In this breathtaking cultural history filled with exclusive, never-before-revealed details, celebrated rock journalist Joel Selvin tells the definitive story of the Rolling Stones' infamous Altamont concert in San Francisco, the disastrous historic event that marked the end of the idealistic 1960s.
In the annals of rock history, the Altamont Speedway Free Festival on December 6, 1969, has long been seen as the distorted twin of Woodstock - the day that shattered the '60s' promise of peace and love when a concertgoer was killed by a member of the Hells Angels, the notorious biker club acting as security. While most people know of the events from the film Gimme Shelter, the whole story has remained buried in varied accounts, rumor, and myth - until now.
Altamont explores rock's darkest day, a fiasco that began well before the climactic death of Meredith Hunter and continued beyond that infamous December night. Joel Selvin probes every aspect of the show - from the Stones' hastily planned tour preceding the concert to the bad acid that swept through the audience to other deaths that also occurred that evening - to capture the full scope of the tragedy and its aftermath. He also provides an in-depth look at the Grateful Dead's role in the events leading to Altamont, examining the band's behind-the-scenes presence in both arranging the show and hiring the Hells Angels as security.
The product of 20 years of exhaustive research and dozens of interviews with many key players, including medical staff, Hells Angels members, the stage crew, and the musicians who were there, Altamont is the ultimate account of the final event in rock's formative and most turbulent decade.
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Brilliantly researched, perfectly crafted. If you're over 55 and were reasonably tapped into popular culture in 1969, this reads like a whodunnit starring a cast of people that you at least feel like you know. Just an amazing tapestry of events that led to the death of Meredith Hunter and, ostensibly, the end of an extremely short period of naive innocence for the nascent Boomer Generation. Much like Gimme Shelter, the documentary of The Stones '69 American tour, this is written cinema verite. You will feel like you are there. But unlike the movie you will actually see how, over a period of months, a series tragic decisions were made by mostly guileless people with, again, mostly, pure, or at least reasonable motives. These decisions led to what has been called the worst day in rock-n-roll history. How was the acid at Altamont different than it's "Summer of Love" predecessor? What role did The Grateful Dead play in setting up the concert? How did The Stones Hyde Park experience with English Hell's Angels lull them into accepting the California Angels as concert security? What role did Rock Scully play? Who the hell is Rock Scully? Why was the concert moved, 36 hours before the start, to the hellhole that is the Altamont Speedway? Was Meredith Hunter just and innocent kid in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or was he something more nefarious? Was Mick Jagger to blame? The author says yes to this last question, although over 9 hours he does not make a compelling case to back his contention. At best he shows correlation (Jagger wanted to give a free concert and didn't want cops present) but no causation. In his explanation Selvin seemed to be judging Jagger's decisions after running them through a filter of post-Altamont knowledge. To me, the events that finally took place that day feel as though they were almost predestined. Although I disagree with the author's ultimate conclusion, I loved and highly recommend this book! I was sorry when it ended.
Hell's Angels by Hunter Thompson. Not as poetic as HT, but just as powerful.
I was there...