Saturday, November 19, 2016

Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day by Joel Selvin

Author: Joel Selvin
Publisher: Dey Street Books
Date of publication: August 2016
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 Sixties’ 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.
The product of twenty 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, and featuring sixteen pages of color photos, Altamont is the ultimate account of the final event in rock’s formative and most turbulent decade.
I was born a couple of years after this concert took place.  But, I had always heard about it and my curiosity won out when I saw the audiobook was available.  I was really hoping for something more extensive than Wikipedia that would give me insight into what happened that day.  Essentially, it comes down to a perfect storm of events that included, but was not limited to, poor planning, an inadequate stage, greed, drugs and $500 worth of beer.  What a clusterf*ck.

I found this book to be very well researched.  It was pretty unbiased until right toward the end.  I could tell that the author really thought that the Rolling Stones should take a lot of the blame.  One of the things that he points out at the end was the movie Gimmie Shelter, which chronicles the Stones' tour leading up to and including the events at Altamont, does not give a full accounting of the events. In fact, the timing of some of the events were changed in the film. The film also skates over the massive drug use both at the concert as well as during the previous tour dates. 

I definitely learned some new information.  For instance, I had no idea that the Grateful Dead was the group that initially came up with the idea of the free concert that would finish with the Stones.  Nor did I know that they ended up not playing that day due to the increased violence that had been witnessed while other bands played. Three other people died that day, yet neither the press nor the police really gave them a second thought.  The LSD that was being passed around was not the "clean" drug of the San Francisco area.  It was a dirtier and stronger than anyone had seen or used previously.  
I found the ending to be really interesting when the author talked about the effect the concert had on all of the bands involved, especially the Stones.  It really changed the way they wrote and performed their music.  I definitely recommend this book. It was a real eye opener and will make me look at the Rolling Stones in a whole new light.

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