- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Dey Street Books (August 16, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062444255
- ISBN-13: 978-0062444257
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 171 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #226,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day Hardcover – August 16, 2016
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Joel Selvin’s book...is a deeply researched, minutely detailed, account of the event as it unfolds, occurs and concludes; and as a result comes to conclusions much greater than historical myth or a ‘documentary’ film can portray...This book is definitely worth a read, and it is extremely well researched. (-- AllMusicBooks.com)
“Meticulous research, evocative detail, and a brave conclusion—exactly what a history book should be.” (-- Lee Child, author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Jack Reacher series)
“Boy did I live in a bubble—or something. I had no idea the extent of bruising under the melting rainbow. Selvin is revealing our tricky gestation in the weird womb of sixties rock. Frightening.” (Grace Slick, member of Jefferson Airplane)
“An incisive account of the most infamous concert debacle in rock history...This book provides context and perspective, showing the sea change in rock that was taking place as the Rolling Stones attempted to reassert themselves amid the increasing dominance of San Francisco psychedelia and the spirit of Woodstock...Compelling.” (-- Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
“[A] methodical history. . . Selvin’s presentation of Altamont busts the myth of innocence lost; in fact, Altamont just made the reality harder to ignore.” (-- Publishers Weekly)
“It was worse than you think. A lot worse…[A]n account that moves at movie pace, Selvin cuts through woolly cop-out rhetoric, offering clarity and detail…Altamont was a tragedy in the classical sense-a disaster born of hubris and folly-and Selvin nails every last shred of both.” (MOJO Magazine)
A fascinating account of the festival and its repercussions, this is also a cultural historical portrait of the West Coast rock scene, a history of the bands involved, and of the counterculture itself. Will be of interest to rock and pop culture fans. (-- Library Journal)
From the Back Cover
The definitive story of the Rolling Stones’ infamous Altamont concert and the murder that brought the sixties rock revolution to a shocking conclusion.
For decades, the Rolling Stones’ free concert at Altamont Speedway on December 6, 1969, has 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 that was acting as security that day. While the popular narrative of the concert has long been the Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter, the full story has remained buried in differing accounts, distorted rumors, and wild myths—until now.
Altamont explores rock’s darkest day, a fiasco that began well before the climactic death of Meredith Hunter and continued long after that infamous December night. Celebrated rock journalist Joel Selvin probes every aspect of the show—from the excess of the Stones’ hastily planned tour preceding the festival to previously unreported deaths that occurred after the Rolling Stones left the stage that night—to capture the full scope of the tragedy and its aftermath. Along the way, Selvin uncovers the many forces working against the show from its inception, including the neglectful planning of Altamont’s location, the bad acid that swept through the crowd, and the disastrous inclusion of the Hells Angels, who had long been a fixture of the Bay Area rock scene.
Moving beyond easy explanations, Selvin also delves into the powerful musical and cultural forces that left Altamont poised for calamity even before the first performer took the stage. Breaking down the two bands at the center of it all—the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead—Selvin recounts the largely forgotten but crucial role that the Grateful Dead played in orchestrating the concert, offering a fresh look at how, in an era remembered for musical idealism, English and American rock worlds collided with devastating consequences. And while their fateful roles in Altamont brought this unlikely pair of bands together, it ultimately sent them down permanently divergent paths that would define each group’s future.
The product of thirty years of research and over a hundred interviews with many key players, including the musicians themselves, medical staff, Hells Angels members, and the stage crew, and featuring sixteen pages of color photographs, Altamont is an exhaustive account of the final event in rock’s formative and most turbulent decade.
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Contrary to the sunny, optimistic hope delivered by the Woodstock Festival four months earlier, the Altamont Festival (“Woodstock West”) was dark, scary and dangerous. Simply viewing the films that document both events is all that’s needed to understand the stark contrast. While the peaceful glory of Woodstock deservedly gets an abundance of attention (because it was a miracle that will never be replicated), Altamont seems to be steeped in mystery, darkness and misperception. A concert with 300,000 attendees that involved the planet’s hottest band, the Hell’s Angels, infinite drugs/alcohol and no cops is memorable because a film of it happens to capture a killing. Unfortunately, the film isn’t enough to give viewers answers to all the how and why questions it generates. The Stones don’t talk about it, most are afraid to ask the Hells Angels about it and the Grateful Dead have sheepishly avoided any connection to it at all. Selvin meticulously puts the Altamont puzzle together in its entirety. He not only finds the missing pieces, he provides context to what we see (and don’t see) in the film, clarifies misperceptions/myths and for the first time in almost 50 years, he has provided an all-encompassing account of the event. ALTAMONT is THE go-to resource that finally solves the Altamont mystery.
What makes ALTAMONT so interesting is that Selvin attacks the subject matter with the tenacity of an otter cracking the shell of a clam. His meticulous and far-reaching research yield a gold mine of results that address and clarify much of the murkiness surrounding the formulation of the concert, how the Hells Angels really became such an integral part of the event and who ultimately bears the burden(s) of responsibility for the disaster that ensued. The most profound clarification centers on the financial situation of the Rolling Stones, who were more-or-less “broke” in 1969. When the band was called-out for exorbitant ticket prices on its 1969 US tour (a planned money-grabber) it countered with the “generous offering” of a free concert. The less altruistic reality was that the free concert would ultimately deliver a handsome payout to the band when the eventual film of the tour (culminating in the free concert) was released (prior to the release of the much-anticipated Woodstock movie). It was this ultimate greed and ego (the Stones wanted their own Woodstock moment) that lead to a series of rash and ill-informed decisions that would ultimately lead to rock’s “darkest day”. While numerous other factors come into play (the Dead’s suggestion to use the Hells Angels, the lackadaisical approach to the last-minute site choice and the myriad of self-serving individuals that inserted themselves for financial gain), in the end, Selvin paints a clear picture that the Stones apparent naiveté was part of the plan … they could simultaneously walk away from failure and ensure they were paid handsomely in the end (as they assumed all control of the big money maker … the eventual movie).
While the storyline of the organization, planning and production of the concert is interesting enough, if you’ve seen “Gimme Shelter”, you know that there is a litany of more-intriguing individual tales to be told and Selvin doesn’t disappoint. In addition to clarifying moments/scenes/individuals depicted in the movie (I never knew the meerschaum pipe smoking sweater-wearer was Timothy Leary or the creepy scene of concert-goers exiting into the darkness at the end was footage from George Lucas filming from a hill far, far away). With Selvin’s chronological account of events, we realize that not only was the movie heavily edited and misleading, but so were the press accounts. The concert was deemed deadly, but aside from the stabbing, the lethal drugs and alcohol played a bigger role in human suffering that from violence doled out by the Hells Angels. After reading ALTAMONT, readers get a clearer picture of the Angels’ role in the concert and the violence captured on film. Yes, there were moments where Angels were problematic, but much of their “activity” centered on people damaging their bikes or prospective members eager to prove their worth for active members. Selvin certainly doesn’t excuse the problems they caused, but fairly puts things in perspective and explains that most did what they were asked to do. These detailed vignettes give readers a view of concert events from ground zero … we feel the stress, the chaos and certainly the fear. Even though we know what eventually happens, it is evident that the outcome could have and should have been much worse.
ALTAMONT doesn’t simply end with the concert’s close … Selvin follows up on individuals and the repercussions faced by the major “players”, including Meredith Hunter’s girlfriend and family, as well as the man who killed Hunter. I found his post-concert research sufficiently answering all questions that lingered (at least in my mind) and I felt this is where the book really delivered. Unlike Woodstock, the media had no real interest in Altamont (save “Rolling Stone”), but the event remained a cloying issue that affected many of those involved, well into their futures. Only the Rolling Stones escaped relatively unscathed and we come to understand that that was exactly how it was planned … they set it up so everyone else would deal with the aftermath (good or bad). Selvin closes with a spot-on analysis of what it all meant and why it matters. I feel his final words satisfactorily closes the case on Altamont by giving us the full story and leaving no questions unanswered.
After reading ALTAMONT, my 30+ year craving for answers and details has finally been satisfied. While many rock n’ roll books seem to embellish and glorify events/people as a means to shock and impress readers with salacious details and stories of depravity. For Altamont the simple facts are bad enough. Thank you, Joel Selvin, for shining such a bright light on this misunderstood event.
He also shows that the Stones complete ignorance of who the Hell's Angels were was a factor as well. The Stones had played in England with their chapter of the Hell's Angels in the past without a hitch but the San Francisco and San Jose chapters were very different (and far more dangerous) guys. Although the Grateful Dead had used them for security in the past, the venues were much smaller and easier to control. The Dead and the Angels totally misjudged having to deal with hundreds of thousands of kids on a variety of drugs. Once the Angels correctly assessed the situation, they did what they knew - they tried to beat everyone into subjugation. The only problem was, there were too many kids to beat and a fair number of them were there to get into trouble themselves.
This leads me to my one criticism of the book. The author lets off the kids off the hook. It is important to note that the Angels didn't start beating people until AFTER some kids started knocking over their bikes. Despite the "Gimme Shelter" movie and this book treating the kids as innocent (albeit drugged-up) kids, they need to own their part in what eventually happened. In the end, the book puts the blame on Altamont squarely on the shoulders of the Stones. There is justification for this, of course. The Stones arranged, organized and called the shots, so it is hard to believe they were innocent bystanders in what transpired. However, I think that is a bit too "neat" of an assessment of events. In my view, there is enough blame to go around between the Stones, the Angels and the crowd. They all share a part in this tragedy and they all bear some responsibility for what occurred.
I recommend the book because even though I don't completely agree with the author's conclusions, his research is solid and there is information in this book about the Altamont disaster that you will not find anywhere else. Recommended reading.
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