The Rolling Stones Disaster At Altamont: Let It Bleed

Page 19 of 19

Dick Carter (of Dick Carter's Altamont Raceway fame) is charging recklessly full speed ahead. He has gotten a taste of the Big Time, now, and it sure as hell beats the 40-lap main event. Rock and roll has a new promoter. Carter wants to bring the Beatles out to Altamont for a three-day freebie in the Spring. That's right: the Beatles, for free, at Altamont.

"Of course nothing's definite yet," he says modestly, "But if all things go right, the will of the people will win out. They want the Beatles; we'll give them the Beatles." Carter spoke with Young American Enterprises to that effect last week.

In his conversation, Carter seemed totally out of touch with anything real. For example: "Now I've just been reading this book called Naked City, from around 1945, and about when Frank Sinatra was at Coney Island. It's all the same, the exact same complaints — a few bad guys getting all the headlines, the security problems. These are all very minor. I was just reading in the paper where Shirley Temple says you have a good person if you have a happy person. And, you know, she's trying to make people happy. She's for the Indians, and she wants to let 18-year-olds vote, and we think she's right arid we want to make everyone happy so they'll be good. Maybe we can get Shirley to help us out on future festivals." Honest, he really said that!

His plan is to have smaller pay concerts at places like the Oakland Coliseum or the Cow Palace. The money from these will pay for the costs of the all-weekend free concerts at Altamont. Since Carter believes that if you start charging people money, there'll be "real trouble," the idea is to make nothing off the Altamont concerts except from concessions and film proceeds. That means he has absolutely nothing to gain from the free concerts.

"That is, we have nothing to gain except the good will of the people," he noted.

A full nine days later, the Altamont Raceway area looked more than anything else like a picture of Hiroshima the day after — not a person to be seen, the whole area still piled high with the litter and refuse that were the last remnants of what had been. A couple fences in the area had been mended, but the fence around the racetrack was still down. The thousands of wine bottles and tons of litter were stacked in piles around the grounds, but none of it had been removed. A lone man walked about the huge field, stooping over occasionally to pick up a scrap of paper.

Cutler had made an appeal over the radio the day after the concert for the "beautiful people of San Francisco" to come back and help clean up the some tons of litter which they had left there "by their very presence." Also to help dismantle the stage, the scaffolding, and the other construction which had a lifetime of one day.

Oh, there was a little help. Ralph Haley, 23, of Washington, and his wife Sandy (they had been married December 4th) were in San Jose visiting friends Thursday when they heard about the festival. They went Friday to help set things up, and Sunday started heading the clean-up detail. They got some help from George Cooper of Spokane, fresh out of the service, Steve Mercier of San Francisco, and Mike and Susan Metcalf of Berkeley, members of Ecology Action. And 30, may be 40, others of the original 300,000. They figured they had at least another week of work ahead of them.

"The land itself is ok," Haley, "It's mostly just debris. There must be a million Red Mountain bottles here, and about half of them are broken. Spirits are really good; we're doing it because we want to. There's pretty good vibrations here while we're working, but it gets pretty cold at night." They planned to clean the land of the neighboring ranchers when they finished around the speedway, "if the ranchers will let us." Fat chance the ranchers will let them. They're pretty leery about longhairs these days. Remember what happened to Sharon Tate. One local rancher went so far as to quite seriously and quite openly propose genocide as the solution to the whole concert problem. Try to tell that man you want to mend his fence.

That lesson was learned by program director Tom Swift and the staff of KMPX-FM in San Francisco. The jocks there had started a project to help clean the place up. They got several hundred volunteers, plus the support of the CHP, the San Francisco police, and Mayor Joseph Alioto. The Livermore Herald News was going to co-sponsor the project. Then, when the dust was starting settle, Swift got this letter from Herald News managing editor Fred Dickey:

"After talking with several ranchers, we discovered they're too skittish to even think about importing San Francisco kids for clean-up.

"So after hearing that and weighing other factors, Mr. Sparks decided the risk is too great for the possible gains in such a joint venture.

"Accordingly, I must withdraw from the project we discussed.

"Thank you for your interest."

Meanwhile, scavengers are combing over the grounds for pop bottles they can turn in for deposit, and several have taken geiger counters out to the raceway to find change and valuables that were left behind.

Who knows, maybe for them the festival will have been worth it.

The writers of this special on the Altamont disaster were, alphabetically, Lester Bangs, Reny Brown, John Burks, Sammy Egan, Michael Goodwin, Geoffrey Link, Greil Marcus, John Morthland, Eugene Schoenfeld, Patrick Thomas, and Langdon Winner. It was assembled from their combined reports, and the first-hand accounts of dozens of others, by the editorial staff of Rolling Stone. We would like to extend special thanks to the 50-some photographers who made available their pictures.

This is a story from the January 21, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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