Two concerts stand at the very core of the Boomer mythos, Woodstock and Altamont. The one was good, the other evil. Woodstock was -- in spite of mud and hardships -- a festival of love and the new way of thinking. Altamont somehow became tainted, and the source of the darkness was pinned on the violence of the Hells Angels.

The matter is of interest because a new feature about them, which 'of course' will address the concert. The initial press is not encouraging.
Of course, the project will include the 1969 Altamont concert in Northern California where the Hells Angels provided a barrier to make sure that the crowd didn’t come onto the stage when the Rolling Stones played. As the story goes, their “payment” was in beer. The Angels got into brawls with the fans and a pregnant woman ended up with a skull fracture and another young man was stabbed to death. It was total chaos. After that, the Hells Angels were persona non grata, and public opinion about the club changed for the worse.
The woman was hit by a beer bottle thrown from the crowd, not by the Angels.

As for the other matter: 'A young man was stabbed to death.' True, as far as it goes.

Here's a documentary on the matter.

The young man in question had been thrown out of the concert for trying to climb onto the stage. He went somewhere and obtained a revolver, returned, drew the gun, and charged the stage again.

Another story built into the mind of the Boomer generation is the assassination of John Lennon. The Hells Angels stopped a similar attack on the Rolling Stones, perhaps the only band of equal stature to the Beatles.

The Angel who saved the Rolling Stones did it without shooting into the crowd, without hurting anyone else, and by charging a gun with a blade.

That's not bad. The failure to understand what they had seen right in front of their eyes was not the first such failure. We are still today living with the consequences of many other failures by just the same people, of just the same kind.


Gringo said...

I was at Altamont. I was far, far, from the front stage, so I could have no "expert witness" opinion about the killing near the stage. IIRC, I didn't find about the killing until reading the SF Chronicle after the concert. Or the Berkeley Barb. Or the Berkeley Tribe. Or all three.

Where I was located, the crowd was well-behaved.Nonetheless, I recall feeling that if some mob action occurred, such as pushing a fence or wall down, I would willingly go along with the mob. As such, I am not surprised at the beer bottle being thrown. Not at all. Who knows? If I had a beer bottle in my hand, I might have thrown it.

Ironically, several years later I was a paying customer at the Newport Jazz Festival. Tickets were not expensive. I paid for them out of my minimum wage dishwashing job. There was a non-paying crowd outside the chain-link fence listening to the concert. As there was ample amplification, the non-paying crowd outside the fence could easily hear the concert.

In spite of being able to hear the concert without paying for a ticket, the crowd outside the chain-link fence decided to push the fence down. The crowd succeeded. The concert was immediately ended. IIRC, the rest of the Newport Jazz Festival concerts were also cancelled. I did not have warm fuzzy feelings towards those who had pushed the fence down.

The next year, the Newport Jazz Festival relocated to a more secure venue- New York City.

One year I attended the Newport Jazz Festival, Duke Ellington featured a singer named Fire Red.

Texan99 said...

We experiment with chaos and rebellion, then we're amazed where it leads. I did it myself. We rarely know much about how well we'll handle power until we have it.

Grim said...

There's room for some rebellion here and there. What I find irritating about the story is not the way in which things got wild, but the way in which so many refuse to accept responsibility for their part. It's easy to blame the Hells Angels, who have never, at least, refused to own what they have elected to be. Here they did what they were asked to do, and they took down what we now call an "active shooter" in the midst of a large crowd in a way that ought to be impressive to anyone who has considered that kind of problem.

The Rolling Stones, meanwhile, were there singing "Street Fighting Man," and were shocked to find fighting in their streets. They are the ones who decided that security was best provided by a motorcycle club paid in advance with $500 worth of beer. The young man is the one who elected to go and get a gun and try to shoot up the stage, but he's relentlessly portrayed as a victim. The hippies who decided this kind of thing would be fun chose to look away, and mutter darkly about the bikers in a way that suggests that the Angels were the ones who made it all turn out badly.

The American cultural memory about this is set in a way that excuses the most responsible, and blames the ones who did what they promised to do, did it well, and never refused responsibility for their actions.

Ymar Sakar said...

Should have just let them die. Just capitalists under the cloak of art.

E Hines said...

Woodstock, also, has been distorted from the jump. In a dawning era of free sex, there were rapes at Woodstock not well reported. The free sex meme was used an an excuse--what's wrong wit' chew? Ain't you modern? You owe me some sex.

Eric Hines

Texan99 said...

By "experimenting with rebellion," I was referring to all the peace/loveniks attending concerts, never thinking their mobbish, unruly behavior might culminate in violence that would have to be counteracted by the hired guards. As soon as it happened, too many of them blamed the guards without thinking through the causes.

raven said...

In a weird sort of way, I have always admired the Hell's Angel who dove off the stage to take out a gun wielding threat. It was quite similar to Tara the cat- no hesitation at all, against a more heavily armed (or fanged) foe. Just an instant response to a threat.
Then apparently the Stones got all upset, because the Hell's Angels did exactly what they were hired to do.

Grim said...

If you watch the rest of the documentary, there's a highly intemperate phone call to the local radio station by Sonny Barger which probably didn't improve the community's opinion of the Angels. Still, as you say: they did what they were asked to do, and they didn't hide from who they were or what they did.

Grim said...

Also: I hadn't realized until I saw the documentary how ridiculous the Rolling Stones were in 1969. I always thought they were a serious outfit because of the quality of their musical work. But Mick Jagger appears in the first sequence wearing an Uncle Sam hat, a skin-tight black leotard with an Omega symbol on it, and chaps.

Grim said...

One more remark about the documentary: listening to the recording of Sonny Barger's phone call, the Stones seem mystified about who he was. "I don't remember him? Some of the others were quite nice."

He was the President of that Hells Angels charter! These are the guys you contracted for security -- the only security, which was a point you apparently didn't make clear to the Angels themselves, as Barger complains at length. You didn't talk to the President? Don't have any idea who he was?

Gringo said...

Several peers from my hometown went to Woodstock. I didn't because I was 3,000 miles away. One classmate who went to Woodstock,who later exhibited her paintings in New York galleries, was depressed by Woodstock. She drew pictures of feet, I am told.

Grim said...

Interesting. Thank you, by the way. It is nice to have a comment from someone who was really at Altamont. I've never met anyone who was.