The Rolling Stones Disaster At Altamont: Let It Bleed

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One Angel later told it this way to KSAN-FM: This black guy had come toward the stage and been pushed off by Angels. "He flipped over and he's got this revolver — it looked like a cannon. It was pointed right at me. I hit the deck and this gun was pointed right at Jagger." And then, according to this account, "everybody was on him and that was the last I seen of him . . . When it was all over, man, Jagger looks at me and says, 'why?' I says: 'I dunno, man, that's just the way people are.'"

Whether Jagger had time for this game of eye contact is dubious. He was busy telling the audience — "brothers and sisters, come on now! That means everybody just cool out! We can cool out, everybody! Everybody be cool, now. Come on."

Turning toward side of stage: "How are we doing over there? Everybody all right? Can we still collect ourselves? I don't know what happened, I couldn't see, I hope you're all right. Are you all right? Okay, let's just give ourselves another half a minute before we get our breath back. Everyone just cool down. Is there anyone there who's hurt? Okay, I think we're cool, we can groove. We always have something very funny happen when we start that number."

"Sympathy" started again, but not too convincingly. Somebody tried to climb onstage. Angels tossed him back.

Jagger: "Why are we fighting? Why are we fighting? We don't want to fight at all. Who wants to fight, who is it? Every other scene has been cool. We gotta stop right now. You know, if we can't there's no point . . ."

The fight scene got worse. Long silence at the mike. Dense uncertainty crowded the night chill. Amazingly, Jagger seemed to lose control of his audience. A rare moment.

Keith Richards stepped forward: "Either those cats cool it, man, or we don't play . . ."

Pause. More nastiness in the audience immediately in front of the stage. Of 300,000 people, only a few thousand can see the trouble.

Jagger, with something like a sob: "If he doesn't stop it, man . . ."

Richards: "Keep it cool! Hey, if you don't cool it, you ain't gonna hear no music!"

An Angel commandeered the mike to shout: "Fuck you!"

The goring had ended by now, and Jagger took the mike again to say, "We need a doctor here, now! Look, can you let the doctor get through, please. We're trying to get to someone who's hurt."

People who were trying to help Meredith Hunter were raising bloody hands to show Mick how bad it was.

A doctor got through, the man was carried off, eventually.

Next a blues, an instrumental to ease the tension. When it's over, Jagger says: "That's to cool out with."

Then, "Stray Cat Blues."

"Love in Vain." Jagger again urges the crowd to sit down. They do, as he watches. "Now, boys and girls, are you sitting comfortably? When we get to the end and we all want to go absolutely crazy and jump on each other, well, then we'll stand up again. I mean, we can't seem to keep together standing up."

"Under My Thumb." A bad fight this time: a body sails across the stage. "We're splitting; we're splitting if those cats don't stop," Jagger shouts! "I want them out of the way! I don't like doing it to them . . ." The onstage crowd in to surround him. An extremely menacing moment.

What an enormous thrill it would be for an Angel to kick Mick Jagger's teeth down his throat. They have been watching his dancing and wild gesticulations with disgusted scowls, derisive laughter, elbows in each other's ribs. The looks on their faces read: "So easy — I could stomp the shit outta this fuckin' sissy so easy — I could snuff this motherfucker!" Several of the Angels who have parked their bikes in front of the stage gun their engines defiantly.

From the stage, it is difficult to hear the shouts from the middle and outer reaches of the huge crowd, which extends a quarter of a mile out into the night. Some are shouting: "Music, music, music . . ." Other chanting: "Get off the fucking stage, get off the fucking stage . . ."

Jagger follows the long onstage silence with: "Please relax and sit down. If you move back and sit down, we can continue and we will continue. We need a doctor as soon as possible, please."

Stones road manager Sam Cutler, who has MC'd all day long, takes the mike to try to clear the stage. "First of all, everyone is going to get to the side of the stage who's on it now, aside from the Stones. Please, everyone. We need a doctor and ambulance, right away. Just sit down and keep calm and relax. We can get it together."

They finish "Under My Thumb." Then get into a new song they've never performed in public before: "Brown Sugar." It goes well. Beautifully, in fact. The Stones are making miraculous music, despite everything.

"Midnight Rambler," comes next, and, oooh, it is funky; but too late. The damage has been done. It's later and later by the minute. Many are leaving.

Jagger takes a hit of Jack Daniels bourbon and makes a toast of it. "One more drink to you all."

"Live With Me," is driving, vibrant.

It's just amazing. There could be no worse circumstance for making music, and the Stones are playing their asses off. Jagger is incredible. They all look like they'd rather be anyplace else. But it's getting better and better. Driving, powerhouse waves of rhythm roll on and on. Jagger is opening up. At first, when he really was trying to cool everybody out, his performance was the epitomy of cool: restrained, distanced, but still — even with fear welling in his throat — deeply inside each song, laying it on us.

Now, as he feels himself taking command again, the passion is building song by song. It is hard to imagine that "Gimme Shelter" ever got a more burning treatment. "Queenie" is a bitch. During "Satisfaction," long-stem roses shower off him from the audience (and where did they get them? Must have been laid on them by Stones' management). He changes the line in "Honky Tonky Woman" to say "I laid a divorcee right here in Frisco . . ." (some think he said "in Tracy . . ." which is the small town the highway from Altamont; same difference, really) and gets a big laugh from everybody.

It ends with "Street Fighting Man," a great performance of it, an unfortunate selection, considering what kind of day it's been.

It has been an awful day. One of the worst in memory. The tendency was to blame it on the Angels, and, fundamentally, on the Stones, since they had paid the Angels to come and act as security. Sam Cutler, acting on behalf of the band, had paid the Hell's Angels $500 worth of beer to come and act as a security force.

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