The Rolling Stones Disaster At Altamont: Let It Bleed

Page 18 of 19

Emmet Grogan told how he'd gone with Rock Scully, manager of the Grateful Dead, down to see Jagger when the Stones had first set foot in Los Angeles nine weeks earlier. Grogan, best known as a Digger during the Haight's flowering a couple of years back, says Jagger and Richards agreed to do a free concert then, and were eager that Scully and Grogan start working right then to get it together.

The way Scully tells it now, the concert would have been geared for something like 50,000-75,000 in San Francisco's lush, green Golden Gate Park. The secret here was that a full-scale festival would be organized, with all sorts of theater groups and performing troupes in addition to the rock bands. The Stones would not even have been announced until perhaps two or three hours beforehand.

All was cool, Scully and Grogan say, between them and Jagger. The hangup was with the Stones' New York management: the Allen Klein axis which includes lieutenants John Jaymes and Ron Schneider. "They kept stringing us along," says Grogan. "The New York people. They wanted control over it."

So, on one hand, they could get no go-ahead for the groundwork that needed to be done: getting a permit for the park, lining up other performers, and all the details of putting on a free rock and roll festival. On the other hand, there was a series of publicity leaks about the affair, and these, Scully says, could only have come from the Stones' people in New York. No one else knew so many specifics to leak to the press.

"They started building up a hype," says Scully, "to be certain they'd get a lot of people, big numbers."

More and more time passed, and eventually it all came down to a big last-minute crisis. Scully and Grogan had been made to look foolish repeatedly, by starting to enter negotiations with San Francisco park and recreation people on various occasions, four, three and two weeks ahead of the scheduled December 7th concert date — only to withdraw without explanation.

They did manage to rap with an aide to the Mayor, and at one point, ten days before the concert, got themselves on the Park and Recreation commission meeting agenda. The day that meeting was to have taken place, they withdrew their request for a park permit, under what then appeared to be mysterious circumstances.

Now they say it was just another no-go from the Stones' New York people.

Stones' manager Allen Klein, belatedly worried about what had gone down, phoned Rolling Stone's San Francisco offices to try to get specific details as to who, in the Stones contingent, had been responsible for making which arrangements. Specifically, Klein was asking for almost a blow-by-blow account of the planning, because he felt assured he'd need that for the legal difficulties that loom for the Stones.

He made a particular point of stressing that the "Stones management" had not been involved in setting up the free concert.

Ah, but Stones management had been involved, he was told. Sam Cutler most prominently, and all those other people (Schneider, Jaymes, Bergman, Monck).

"Yes, but not the real Stones management," he said — by that he meant that he directly had had nothing to do with it — "and now they want to pass the blame on the Stones."

The San Francisco people who'd worked in advance trying to line up Golden Gate Park, said that a huge stumbling block was the lack of response from the Stones' New York office — meaning Klein and his man Schneider. "All I can say," said Klein, "is nobody contacted me."

Klein thought only the people who set it up were responsible. And they did not include any of the Stones, nor Allen Klein. Sam Cutler? "Well, he's the guy they hired to help on the road and with this Altamont thing because he did a good job on their free concert in Hyde Park. But he's not part of the Stones management."

But he had been hired to help the Stones manage their tour. He was part of their management at the time of the Altamont "party."

Klein's response was that he would have done it in Los Angeles. "The climate is better."

What about Sam Cutler?

"I'm not," said Klein, "copping a plea. But let's be clear about this: I did not hire Sam Cutler."

There's a saying somewhere about abandoning sinking ships . . .

While charges and recriminations were flying, there were some people trying to see what we can learn from the Altamont disaster.

Wavy Gravy, of Hog Farm fame and notoriety, and who had been there, working mainly with the medical aid people, saw plenty that was wrong with Altamont — and more importantly, has much to say about how those things can be done right in the future.

For one thing, Wavy feels people had a whole wrong set of expectations about what it was going to be. What it was, as compared with what it might have been, is sad to ponder.

"It was," says Wavy, "the Rolling Stones, which is a real super-commercial rock group, doing their thing, and to expect anything more is a mistake that a lot of people made. The whole hip community got co-opted into helping to put this thing on to the point that they should have saw that it wasn't gonna work. I mean, just in the sensible things like sound reproduction, it wasn't gonna work. There wasn't time. At this thing, there were only certain areas where there was fidelity in terms of listening to what was going on.

"How you can do it is you don't make it a one-day thing. You make it, say, three days, and in a place that's ecologically sound, I mean as far as groovy grass and water's available and stuff like that. And there's facilities for medical stuff and food. What I think is, to avoid the hype, you have more than one stage to start with. The pressure keeps moving. If there was like three stages, and a band didn't have to go on according to schedule, but anybody could play when they felt like it, that would be a real festival.

"You don't have all the stages going at once, maybe. You don't say where it's going to happen next. You run up a flag or shoot off a rocket or somethin'. Like in Shakespeare's time, they ran up a flag. Or you could have them all go at once all playing the same song. There's all kinda combinations. There's an old Prankster adage: do it all. And that didn't happen at Altamont.

"You need a day to sorta settle in. It has to be at least like a weekend thing. And then, there's not all that hype that you gotta get there, because if you don't get there you're missin' everything. And after the second day, you sorta been there. You slept together and you figured out how to eat breakfast together, and the crowd is pretty much amalgamated into a one sorta thing. Sorta there to do whatever it is. It gets sorta logical.

"The one-day thing sets up the fact that you gotta enjoy yourself, you know? Like you're there and gettin' sorta hard-pressed and it's gettin' later and later, and you gotta go home — and we can't hear anything — well, let's push our way up there and maybe we can hear a little bit and maybe see somebody and —"

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