The 1960s were like one long party. Until Altamont, the Manson murders and some other things left people battered, broken and disillusioned. The music though, lives on.
Ah, I’m going to cheat a bit here. I had to do a presentation on the 60s counterculture for a class a couple of days ago. And the music was a huge part of it, as we all are certainly aware (unless we are still-living macaques who had been held hostage in a dungeon by a man everyone knew as Dastardly Dimitry). There was a war going on in Vietnam, the threat of a nuclear war hanging heavily over that period, student activism, etc. But there was a whole generation that believed that free love, music, communal living, tie-dye and a fuckload of drugs would save the world. For a certain period, as evidenced by the three huge music festivals, this seemed to work – The Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock and the Isle of Wight festival were all about the peace, the love, grass-stained-mescaline-fueled sex and remembering mostly nothing. Altamont was where it all went down the shitter.
Just 4 months after Woodstock was wrapped up, the Altamont free concert was announced after a lot of confusion and last-gasp arrangements. This was organized by the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones, and several other big names like Santana, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young performed too.
The thing was very mismanaged – no portapottys, no medical facilities, and the way the stage was located at the bottom of a slope meant that 300000-plus people were falling over one another and onto the stage. Security was entrusted to the Hells Angels and their payment was beer worth $500. Their idea of managing security was drinking heavily, dropping lots of acid, and assaulting any member of the general public who were being unruly with lead tipped pool cues and motorcycle chains. Fights kept breaking out during the performances, with Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane even being knocked out by a Hells Angel. After a lot of unrest, violence and near-riot situations, there were five deaths (including the killing of Meredith Hunter by a Hells Angel just as the Stones were getting into ‘Under My Thumb’ – the others were accidents), numerous injured people, nicked cars and damage to the Altamont Speedway premises.
The Maysles brothers, who were documentary filmmakers, had brought their cameras along (one of their camera wielders was a certain George Lucas), intending to document the final stop of the Stones’ US tour, but they ended up with the Hunter murder on film. The footage from Altamont ended up being made into a documentary, unsurprisingly titled ‘Gimme Shelter’ – and their cinema verite style ensures that the result is a sky-scraping classic of a movie.
‘THIS IS NOT A FILM MAGAZINE WEBSITE’, you might be fuming and you are probably planning on sending me ANTHRAX LETTERS. Half of Gimme Shelter is a concert film – the Stones are at the height of their considerable powers – with the line-up that is widely considered to be the best by rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth-type Stones fans like yours truly. The first half-hour shows them killing it at the Madison Square Garden – especially Jumpin Jack Flash, Satisfaction, Love In Vain and Honky Tonk Women. Jefferson Airplane’s The Other Side of This Life, The Flying Burrito Brothers’ Six days on the road and Ike and Tina Turner’s I’ve Been Loving You Too Long are included as well.
Halfway through Gimme Shelter, there is a shot of a buck naked woman being dragged back towards some sort of tent by two men. You get one look at her eyes which betray it all – she was probably grooving with the fluorescent sheep in the clusterfucked noosphere that was her mind – It sums up everything about the 60s. People thought they were having a good time – there’s no way of knowing for sure. The 60s crashed and burned. But we were left with the music.
This strange, beautiful, magnificent, heart-dissolving, timeless music.
Feeling sad on account of not having killed 3 more mosquitoes yesterday, Raunaq wrote this slightly emotional piece. He will soon get his HAHAHAHAH mojo back. Maybe.