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The Rolling Stones Disaster At Altamont: Let It Bleed

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Let It Bleed

Robert Hiatt, a medical resident at the Public Health Hospital in San Francisco, was the first doctor to reach 18-year-old Meredith Hunter after the fatal wounds. He was behind the stage and responded to Jagger's call from the stage for a doctor. When Hiatt got to the scene, people were trying to get Hunter up on the stage, apparently in the hope that the Stones would stop playing and help could get through quicker.

"I carrried him myself back to the first aid area," Hiatt said. "He was limp in my hands and unconscious. He was still breathing then, though quite shallowly, and he had a very weak pulse. It was obvious he wasn't going to make it, but if anything could be done, he would have to get to a hospital quickly.

"He had very serious wounds. He had a wound in the lower back which could have gone into the lungs, a wound in the back near the spine which could have severed a major vessel, and a fairly large wound in the left temple. You couldn't tell how deep the wounds were, but each was about three-fourths of an inch long, so they would have been fairly deep.

"It was just obvious he wasn't going to make it. There was no equipment there to treat him. He needed to be operated on immediately, to have a couple large vessels repaired. Treatment immediately would have been intravenous fluids, none of which were available."

Dr. Richard Baldwin, the general practitioner from Point Reyes who supervised and coordinated the various medical units, agreed: "He got a bad injury in that they got him in the back and it went in between the ribs and the side of the spine, and there's nothing but big arteries in there, the aorta, the main artery in the body, and a couple kidney arteries. And if you hit one of those you're dead. You're dead in less than a minute and there's nothing anyone can do. In other words, if you're standing in front of the hospital, or even if he was stabbed in an operating room, there's nothing they could have done to save him. That's one of those injuries that's just irreparable."

Roland W. Prahl, senior coroner's investigator for Alameda County, said Hunter's official cause of death was "shock and hemorrhage due to multiple wounds in the back, a wound on the left side of the forehead, and another on the right side of the neck."

Prahl said that as far as he knew, Hunter was taken from the scene on a stretcher to the racetrack offices area. Fearing further mutilation to the body, sheriff's deputies then apparently transported him to another location on the grounds in their van. He was brought by deputies to the coroner's office at 10:50 that night, and an autopsy was performed Sunday.

"I don't know if doctors treated him at any time at the site," Prahl added, "But I do know he was never in a hospital. They pronounced him dead at the site; if anyone had thought he was alive, they'd have helped him." Prahl, however, didn't know who "they" were.

Three others had died (two in a hit-and-run accident, another by drowning), and countless more were injured and wounded during the course of this daylong "free" concert. It was such a bad trip that it was almost perfect. All it lacked was mass rioting and the murder of one or more musicians. These things could have happened, with just a little more (bad) luck. It was as if Altamont's organizers had worked out a blueprint for disaster. Like:

1) Promise a free concert by a popular rock group which rarely appears in this country. Announce the site only four days in advance.

2) Change the location 20 hours before the concert.

3) The new concert site should be as close as possible to a giant freeway.

4) Make sure the grounds are barren, treeless, desolate.

5) Don't warn neighboring landowners that hundreds of thousands of people are expected. Be unaware of their out-front hostility toward long hair and rock music.

6) Provide one-sixtieth the required toilet facilities to insure that people will use nearby fields, the sides of cars, etc.

7) The stage should be located in an area likely to be completely surrounded by people and their vehicles.

8) Build the stage low enough to be easily hurdled. Don't secure a clear area between stage and audience.

9) Provide an unreliable barely audible low fidelity sound system.

10) Ask the Hell's Angels to act as "security" guards.

All these things happened, and worse. Altamont was the product of diabolical egotism, hype, ineptitude, money manipulation, and, at base, a fundamental lack of concern for humanity.

"Jagger was very, very shattered," according to an associate who was with the Stones post-Altamont. "I cannot overemphasize how depressed and down he was with the way it turned out. They'd like to just be able to blink and make it go away. When they knew about the murder — it shook them."

Jagger had been so eager to do the gig that when he learned, in Muscle Shoals, that his San Francisco advance people were having trouble coming up with a site, he kept saying: "Well, man, we'll play in the streets if we have to." He was almost prepared to pick a street corner in downtown Market Street in San Francisco and play there.

But then, after Altamont had been set up and all the people were there, and the violence had begun, and Angels were menacing everybody in sight, the reports started coming in to the Huntington Hotel, and the Stones did not want to complete the gig. Well, they couldn't do that . . . So they thought about going straight out there, playing immediately, and closing the concert down as quick as possible. In the end, they decided to play it according to the original plan.

But they knew early in the day that it was grim and getting grimmer.

Mick Taylor, the newest Rolling Stone, was still aghast at what had happened when contacted in London shortly after his return home from Altamont.

"I was really scared," he said. "I was frightened for all of us, particularly for Mick because he had to be very careful what he said all the time, very careful. He had to pick and choose his words. When you read about a thing this size — like 300,000 people, four people born, four people killed — you don't think of it as a violent thing. But that's all I saw: violence all the time. I've always heard about the incredible violence in America, but I'd never actually seen it. They're so used to it over there, it's a commonplace thing. They find it easier to accept. I've just never seen anything like that before.

"It was just completely barbaric, like there was so much violence there it completely took the enjoyment out of it for me . . . it was impossible . . . to enjoy the music, or anything, because most of the violence was going on right in front of the stage, right in front of our eyes, and like I've never seen anything like it before. I just couldn't believe it.

"About five minutes after we arrived, just after we got out of the helicopter, I was with Mick and there were a couple of security guards with us, and a guy broke through and punched Mick in the face. That put me off a bit, but even after that had happened I didn't expect all those other things.

"It got so bad at one point that we just had to stop playing, we had to keep stopping in the middle of numbers. Mick did his best to cool the people out. He was doing everything in his power to cool them out. We were speechless for a little while afterwards . . . We didn't enjoy it.

"I think at one point we might have walked off stage, but that would have been a disaster. We just had to carry on and play the best we could. We played longer than we would have done because we had to keep stopping all the time. We still did a complete show. We must have been on stage for about an hour-and-a-half. It seemed like ages.

"The Hell's Angels had a lot to do with it. The people that were working with us getting the concert together thought it would be a good idea to have them as a security force. But I got the impression that because they were a security force they were using it as an excuse. They're just very, very violent people.

"I think we expected probably something like the Hell's Angels that were our security force at Hyde Park, but of course they're not the real Hell's Angels, they're completely phony. These guys in California are the real thing — they're very violent.

"I had expected a nice sort of peaceful concert. I didn't expect anything like that in San Francisco because they are so used to having nice things there. That's where free concerts started, and I thought a society like San Francisco could have done much better.

"We were on the road when it was being organized, we weren't involved at all. We would have liked to have been. Perhaps the only thing we needed security for was the Hell's Angels.

"I really don't know what caused it but it just depressed me because it could have been so beautiful that day."

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