The Rolling Stones Disaster At Altamont: Let It Bleed

Page 16 of 19

Anyhow, the Monterey County supervisors are taking steps to stop the project before it ever gets going. Since the 1968 Monterey Pop Festival was shot down before it ever got off, the chances are good this one can be headed off too. In the wake of Altamont, what is needed is not "bigger" festivals, but a serious reappraisal of what the word "festival" really means.

Contacted in New York, Ron Schneider of Stone Promotions Ltd. (promoters of the American tour) did a fancy job of fence-straddling, on the one hand condemning the Angels for excesses, on the other trying to justify them. His primary concern seemed to be to get his office off the hook.

"We're denying that we had the Angels kill anybody or do anything unfair," Schneider said. "As far as I understand, at all the San Francisco free concerts, like for the Grateful Dead, they come up and provide security, they keep people off the stage. That's what they tried to do here, they tried to protect everybody. Mainly because one person died, which is extremely regrettable, it's all been blown up.

"I'd like to mention that a few times I saw the Angels picking up children that were being squashed in the crowd, they picked up a man and his baby and carried them out. Even though they had this incident with the Airplane, you can't control every single thing. They came — we really didn't want them there, with the harshness and violence, because it affected all of us. During the show the Stones stopped and tried to get them out of there, but it was a little too late to have any kind of control."

Responsibility for hiring the Angels belongs to Cutler, as well as Rock Scully and the Grateful Dead, according to Schneider. "Sam's from England, and isn't familiar with the Hell's Angels. He used a branch of the Angels in England at the Hyde Park festival and it went off quite well. The Angels provided security and everything was nice and pleasant. When he came here, he thought he had the same kind of situation and wanted to use the Angels if they were available. He didn't know they were a different chapter of Angels. He just asked Rock Scully to get him the Angels. They weren't supposed to get on the stage, but they thought their place was on the stage and that's where they went.

(Quite the contrary, according to two witnesses on the stage. They said Cutler was well aware of what the Angels were doing then, and that he told them to do whatever they had to do to keep people off the stage.)

"I feel that we gave a free concert for the kids to enjoy, there should never have been any violence or any of that, and it sickens me to know that somebody died at something we gave for everybody so they could have a good time. It bothers the Stones that something like this could happen.

"Even if nobody died, even if just three kids got punched in the nose, there's just no excuse for it. The Angels were there the entire morning and what happened is they just got completely out of their heads on acid and everything. There was nothing you could do, it just became a violent thing with them; we tried to get them off the stage once we saw what was happening. But the people who asked the Angels to come were the people organizing from that end — Sam Cutler, Rock Scully, the Dead. Not our office."

Aside from that, Schneider felt there had not been enough talk about the good things. "If you were 50 feet away from the stage, you thought you were at a fantastic concert, because nobody there knew what was happening; the kids who were on the outskirts thought it was the best, everybody raved about it, it was really good."


Schneider would not blame the Angels for the killing. "At first I thought it would have been better if there were no Angels, but now I say I don't know. What if the police had been there when the guy pulled the gun? Keith saw him pull it. The guy would probably have been shot to death by the police instead of being stabbed. That's the only difference. And the kids would probably have immediately attacked the police thinking it was their fault.

"My position is, it happened, there's nothing else I could say about it. It just happened like it did, and that's how come we have to accept it, as much as it disgusts us. How can we disavow a death? I mean, the man died, it's regrettable. The man shouldn't have pulled a gun like he did, but that's no reason to die. We were trying to have a good time and entertain people."

Ralph J. Gleason was not entertained. He saw Altamont, in his newspaper column, as a sort of culmination of the worst trends in rock and roll. Gleason raised the real questions about Altamont more forcefully than anyone else had dared.

"Why," wrote Gleason, "did Jagger and Cutler put the Angels with a truck load of free beer in charge of stage security? Why did the Grateful Dead people and the other locals involved (Grogan, Chet Helms, etc) go along with the idea?

"Why Saturday's episode? I suspect it is because, just as their parents 25 years ago thought America was full of Comanches scalping stagecoach riders and Capone gangsters shooting passers-by on Chicago streets, Jagger and Cutler think San Francisco is the Hell's Angels and the Pranksters since those are the ones who went to London last year and first broached the idea of the Stones playing free here.

"Now it has ended in murder. And that was a murder, not just a 'death' like the drowning or the hit-run victims. Somebody stabbed that man five times in the back. Overkill, like Pinkville. Like a Chicago cop's reaction to long hair.

"Is this the new community? Is this what Woodstock promised? Gathered together as a tribe, what happened? Brutality, murder, despoliation, you name it . . .

"The name of the game is money, power and ego, and money is first and it brings power. The Stones didn't do it for free, they did it for money, only the tab was paid in a different way. Whoever goes to see that movie paid for the Altamont religious assembly.

"All right, let me ask the question. Are Mick Jagger, Sam Cutler, Emmet Grogan and Rock Scully any less guilty of that black man's death than Sheriff Madigan is of the death of James Rector?"

It was one of Sheriff Madigan's men who killed James Rector in the People's Park uprising in Berkeley this Spring. Gleason's implication was that it was one of Jagger's/Cutler's/Grogan's/Scully's boys who'd offed Meredith Hunter. The air was dense with blame.

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