (to the Stones) by the Grateful Dead, who had used them locally for years (presumably without major incident).

Paint it Black, Paint it Black you Devil.

Kris (#2,452)

The Stones were playing Sympathy for the Devil when the Angels first went after Hunter who was with his white girlfriend. Author Jon Weiner points out the racial over-tones not just of the attack but of the Stones' black influenced music for a white audience. Rather than see Altamont as the day the 60's died, it shows the bumpy road of assimilation which is still rollin' rollin' as Obama is in the White House and huge numbers of African-American men are in the big house.

And with all due respect, Spinal Tap is the best movie ever made about rock and roll.

buzzorhowl (#992)

I was gonna say something similar about the racial overtones to the murder. I've seen Gimme Shelter and it's quite clear that the white girlfriend is the reason the guy was attacked. The scene of the girl crying over him as he's taken away in an ambulance is incredibly disturbing, maybe moreso than the murder itself.

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