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, 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.
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 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.
Fewer than four months after the amorphous idealism of the 1960s achieved its Woodstock apogee, the Altamont Free Music Festival destroyed and buried it; in this methodical history, music journalist Selvin (Red, cowritten with Sammy Hagar) provides a cultural coroner's report. Altamont was the brainchild of the Rolling Stones, who hoped to burnish their hip bonafides by embracing psychedelic San Francisco, but the concert was a disaster of poor planning, greed, and drug-addled na vet about the social forces underlying the event. Hired as security for $500 worth of beer, the Hell's Angels behaved like peckish sharks in a tankful of agitated minnows, attacking the audience and murdering a young African-American man while a documentary film crew, which included George Lucas, captured the tragedy. Selvin's meticulous research exposes the criminally irresponsible management of the event. There were many culprits including bad acid, an indifferent local police department, the Rolling Stones' noblesse oblige, and the Grateful Dead's embrace of the Angels but Selvin assigns equal blame to the preposterous idealism of the era. Though his reconstruction brings events nearly a half-century past as close as yesterday, his biases undermine some of the book's broader claims (e.g., declaring that the Stones never made a good album after the concert). Selvin's presentation of Altamont busts the myth of innocence lost; in fact, Altamont just made reality harder to ignore.