“The most blisteringly impassioned music book of the season.” —New York Times Book Review
A thrilling account of the Altamont Festival—and the dark side of the ‘60s.
If Woodstock tied the ideals of the '60s together, Altamont unraveled them.
In Just a Shot Away, writer and critic Saul Austerlitz tells the story of “Woodstock West,” where the Rolling Stones hoped to end their 1969 American tour triumphantly with the help of the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, and 300,000 fans. Instead the concert featured a harrowing series of disasters, starting with the concert’s haphazard planning. The bad acid kicked in early. The Hells Angels, hired to handle security, began to prey on the concertgoers. And not long after the Rolling Stones went on, an 18-year-old African-American named Meredith Hunter was stabbed by the Angels in front of the stage.
The show, and the Woodstock high, were over.
Austerlitz shows how Hunter’s death came to symbolize the end of an era while the trial of his accused murderer epitomized the racial tensions that still underlie America. He also finds a silver lining in the concert in how Rolling Stone’s coverage of it helped create a new form of music journalism, while the making of the movie about Altamont, Gimme Shelter, birthed new forms of documentary.
Using scores of new interviews with Paul Kantner, Jann Wenner, journalist John Burks, filmmaker Joan Churchill, and many members of the Rolling Stones' inner circle, as well as Meredith Hunter's family, Austerlitz shows that you can’t understand the ‘60s or rock and roll if you don’t come to grips with Altamont.
Austerlitz (Money for Nothing) offers a blistering exploration of the deadly confluence of racism, stoned na vet , biker belligerence, and rockstar obliviousness that resulted in the murder of 18-year-old Berkeley arts student Meredith Hunter at the Rolling Stones' infamously disastrous concert in Altamont, Calif. Hastily thrown together for December 1969 after the surprisingly peaceful success of Woodstock, Altamont, with its 300,000 attendees, was the biggest rock concert ever held in the Bay Area. But instead of hiring off-duty cops as security as Woodstock's organizers did, the organizers of Altamont brought on a phalanx of Hells Angels, chummy with local hippie bands like the Grateful Dead, who thought of them with "misplaced confidence" as countercultural allies. The result, as hundreds of thousands of concertgoers swarmed the site, ingesting substances in a "full-on bacchanalia," was the "hippie aesthetic of laissez-faire planning" slamming into a violent atmosphere as the Angels beat anyone who got too close to the stage. It was during the Stones' set that the Angels "pummeled and stomped" Hunter after he pulled an unloaded pistol trying to ward off further beatings. Hells Angel Alan Passaro was brought to trial for stabbing him, but was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. This is a deeply researched and colorfully written account of the disastrous symbolic end to the 1960s.