Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamontby Published 10 Jul 2018
|Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamont.pdf|
|Publisher||Thomas Dunne Books|
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.
"Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamont" Reviews
Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamont by Saul Austerlitz is a 2018 Thomas Dunne Books publication.
Altamont. That word always conjures up images of the melee and basic cluster f**k of the December 1969 free Rolling Stones concert in San Francisco. Forty-eight years later, we still can’t seem to stop dissecting this event, trying to pinpoint how it all went so far awry, trying to figure out exactly what transpired between the Hell’s Angels and Meredith Hunter, and hoping to finally get to the bottom of just whose fault it was.
I stumbled across this book in the Overdrive library and despite the fact, that I’d read the best book ever written on this subject, a couple of years ago, I’m always up for hearing another perspective, even if the subject has been examined six ways to Sunday.
Sadly, this book has quite a few issues. It looks as though it has been hastily arranged and rushed to publication in a ‘quick cash grab’ manner. There are no footnotes or references, no sources named, which should be a requirement,I would think. I can’t believe the publisher allowed this to go unchecked!!!
However, most of the information regarding the actual show, can easily be verified if one wants to do the research or check out a few YouTube videos.
Under these circumstances, I’d be tempted to slap a one-star rating on this bad boy because I can’t imagine recommending a book in this condition to anyone.
However, this book has one redeeming quality, an approach often overlooked by other biographers, and that is the focus on Meredith Hunter. In this way, the book is timely, addressing the death of young black man at the hands of a ruthless and very racist motorcycle club. Over the ensuing years, the finger pointing and blame game is ongoing. Was it the fault of The Grateful Dead who suggested the Angels act as security? Was the last- minute switch in venue? Was it because the planning was rushed and disorganized? Was it the flippant attitude of The Stones? Was it the copious amounts of drugs consumed by the crowd and the Angels? Many have testified that there was just something off- a tension hanging in the air that day- right from the get-go and things steadily declined until the atmosphere boiled over. I think it was all these things combined and it was a very toxic brew.
The aftermath of the show is just as murky. There was no conviction, no justice was ever served. Meredith Hunter was buried in an unmarked grave, and to this day no one from The Rolling Stones has ever reached out to his family, not even to offer a simple condolence. Later, when they got wind of a possible lawsuit they paid the family a paltry ten thousand dollars, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the money they earned on that tour, and what they eventually forked over to appease the Hell’s Angels for their ‘services’ at the concert- and maybe to keep them off Jagger's back.
Although this book is poorly constructed, edited, and pretty much a recap of the events that transpired before, during and after Altamont, the steps the author took to show Hunter as aliving, breathing human being, and not just someone who symbolized the end of a movement, is the only reason I’m giving the book a higher rating than it really deserves.
If you want a truly comprehensive accounting of Altamont I highly recommend the Joel Selvin book: “Altamont: The Rolling Stones, The Hell’s Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day.”
Disappointing and poorly edited. The lack of footnotes — probably the decision of the publisher to save space and production costs — is particularly galling in a book that relies very heavily on factual reconstruction of long ago events. And basic fact checking is shockingly lacking. It’s hard to have much faith in a book that gets details wrong, especially about the Rolling Stones. How hard is it to fact check song titles? At times the writer uses a narrative style that suggests he was actually there at Altamont in December 1969 but that event clearly happened long before he was born and the first person narrative reads like a written up version of the movie “Gimme Shelter” as many scenes from the documentary are simply transcribed. Ironic because the best parts of the book are when the author steps back and discusses the making of that documentary. For a book about the concert at Altamont on December 6, 1969 the author ignores many readily available sources — there is, for example, a well-known audio recording of the Rolling Stones set that provides important contrast with what’s in the film. Listen to the recording and it’s clear the basic chronology and length of the set was very misleadingly edited for the documentary. It’s a huge oversight that the author ignored the audio recording because he does make much of the divergent impressions of the concert in which many concert goers had no idea how much violence occurred near the stage. The divergent impressions were not solely due to whether people were sitting too far away to hear clearly or not. Even people fairly close to the stage had no idea a murder had taken place. The murder of Meredith Hunter was a horrible tragedy and the author is at his best discussing the almost casual manner in which that news was received by many at the time and the way that event has since been regarded as an abstract symbol or metaphor. Austerlitz does a good job in restoring the simple humanity of Meredith Hunter and what his murder meant to his family and loved ones. It’s surprising that there is no mention of the three other people who died at Altamont. Granted, a hate crime should be the focus but it’s curious that the three who died in accidents don’t get a single mention.
Held in December, 1969, the Altamont concert conveniently marks the end of the 60s and casts a cloud over the often upbeat assessment of the counterculture and Woodstock Generation. Because of the killing of Meredith Hunter by the Hell's Angels, who were hired as security for the concert, the focus of the narrative was on tragedy rather than a celebration of high profile bands. It was a free concert offered by the Rolling Stones in a hastily assembled venue that was ill-equipped to handle the masses that assembled. They were also responsible for hiring the Angels based on a recommendation by The Grateful Dead. The Dead would abdicate responsibility when the Angels went on a violence binge and didn't even take the stage.
In fact no one wanted to take responsibility for the murder of Hunter who would fall into obscurity. This work corrects that and traces his early life and the impact his death had on relatives and friends. He would not be entirely blameless in the incident as he pulled a gun on the Angels ( an unloaded one) which gave them some justification for their overreaction.
Very good pace and the author weaves the various story lines of the musicians, Hell's Angels, and cultural backdrop into striking commentary on the demise of the 60s counterculture.
Not terribly interesting writing on an interesting, terrible subject.
This is quite simply the best rock history book I have ever read.
I was too young to know about what happened at Altamont at the time, but as I grew older and became interested in music, I learned a bit about "the day the music died." (One of them, anyway.)
The book resonates and haunts because it doesn't just address the lack of planning and the disastrous choice of the Hells Angels as security. It also looks at the troubled life of Meredith Hunter, the 18-year-old African-American man who was killed by them, and the heartbreak his family suffered. Most of the coverage I've read about Altamont talked about what it meant for music and the end of the '60s peace movement. Much respect to the author for reminding everyone that a young man lost his life that day and he had a family who still mourns him.
I am a big Rolling Stones fan (they are my all-time favorite band), so it was a little hard for me to process their culpability in the disaster; much blame has been heaped upon the band, especially Mick Jagger, for somehow "harnessing" the dark energy present that day and unleashing it upon the crowd. Bollocks. Mistakes were made, certainly by the planners of the event, but it's absurd to blame it all on the band or on Jagger. Things went downhill fast and while it wasn't handled well, I don't think the blame lies with them.
I am certainly no scholar of the incident. This is the first in-depth take I've read on it. But I would have to place much of the blame on the Grateful Dead, who arranged the free concert, pegged the Hells Angels for security, and then bailed when they saw the violence getting out of control. (Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane was knocked unconscious by a Hells Angel, and the Grateful Dead refused to take the stage.)
I would place the majority of the blame on the Hells Angels. Their violent tendencies were exacerbated by mass quantities of booze and drugs, and they were ready to beat some heads. A drug-addled crowd of 300,000 probably didn't help matters. Crowd dynamics can be strange; you can often sense a change in a crowd, moving from just enjoying the music and being happy to a darker tone, with people ready to fight.
From the start, Altamont was set up for failure. While this was a fascinating read, it was also a tragic one.
Highly recommended for anyone interested in rock history and the '60s in particular.