Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Stones at Altamont

I just finished watching the film Gimme Shelter. What a great film! I have always had an appreciation for the Rolling Stones, but I wouldn't call myself a big fan. Among other things, the film documents the concert at Altamont Speedway in the San Francisco area in 1969. I have never known much about the concert other than that someone was stabbed to death by the Hell's Angels at the concert.

The Stones have always had the image of being bad boys. It is just that ... an image. It is something they grabbed onto after their friend, The Beatles, got such an image of being squeaky clean. Mick Jagger, not only the lead of the band but the business man, thought having the Hell's Angels as body guards at the concert would be a nice stunt to bolster this bad boy image. I guess he didn't think of how much the Angels were the real thing ... bad boys ... or to put it more bluntly just a bunch of violent thugs. After the violence started, the Stones had no idea how badly people were injured and continued to play after several interuptions with the intention of calming the crowd. One of the Angels claims he had a gun on Keith Richards threatening him if he stopped playing.

The Altamont Free Concert featured the Stones as the headliners since they organized the event. It also featured Bay Area rockers, Jefferson Airplane and the Flying Burrito Brothers. The Grateful Dead were supposed to play but refused to go .. hearing that Marty Balin of the Airplane was assaulted by the Angels and knocked unconscious while he was playing. 300,000 people attended the concert. The stabbing death of Meredith Hunter was already known to me before I saw the film but what I didn't know that is that there were 3 other accidental deaths during the concert, two by car accident and one by drowning in an irrigation ditch. The stabbing and the assault on Balin are documented in the film, just a little hard to see in the commotion.

I find the coolest thing about the film is watching Jagger and Charlie Watts watching the news reports about the stabbing coming in. You can see in their faces, the regret and some shame. Charlie even had a tear. They just wanted to put on a great rock show. They didn't know what they were dealing with when it came to the Angels.

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