Your not-so-humble blogmaster. Greetings all - Hope this day finds you horrified. If you've been around the blog more than a year then you probably already know the drill. And if not, then feel free to partake of the Altamont tribute waters as we tribute (in a good way) one of the most horrific days in rock n roll history.
Was it the Hells Angels?
Was it the bad acid?
Was it poor planning?
And who taped the show, what the bootleg is like?
The answer to these and much more is ahead - PROCEED IF YOU DARE!
We start with a reprint of my article from 5 years back.
Also, new this year is the original Rolling Stone article in upper left.
THAT FATEFUL DAY"Find yourself somebody to love, but don't fuck him around" - Grace Slick, improvising lyrics during Jefferson Airplane's set.
Tommy's House Of Horrors is specifically designed not to be an editorial blog but today I take a momentary break from that format to write about the anniversary of the legendary Altamont concert and the bootleg showcased in this post.
Much of course has been written about the fateful day from many angles and blame has been allocated to what are probably the appropriate places, namely the Stones' foolish decision to use the Hell's Angels as security for the event. But even this blame has it's counterpart as the Stones had had previous success at their free Hyde Park concert using the British version of the Hell's Angels. But as we were to find out it appeared as though there was a big difference between the British Hell's Angels and the San Francisco Hell's Angels.
Even the spiritual environment has been covered over time as one famous astrologer charted the day and found the Moon and other planets in a Libra/Scorpio cusp, supposedly the most volatile and violent cusp of the various combinations. But the one topic that is usually pushed to a back-burner is the lack of planning and sudden change of location for the event. Woodstock took months and months of planning and a thoughtfully strategized army of volunteers. Conversely, Altamont was whipped together in a matter of days, the venue changed literally the night before with concert-goers arriving to find a hastily constructed stage, no running water, an inadequate supply of toliets and one working phone for half a million people.
Add to these unpleasant surroundings Hell's Angels drinking on downers, virtually no police presence at all, some bad acid floating around (by mid-day the medical tent had already treated 300 cases of bad tripping,) and a general sense of unruliness and no constraint and you have what was an inevitable result- the kaos that ensued. A common doctrine surrounding Altamont has always been that the peace-n-love generation died that day but I counter that the violence had always been there, it was just given the perfect breeding ground it needed that day at the Altamont setting.
It took me a long time to finally have the nerve to listen to the famous bootleg recording of this show (included below) and it was only about two years ago that I finally did although it had been around for a couple decades. While not much more pleasant than watching the film version (Gimme Shelter) it did give me a whole new perspective on this event and also on the bootlegger himself. Surely major credit should be given to this brave young lad who deserves the Purple Heart medal for bravery in capturing a bootleg recording in that environment. I often think of what must of been going on in his mind as the kaos ensued around him, having expected to show up and just record a show but being thrust instantly into capturing a historic and horrific tragedy.
Our brave bootlegger uses a decent rig which is pictured clearly with him in the film Gimme Shelter and he's close to the stage. As you will hear, his mic had a on-off switch which he utilizes quite often probably for two purposes- the classic tape-conserving tactic and being forced to move numerous occasions. So unfortunately there are many cuts in all the band's sets including the Stones (but more with the opening bands as he was trying to conserve tape.) However, these cuts also add to the genuine experience of being in his shoes, after-all this is not any typical bootleg of a show we're hearing but Altamont itself in all it's craziness.
This craziness is evident pretty much from the get-go during Santana's set and you'll notice that Sam Cutler's various announcements and pleading for people to get off the stage is very scary and impacting. Even though they show him in the movie, there's something about hearing the audio only, you can really hear the strain and fear in his voice. Also very palatable are the various comments and crowd noises heard near the taper. The Jefferson Airplane set is doomed from the start and by all accounts their set was most chaotic as the Hell's Angels basically take over their stage and performance, knocking out Marty Balin in the process. And in one of the most chilling portions during the Stones set someone can be heard near the taper saying, "Let's get out of here," and the reply from his friend, "But there's nowhere to go!"
The two most important things I learned from listening to this bootleg are very rarely talked about and totally undermined in the film. One is how the Stones were sounding- they were in great form, sounding much better than previous '69 gigs and it's a real shame and quite ironic that the tragic events of this day would basically overshadow the performance and deem it meaningless.
Secondly, Mick Jagger's reactions on stage and his efforts and handling of the situation at hand are so focused on in the movie that they come off overblown and egotistical. In some way they probably are but in the way it's edited and depicted in the film you get the impression that his pleadings were to little or no avail. However, as you will hear on the bootleg he actually does an excellent job of calming the crowd down and after Under My Thumb there is a very noticible change in the demeanor of the audience. For the rest of the Stones set they seem to enjoy themselves although there is this bizarre sense of everyone wanting to get the thing over with but still enjoy it while it's happening.
For anyone who has loved bootleg recordings this serves as the ultimate example of the "fly-on-the-wall" aspect of bootlegs and there is no more chilling and poignant recording like this. While not verifiable, legend has it that our famous bootlegger died many years ago at a young age of some sort of illness. As for the day of Altamont, I prefer to see it for what it was- a series of bad choices leading to a very poorly planned and unorganized affair. Fortunately the big rock concerts that came after this were a little more well thought-out.
The Sheer Horror!!