I didn’t know his name or anything, but he was standing along side of me. You know, we were both watching Mick Jagger, and a Hell’s Angel, the fat one. I don’t know his name or anything, he reached over — he didn’t like us being so close or something, you know, we were seeing Mick Jagger too well, or something. He was just being uptight. He reached over and grabbed the guy beside me by the ear and hair, and yanked on it, thinking it was funny, you know, kind of laughing. And so, this guy shook loose; he yanked away from him.
Now this guy that you’re talking about, is this the black guy that got killed?
Yeah, right. He shook loose, and the Hell’s Angel hit him in the mouth and he fell back into the crowd and he jumped off stage and jumped at him. And he tried to scramble, you know, through the crowd, to run from the Hell’s Angel, and four other Hell’s Angels jumped on him. They started mugging him and.
This is when they claim he had the gun?
No, no, he didn’t pull out the gun yet. See, and they started, they were mugging him, and then he started running . . . and he was running straight into the crowd, you know, pushing people away, you know, to run from the Hell’s Angels.
What was this guy’s condition? Had he been smoking, had he been drinking, or do you know?
He was really straight, he was really . . . Feeling really weird about being pushed around and stuff, but he was really pretty straight.
When the cat started grabbing him, what did he say? What did this black guy say?
He just gave him a weird look, kind of a mean look, and yanked away. He didn’t give him any verbal provocation or anything. So they’re chasing through the crowd. And they hitting him and one Hell’s Angel pulled out a knife and stabbed him in the back.
What kind of knife?
I couldn’t tell. I just saw the flash of the blade. Everything was happening too fast. And he hit him in the back and he pulled out a gun and held it up in the air you know . . . like that was kind of his last resort, you know . . . and . . .
Could you tell what kind of a gun?
It was a long . . . long barrel, really long. Looked like a six shooter or something . . . I’ve never seen . . . it was really . . . like the barrel was about six inches or so . . .
Like a service revolver or something?
Yeah . . . it was really a fancy gun . . . really shiny . . . He had it in the air, and he was still running, and people were telling him — I remember this chick screaming “Don’t shoot anyone.” And he was too scared to shoot because he could have shot anyone in the crowd or anything. So he didn’t shoot. And one of the Hell’s Angels grabbed the gun from him . . . and then stabbed him again in the back.
They grabbed the gun from him, and then stabbed him again in the back?
What did the cat who stabbed him look like?
I think there was two people that stabbed him. One had his hair straight. It was straight and thick, and it was straight back, combed straight back. The front of his . . . you know . . . he combed it back so much that the front of his head was kind of bald . . . getting thin. I know what he looks like but, I can’t describe him.
But you’d know him if you saw him, right?
Yeah, yeah. I’ve seen him before.
Would you be willing to testify?
No. I don’t want to get killed.
They hit him . . . I couldn’t tell whether it was a knife or not . . . but on the side of the head. And then he kind of stumbled and he fell down on his knees. He came running toward me. I grabbed onto the scaffold, held onto the scaffold, you know, and then he came running kind of toward me and then he fell down on his knees, and then the Hell’s Angel, the same one I was talking about, grabbed onto both of his shoulders and started kicking him in the face about five times or so and then he fell down on his face, you know. He let go and he fell down on his face. And then one of them kicked him on the side and he rolled over, and he muttered some words. He said “I wasn’t going to shoot you.” That was the last words he muttered.
How close were you to all of this?
About three feet away.
You kept right up with them. You could have gotten hurt.
I just stayed as close . . . like, I wanted to jump into it but I couldn’t so I stayed close so that as soon as they were done mugging him I could help him.
That’s a real question there: why 300,000 – well 299,900 – people would allow themselves to be dominated by a hundred Angels?
Yeah, well I couldn’t see it either. If some other people had jumped in I would have jumped in. But nobody jumped in and after he said “I wasn’t going to shoot you,” one of the Hell’s Angels said, “Why did you have a gun?” He didn’t give him time to say anything. He grabbed one of those garbage cans, you know, one of those cardboard garbage cans with the metal rimming, and he smashed him over the head with it, and then he kicked the garbage can out of the way and started kicking his head in. Five of them started kicking his head in. Kicked him all over the place. And then the guy that started the whole thing, the fat guy, stood on his head for a minute or so and then walked off. And then the ones I was talking about, described to you, he wouldn’t let us touch him for about two or three minutes. Like, “Don’t touch him, he’s going to die anyway, let him die, he’s going to die.”
So what did everybody do? Did anybody say anything?
Chicks were just screaming. It was all confusion. I jumped down anyway to grab him and some other dude jumped down and grabbed him, and then the Hell’s Angel just stood over him for a little bit and then walked away. We turned him over and ripped off his shirt.
You turned him over so he was face up?
No, so he was face down.
So you could see his back?
We rubbed his back up and down to get the blood off so we could see, and there was a big hole on his spine and a big hole on the side and there was a big hole in his temple. A big open slice. You could see all the way in. You could see inside. You could see at least an inch down and stuff, you know. And then there was a big hole right where there’s no ribs on his back…and then the side of his head was just sliced open . . . you couldn’t see so far in . . . it was bleeding quite heavy . . . but his back wasn’t bleeding too heavy after that . . . there . . . all of us were drenched in blood.
Did you stick with him after that?
Yeah. I picked up his legs and someone else . . . this guy said he was a doctor or something . . . I don’t know who he was . . . he picked up his arms and he said, “Got to get him some help because he’s going to die. We’ve got 15 or 20 minutes, if we can get him some help . . .” And so we tried to carry him on the stage. Tell Mick Jagger to stop playing so we could get him on the stage and get some attention for him.
Who told Jagger that?
No one told Jagger that, but someone was trying to tell him to stop and he kept leaning over and looking out at the crowd like he was paying attention and trying to figure out what was happening.
This is while he’s singing?
Yeah. He kept leaning over with his ear trying to hear what somebody was telling him, but he couldn’t hear. So they kept on playing and the Hell’s Angels wouldn’t let us through . . . get on the stage . . . They kept blocking us saying go around . . . go through some other way. They wouldn’t let us through. They knew he was going to die in a matter of minutes. They wanted him to die probably so he wouldn’t talk or something, you know. And so we carried . . . we turned around and went the other way. It took about 15 minutes to get him behind the stage. We went around that whole thing and got behind where there was a Red Cross truck . . . something like that. And someone brought out a metal stretcher and laid him on that. Well first we laid him on the ground. And then we felt his pulse and it was just barely doing it . . .
Real slow or real fast or what?
Real slow and real weak. His whole mouth and stuff is bashed up into his nose and stuff and he couldn’t breathe out of his nose. He was trying to breathe out of his mouth. There really wasn’t anything you could do. We carried him over to some station wagon and then whoever owned the car hopped in and some other people hopped in and I stayed there. I went over and they had this thing of coffee and I had it . . . poured it all over to wipe off all the blood.
Yeah, because there was nothing else. Then I walked away feeling, wanting to do something, wanting to tell somebody what happened so they could get the Hell’s Angels. It scared me so much I couldn’t do anything . . . it really put me on such a big bummer . . . really, for days. For the last couple of days I’ve been really brought down about it.
Do you intend to go to any more of these mass concerts?
If there’s no Hell’s Angels there. No violence. I don’t know, I enjoyed it until that happened. I did get bummed out . . . I got a little depressed about . . . the way I was feeling from being pushed around and stuff by the crowd. But the Hell’s Angels were responsible. They’re really the whole thing.
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.”
According to Keith Richards, it did go pretty well. On his arrival in London, he told a United Press reporter that Altamont “was basically well-handled, but lots of people were tired and a few tempers got frayed.”
It is impossible to speak of the music that went down without placing it in the context of the violence, the fear and the anxiety, which, during the course of the day, peaked to higher and higher points of refinement and climax.
As Santana was setting up, a chick toward the front of the stage was telling her old man: “It’s weird. They consulted the astrologers before setting the dates for Woodstock, but they couldn’t have consulted an astrologer about today. Anyone can see that with the moon in Scorpio, today’s an awful day to do this concert. There’s a strong possibility of violence and chaos and any astrologer could have told them so. Oh well, maybe the Stones know something I don’t know.”
The violence was not long to follow. (It had already begun earlier, of course, but to have it going on while the bands were playing was a new twist.) Between the first song and the second, one young-looking fellow tried to pass nearby to get on stage. He was wearing a blue and yellow sports shirt, jeans and had long straight blond hair over his ears. As he tried to get by some Hell’s Angels he was kicked in the face by an Angel’s booted feet and pulverized with punches and lay spread out on the ground unable to move or be moved, there were so many people jammed up to the stage.
A lot of photographers kept right on taking their photos through the worst of it, right up close, without getting hassled. So did the movie crews, but then they had Angels for bodyguards.
Not every photographer was so lucky, though. John Young, 24, who moved in with his Leica to capture some of the bashing, wound up with 13 stitches in his head. The Angels were beating a couple of naked people to the ground during Santana’s set. In moments, the nudies were up again, and Young started taking pictures, when the Angels resumed bashing them.
An Angel spotted him — out of some ten or twelve photogs immediately surrounding him — and demanded: “I want your film or you get hit.” Young kept shooting, and the Angel leapt at him, smashing the camera into Young’s face. Down he went. When several Angels began pounding him, Young rolled into a protective ball. “It felt like they were hitting me with a hammer and a broken bottle,” Young said later. Observers said it was pool cues.
The Angels, many of them, were carrying — and applying to a lot of non-Angel heads — loaded pool cues, saw-offed (usually) to a length somewhat longer than a billy club. About the length, in fact, of the cattle prods that we’ve all seen in photographs of redneck brutality against black people in the South.
Eventually they got around to removing the film from his camera. Drenched in blood — hair, face, neck, shirt back and front — Young ran 50 yards into the crowd, then sort of collapsed until the Red Cross took him to their tent, where they cleaned him up, administered novocaine, and stitched him up.
“I’d never seen a Hell’s Angel before,” explained Young, who’s from a small town in Maine, “and I didn’t really know they could do that.” After the patchwork, he was able to watch the rest of the concert. He took no more photos.
Santana began their next song, but were interrupted by the Angels’ running across stage to the right to beat someone up. Santana finished their set amidst very uptight vibes around the stage.
The next group up was the Airplane and by the time they came on it was standing room only for about seventy-five yards from the stage but everyone slowly sat down when the people seventy-six yards from the stage yelled.
Sam Cutler announced that a woman had given birth and clean sheets and diapers were needed and within minutes the stage was beseiged with them. Then Cutler introduced the Jefferson Airplane and they began their set with “We Can Be Together” and ended the set with “Volunteers of America.” In between there was a disturbance with some Hell’s Angels and members of the audience and Marty Balin was knocked out by a punch from one of the Angels when he tried to intercede in the disturbance. Paul Kantner began to make a speech about the event and was challenged by a Hell’s Angel who grabbed a microphone and the people began to boo. Another Hell’s Angel came up to Kantner and a fight almost broke out between them but was cooled down before any punches were thrown on stage and they went into a song. When it ended, Grace Slick was rapping softly into the microphone about what was going down with the Hell’s Angels and everyone else. It was almost too much to take in. An Instant Re-Play would have been useful, the action was so thick and heavy. Consider the symbolism alone:
With all the grandeur of Bert Parks inviting last year’s Miss America to step forward, the Airplane had asked, “Will the Hell’s Angels please take the stage.”
Then came that “up against the wall motherfucker” song, with its soaring (old-fashioned) harmonies, Marty Balin’s voice riding high and clear over the ensemble, the Jefferson Airplane celebrating the forces of chaos and anarchy, proud to be part of that trip. Very, very proud.
Then Marty saw a black man getting swallowed up by the forces of chaos and anarchy — in the form of the Angels, half a dozen of whom were thumping the shit out of him. At some point near the start of “Somebody to Love,” Balin jumped in to break it up. He at least laid a hand on an Angel. It is said he threw a punch, and maybe said, “Fuck you!”
During the second half of “Somebody to Love,” Marty Balin lay unconscious, having gotten himself blasted by an Angel. The rest of the band played on. Balin’s absence, in musical terms, scarcely mattered. The sound was so bad you couldn’t tell the difference.
It was at just about this point that the Angels’ position became clear. They were in charge of the stage. They had taken it that morning. It was theirs, musicians or no musicians. What the fuck, wasn’t nobody tough enough to take it from them, was there? The Stones? Not likely. It had become, to a disturbing degree, a Hell’s Angels Festival.
Nothing profound happened musically during the Flying Burrito Brothers set. It seldom does. But somehow the simple verities of their countrified electric music soothed the warriors. There were no fights. As luck would have it, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards chose to emerge from the backstage trailer where they’d been holed up to have a look at the stage and the audience during this period of calm. They strolled about, wound up onstage, smiling, for a bit. Then back to the trailer, where, in true superstar fashion, Jagger was signing autographs (on album jackets, and even draft cards). Whenever they ventured any distance from the smallish white trailer, it was behind three or four burly Angels.
The scene back there was dense with groupies (most dazzling: Miss Mercy behind her raccoon-ring eye makeup), and celebrities (a toss-up between Tim Leary, who went forth, gamely flashing smiles and peace signs in the direction of violence; and manager/promoter/entrepreneur Steve Paul, gloomy in his blue bathrobe, muttering dire presentiments), not to mention writers and photographers.
Out front, the battle was rejoined during Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young‘s desultory performance (the rest of the band had played only after David Crosby had urged them to in the strongest terms). The Angels, at one point, amassed a fairly spectacular charge, pool cues flailing whoever got in their way. At the end of their set, several stretchers were sent into the audience and bodies were passed overhead and across the stage to the Red Cross area. Those who were carried out and those who departed under their own steam were quickly replaced, as it became obvious that the next set was going to be the Stones.
Despite balloons and pennants and a few other picturesque touches (like the big polyethylene walk-in bubble/dome some co-freaks had set up), the physical atmosphere at Altamont was singularly ominous and depressing. The more people arrived, the more clear it was that this was nowhere in particular; just a patch of land, covered with bleached-out long grass and sticker burrs. Nothing had been done to make it the least bit festive. And the later it got, the worse the air became — filled with a rancid combination of fog, dust, smoke and glare. A squinty grey light made everything hard to look at.
The 300,000 anonymous bodies huddled together on the little dirt hills were indeed an instant city — a decaying urban slum complete with its own air pollution. By the time the Stones finally came on, dozens of garbage fires had been set all over the place. Flickering silhouettes of people trying to find warmth around the blazing trash reminded one of the medieval paintings of tortured souls in the Dance of Death. The stench of the smoke from tens of thousands of potato chip packages and half-eaten sandwiches brought vomiting to many. It was in this atmosphere that Mick sang his song about how groovy it is to be Satan. Never has it been sung in a more appropriate setting.
The hill on the concert side of the west fence was packed almost as tight with people as center stage area. People tended to fade into one another after awhile — unless there was something especially strange or loud about them that made you remember they were real and not just part of a huge movie set.
There was the young mother in blue blouse with Peter Pan collar and pleated skirt, looking like she’d just stepped out of a Hayward model home, who pushed ahead of her husband. In one hand she carried a baby only a few months old. She’d nudge the person ahead of her with the baby, smile and look wide-eyed at them as they turned to see who was pushing — and then she’d push right through.
Just a few feet from the fence and about 100 yards from the stage was a freak cat about 25, wearing wire-rimmed glasses, trim black goatee, T-shirt and jeans. With him was a big cat, blond, with mustache.
They were drinking from a gallon of Red Mountain Vin Rose. “It’s got two tabs of mescaline in it,” the blond guy told someone who asked for a drink. “Organic. Good stuff, too. We put it in this morning.”
“Good thing these people ain’t on reds and wine,” Goatee guffawed at about 4:45 when Cutler came to the stage and announced:
“The Rolling Stones won’t come out till everyone gets off the stage.”
“If they’d been on reds and wine, you bet he wouldn’t been sayin’ it like that.”
Then about a dozen Angels, mostly officers, some carrying double, ploughed through the crowd on their bikes. An admirer in the crowd offered a shaggy Angel a swig from his wine bottle. The Angel, sporting clean new colors, stopped, dismounted, grabbed the gallon in both hands and put it to his lips for just a moment, handed it back and putted on off — a lotta show for a little sip of wine.
“We come down on our bikes,” said Sonny Barger later, “because we were told we were supposed to park in front of the stage, and so like when we started coming down through the crowd everybody was outta sight got up and moved and we come down in low gear and didn’t try to run into anybody or do any of that kind of thing. Everybody got up really nice, some people offered us drinks on the way down and like . . . we must have come into approximate contact with at least a thousand people and outta them thousand people we had trouble with one person . . . one broad jumped up and said something that pertained to a four letter word and then Angels and one of Angels stopped his bike and he had his old lady on the back and he said, ‘Are you gonna let them talk about Angels like that?’ and she jumped off the bike and slapped the other broad that said that that was in the crowd and got back on the bike and we proceeded down with no problem. We pulled up in front of the stage and parked where we were told we were supposed to park.”
The flaw in this story, according to Sam Cutler and Rock Scully, is no one told the Angels to put their bikes down in front of the stage.
It got cold. Then it got colder. Time passed. More time. The Stones were waiting, like they always wait. Tuning up, they said. But really, there was something else going on, and it tied in with the whole superstar sensibility in which the Stones increasingly enwrap themselves. They were waiting for it to get really dark out, so the banks of spotlights would set them off to the most dramatic effect possible.
Suddenly, the lights glowed on, a cold-fire red gleaming on the Stones, as they wedged between the Angels onstage to their places. Jagger’s demonic orange and black satin cape/robe gleamed wickedly. Into “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” rather haltingly. To open up a little dancing room for himself, Jagger had to ask the Angels to step back a few paces. There must have been a hundred people — who knows? maybe 200 — on that stage, and Jagger was performing in a small pocket at center stage, like it or not.
“Carol” was a little better, but stiff.
“Sympathy for the Devil.” They stopped in the middle. A skirmish had broken out at stage left. This was the knifing/stomping of Meredith Hunter, perhaps 25 feet from where Jagger pranced and sang, then stopped. To one observer 20 feet to Jagger’s rear, the glint of the long knives was clearly visible. So, if the Stones were looking, they saw it too. The same observer spoke with several others who were onstage (as did Rolling Stone), and none, except for the onstage Angels, claim to have seen a gun.
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.
When San Francisco rock station KSAN-FM did a four-hour news special on the festival Sunday evening, just a little over 24 hours after Altamont had ended, Sam Cutler was asked what he thought in retrospect about using the Angels.
“I myself,” said Cutler, “feel that the Hell’s Angels were as helpful as they saw that they could be in a situation which most people found very confusing, including the Hell’s Angels. Everybody found last night very confusing so everybody acted on their own initiative. If you want to ask me what the Hell’s Angels were doing last night then I’m not qualified to speak for the Hell’s Angels, you’ll have to talk to the Hell’s Angels yourself.”
KSAN: Well, what I’m speaking to, and what I’m sure you saw because you were right on the stage. . .
Cutler: “I was right on the stage all the time.”
KSAN: . . . where they treated various incidents of people standing up and so forth, and what do you think about that? I understand that even the members of the Airplane were roughed up a little bit.
Cutler: “If you’re asking me to issue a general put down of the Angels, which I imagine a lot of people would be only too happy to do, and I’m not prepared to do that. The Angels did as they saw best in a difficult situation as I have said before. Now 50 percent of the people will dig what they did and 50 percent will not dig what they did. I don’t need to get into a kind of positive-anti kind of thing. As far as I’m concerned they were people who were here, who tried to help in their own way . . . You know . . . these people didn’t dig it. I’m sorry. I didn’t dig in fact what a lot of people did yesterday.”
Why did the Stones require any security force at all? According to a Hell’s Angel caller (unidentified) to KSAN, “What Cutler was afraid of is that the Stones was gonna get ripped off by a hundred thousand little girls.” Cutler later described this as “complete bullshit.”
More damning is a quote two on-stage sources separately attribute to Cutler, when discussions of how to handle the crowd arose between him and the Angels. “We don’t give a fuck,” he reportedly told them. “Just keep these people away.”
Whatever the case, people were comparing the Angels with regular cops in confrontation situations, and nobody said they liked Angels better. Said one person who’d been on the streets during the People’s Park demonstrations in Berkeley: “Not one of those policemen conducted themselves in a manner that even could be compared with what the Angels were doing. It was just impossible — imposing their will with over three hundred thousand people!” Said another: “They acted just like pigs.”
A photographer who’d taken part in the Chicago demonstrations during the Democratic Party Convention felt the Chicago cops had been both more together when it came to applying force, and more reasonable.
During the worst of the Angels’ outrages, a few of the braver non-Angels had suggested (quietly) to the friends that with enough men they could put the Angels down, and maybe they ought to. But cats like Marty Balin, who actually leapt in to fight the Angels were exceedingly rare. They usually got bloody fast.
Asked by KSAN what if the crowd had turned on them, Pete of the Frisco Angels hardly batted an eye. “The way I feel about that,” he said, “is if it happens, everybody will really see what we can take care of. We ain’t gonna go down with no kind of scene, and the closest ones to it are gonna get it. I’m not tryin’ to be on no trip, but there ain’t nobody gonna be whippin’ on us. And get away with it.”
Wavy Gravy (or Hugh Romney, take your choice), leader, in his way, of the Hugh Farm, the non-violent commune that policed Woodstock, was at Altamont. Like the mast majority of freaks, he felt it would have gone better without any security, instead of the Angels. And he thinks the Angels could have been disposed of easily — though not by force.
“The Angels were together and the people weren’t together — they didn’t have time to get together, you know? If they had wanted to get rid of the Angels, honorably, they could have taken up another collection and laid another five hundred dollars on them to split, which they would have done, man.”
To all complaints that they had been over-zealous — too rough — in keeping the stage clear, the Angels simply replied that they was just doin’ their thing. Which is violence.
“Rough?” said Frisco Pete. “What I feel the roughness is if we say we’re gonna do somethin’, we do it. Do you understand that? That’s our whole thing. Now if these people asked us to do this thing, we did it. What are we supposed to do? We ain’t cops. We’re not into that thing. We decide to do somethin’, it’s done, no matter how far we have to go to do it.”
But it was Angels chief Sonny Barger who laid down the single most fascinating (if not illuminating) rap on KSAN’s entire special.
He was “bum kicked” by the whole thing because he felt “this here hysterical Englishman,” Cutler, had laid an impossible job of security on them.
Two or three of the Angels’ bikes had gotten kicked, Barger said, and that had called for mashing some heads. “Ain’t nobody gonna get my bike,” he said, matter-of-factly. “Anybody tries that is gonna get got. And they Got got.”
All in all, Barger thought the Stones had misrepresented the trip to the Angels. “Mick Jagger used us for dupes, man,” he said. He made it pretty clear that the Angels don’t dig being duped. “We were the biggest suckers for that idiot that I ever can see.”
As to the violence, Barger said the Angels had tried not to be overly violently, but, shit, non-violence has its limits. Like, there was this fat naked broad who’d tried to climb onstage. Five Angels had held her off, but after awhile it go to be a pain in the ass. “So finally we backed off and one of the cats let her have it. That took care of that.”
Repeatedly, Barger spelled it out on the Angels’ terms. “I don’t wanna do it, man, but I’m a violent cat. I ain’t no cop. I ain’t never gonna police nothin’. I just went there to sit on the front of the stage and drink beer and have a good time, like we was told. But when they started kickin’ our bikes, man, that started it. I ain’t no peace creep, man, but if a cat don’t wanna fight me, I wanna be his friend.”
Barger was especially irate that people refused to move out of the way fast enough when an Angel bike caught fire. Those people were moved away, and quickly, by the Angels: “Now I ain’t saying anything about no Angel hit anybody. I know some of them hit people. But they moved them people back out of the way of the bike. And we got the fire put out. In the process, you know what, some people got hit.
“And you know what, some of them people were like maybe them Friday nighters that got that front row, I don’t know, but they didn’t want to give up that spot even to put that fire out. And they come back fightin’. And when they come back fightin’ they got thumped. And a lot of times there were six or seven Angels on one guy, and a lot of times there wasn’t. After that happened, we got the fire out. And everything was cool. The people moved back in again,” he explained.
Barger also had a few words for people who “call themselves flower children. There is some of them lousy people ain’t a bit better than the worst of us, and it’s about time they realized it. They can call us all kinds of lousy dogs, and say that we shouldn’t be there. But you know what, when they started messing with our bikes, they started it.”
The night before it started, Altamont felt great. There were campfires all over the place (many of them the product of the race track’s fence, which is now being replaced), and people were engaged in a range of worthy activities, like smoking dope or sharing it, drinking beer or sharing it, playing tapes of the Stones, or playing guitars and singing their own, playing touch football under the stage lights Chip Monck’s work crews were using to set up a stage.
Monck had gotten all the necessary goods — lumber and wiring and speakers and tools and scaffolding — to the Altamont site at Friday afternoon. By 9 o’clock, he had erected a thoroughly serviceable stage, and well before midnight it would be basically set.
Two diesel generators, already raging to supply power for the lights, were the only noise. Huge derricks lifted scaffolds, then speakers and lights into place in the island of light. Everyone was remarking how much it was like a Fellini movie. To heighten the effect, there were three dozen or so wrecked cars from th raceway’s normal activity: destruction derbies. As the hour grew later, freaks were to be seen sleeping in their front seats. At least one couple balled in the back seat of a crunched old Plymouth.
Down the service road, gleaming by the floodlight glare came eight ancient trucks, each loaded with about a dozen porta-toilets. A weird sight. They were applauded all along the way. Tall, shiny green shitters. We needed about five times as many as we got.
Dealers were among the first to show — spacey madmen with their dazzling raps. “Our goal,” one was saying, “is to smuggle five tons of dope to London, but you don’t print shit like that, man, it’s like a war. Twice been in Mexico in drag, to make buys. Oh, man, the way hash gets smuggled into this country . . . Most smack smugglers are in it for the bucks. I mean, I’m in it for the bucks, but it’s a trip, too, and it makes things like this happen, and it helps the trip . . .” etc.
The dealers were more than mildly disconcerted to see so much shit being given away on Friday night. Maybe there’d be nobody buying come Saturday. But they had nothing to fear: it got a lot greedier when there were 300,000 instead of 30,000, and finally when it got really bad, when the music was on and the Angels were wailing, all deals were cash on the line. Merchants and consumers.
The layout at the raceway is easy enough to visualize without a map. It consists of an 80-acre plot of land with an auto raceway carved into its central plateau. This has got high rolling ground on three sides — these sides where were the earliest autos parked — and a low bowl-like fourth area on the side nearest the highway. The latter was where the stage was set up, since it afforded the greatest line of sight, line of hearing potential for the greatest number of people. By night, with only some 5,000 people milling around the interior section, it seemed to stretch on forever. It was hard to imagine that it could ever be totally filled with people, as far as the eye could see looking out from the stage.
Up at the racetrack office building, Dick Carter, the manager-promoter of Altamont Raceway, was taking care of all the arrangements he could think of. Mainly this seemed to consist of talking with the local cops when they dropped by on their rounds, and chatting with his hot dog concession lady about what to expect.
The attorney for the Stones (and friends), Melvin Belli, was handling all his legal arrangements, he said.
He had parking for 80,000, though the largest crowd Carter, who, with his thin little mustache and snazzy black and white checkered sportcoat, looks rather like a used car salesman, had ever had at the raceway was 6,500, for demolition derbies.
Totally without experience in the rock and roll game, it seemed odd that Carter had offered his facilities on such short order — let alone for free.
To understand the chain of events that finally put the Stones on Dick Carter’s patch of land, it is necessary to understand the big-money negotiations that were going on concerning the movie the Stones were making of their tour.
The possibility of a film had been no spontaneous afterthought. Arrangements were underway at the very outset of the tour. Haskell Wexler, who directed the motion picture Medium Cool was the first considered by the Stones to shoot the American tour. Then some disagreements over the form and content of the film ended in Wexler’s disassociating himself from the enterprise. There were apparently no ill feelings.
Wexler had in mind something with a little more craft and depth than, say, a movie like Monterey Pop. He was interested in doing a behind-the-scenes chronicle of the tour, perhaps involving other bands and other countries. Wexler claims that it was perhaps the Stones’ disenchantment with Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil that made them skeptical of his plans.
It was the movie, as a latent source of revenue, that spawned the hassles over the concert site.
Craig Murray, president of the Sears Point Raceway, had offered his land at no cost on the following conditions: that the proper health and safety clearances be obtained from the cities of Marin and Vallejo, and from the Highway Patrol; that the Stones provide some 100 security officers who had had experience at Woodstock; that the raceway be re-imbursed for any costs incurred in the preparation of the site (earth-moving, construction, etc.); and finally, that any profits derived from the event go to a Vietnamese orphans’ fund. According to Murray, John Jaymes, of Young American Productions, who claimed to represent the Stones, had agreed to all these terms. In addition, said Murray, it was they who made the formidable offer to fly out the 100 security officers from the East Coast.
Sears Point Raceway is owned by a large holding company in LA that goes by the name “Filmways.” If the graciousness of the raceway seeemd a bit unbelievable, it all became clearer when Filmways, the parent company, attached the following last-minute rider to the agreement: that Filmways be given exclusive distributing rights to any film that might come out of the concert. In lieu of distribution rights, Filmways would agree to accept $100,000 in cash. Furthermore, the Stones were to put up an additional $100,000 in escrow for any damage that might be done to the raceway.
The final dose of irony was injected into the negotiations, when it was learned that Filmways also owned Concert Associates, a promotional subsidiary, which one month before had been under the thumb of the Stones.
Concert Associates, the promoters of the Rolling Stones concert at the Inglewood Forum, outside of L. A., had accepted, as did sponsors in each of the other tour cities, some unusually demanding contract terms, for the privilege of promoting the event. These included coming up with a cash guarantee of 60% of the anticipated gate receipts, months in advance. Outside of the outrageous cash advance, most of the conditions were for the ego gratification of the Stones.
Concert Associates went along with every contract clause without a whimper. It wasn’t until the Stones reneged on an unwritten promises to make a return appearance at the Forum, two or three weeks later, that tensions began to tell. The unexpected opportunity to turn tables on the Stones came with the Sears Point package.
According to Richard St. John, president of Filmways, Sam Cutler (the Stones’ road manager) and Rock Scully (manager of the Grateful Dead), failed to meet any of the requirements that had been set down for the use of the Sears Point Raceway. Foremost in the ultimate breakdown of negotiations was the sticky matter of the film rights.
At noon on Friday, 24 hours from the start of the concert, the Stones retained Melvin Belli to untangle their commitments to Filmways. Belli worked quickly. In a few hours, the Sears Point site was dropped, and a new contract with Dick Carter of the Altamont Raceway near Livermore, was signed.
The Stones’ representatives had been working out of Alembic, the sound studio which houses the offices of the Grateful Dead, in Marin County, a half hour drive north of San Francisco, near Hamilton Air Force Base. Dozens of people were involved. At various times one saw Chip Monck, the man who designed and executed the Woodstock sets, later to do the same for Altamont; Sam Cutler; Rock Scully; Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh of the Dead; Lenny Hart, part of the Dead management (he was heard telling Taj Mahal over the phone that they didn’t think there’d be time for him on the program, though, in retrospect, it is clear that Taj, or somebody, could have done much to cool out the crowd during the one hour, fifteen minute wait for the Stones to appear); Chet Helms of the Family Dog; Emmet Grogan of the Diggers; David Crosby; Owsley Stanley, the wizard of acid; Jo Bergman of the Stones’ London office; John James, who’d served as transportation and security man for the Stones tour; Ron Schneider, who’d run the tour on behalf, more or less, of their manager, Allen Klein; and hordes of newsmen and other hangers-on.
The telephones were in constant use. Meetings of two-three-ten-15 people took place in side offices, broke up in confusion. Everyone seemingly was trying to find a new concert site, and there was an air of frantic activity about the place. But in fact, nothing was happening. It looked like the Sears Point cancellation had ended the trip. Nobody was coming up with anything.
A complicated business. But, anyway, after having miraculously built a stage at one raceway, Chip Monck had miraculously disassembled it, moved it via truck to another site 65 miles away and set up anew, in a miraculously short time span. A miracle of logistics. Now, the question was, how had they gotten Altamont so amazingly quickly?
Dick Carter had an answer for that one, all right. “Stanford Business School has been working with me on ideas for management and promotion of the track so we can build it up again. The track has gone broke three times. It was about to be turned into a housing development when I took over. And the Stanford people came to me, no charge, with their business school, advising me what to do. Last night they called me and kiddingly said, ‘Are you having the Rolling Stones out at Altamont?’ I said. ‘Yeah,’ you know? They said, ‘Seriously, it’s off at Sears Point and don’t you wish you had it?’ I said, ‘If you’re not kidding, we’ll get it.’ So I made a few phone calls and here we are.”
And he was doing it entirely for free? “Right. They’re paying the basic expenses, we’re donating the use of the track. We feel that it’s good publicity for us, and it’s good for the area. We want to put Altamont on the map.
“By the way, young fella, we’re trying to give this place a kinda new image, if you see what I mean. The old management hasn’t been so good, so we want to try to identify it a little differently. So when you write about the place, I’d appreciate it if you called it Dick Carter’s Altamont Raceway.”
The Altamont contract called for these things: that the site be used for the concert without charge to the Stones or to the spectators; that the Stones pay $5,000 for clean-up after the event; and that a $1,000,000 insurance policy be taken out to protect the facilities from any damages incurred. Interestingly enough, there has been no subsequent mention of this insurance policy, even though a several hundred thousand dollar suit has been lodged by ranch owners in the area. There was no mention of a film, potential profits, or any charity.
Carter was reminded of Woodstock, he said, though he hadn’t been there. He could be excused that. A lot of other people who had been there were reminded of Woodstock themselves. What a surprise they were in for.
Late in the evening Mick Jagger arrived by helicopter to have a look. He strode about and talked with the people some. A chick gave him her long yellow scarf to ward off the cold, he smiled and walked on. Another chick planted a huge kiss on him, then promptly freaked out.
A radio interviewer asked him questions like:
“Have you seen all the preparations that are going on here?”
“Yeh man. It’s great.”
“Do you know who’s going to play with you tomorrow?”
“No, not yet. Not everybody.”
Mick Jagger dressed in a red velvet cape and red velvet cap which hung over the side of his head to one side and then some tv lights went on and the interviewer asked a few more questions and then a joint was passed up to Jagger and he asked for the tv lights to be shut off and then took a hit and passed the joint on.
He split later to helicopter back to the plush Huntington Hotel in San Francisco.
As usual, the Stones trip included the best of everything. The best of hotels, limousines, cuisine. Maybe it was a free concert, but there was no good reason not to do it in style.
By 7:30 Saturday morning, the hills were solidly packed with people, and it was clear that those who expected only 100,000 or so had miscalculated. For as far as you could see in any direction, the army of rock freaks was advancing over rises and hillocks, through valleys, along the road and the railroad tracks, converging on Altamont. Whatever else it would be, it would be big.
From the air, it was an incredible scene. From six to eight miles from the site, cars lined the highway like the traffic jam in Weekend. Nothing on wheels except motorcycles could move, so people just left their cars and started the long hot trek to the racetrack. The air was alive with aircraft.
As the helicopter nears the site, the pilot says, “See that big brown spot off to the right? Those are people.”
He’s right. The huge, brown mass now appears to be moving. It no longer just looks like a burnt out field. From every direction, people are converging on the scene. It looks like the peons following Marlon Brando to the town where he’s killed in Viva Zapata!
We circle the area once for pictures and swoop toward the asphalt racetrack where another copter is hovering to land. Faces become distinct now and we set down, causing a whirlwind. Bystanders look interested momentarily until they see we aren’t from a band and then turn away.
Jan Vinson, who piloted the Stones helicopter, swore he would never work a rock festival again, because of the “mass confusion and because I was put in a position which was dangerous to both me and the machine and the crowd. Those people were messed up on everything — dope, wine, needles. They were higher than any altitude I’ve ever flown at. I wasn’t about to get out of the chopper and talk to any of them. If the Hell’s Angels hadn’t been there, it would have been worse. They did a good job of keeping the way cleared when crowds surged around us, and didn’t bother me at all.”
Some people — mainly news crews and film crews, but also some civilians — paid up to $250 an hour to be airlifted to the concert site by helicopter, 45 minutes each way. Traffic congestion on the roads was bad enough that helicopter was the only way to be certain that all the bands and equipment would get there on time.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, who were to fly in and out in time to be in Los Angeles for a gig at UCLA that evening, had arranged to go out on a 9-passenger chopper leaving from Marin Heliport in Sausalito.
David Crosby, first to arrive with the band’s road crew, was enthusiastic, hopeful about the day. A broad smile creased his face, even after he heard the helicopter pilot had refused to land because of fog and they would have to drive 20 miles through and beyond San Francisco to catch another helicopter at International Airport.
“We’ll make it,” he said. But be back in time for the gig?
He smiled again. “We’ve got till 8 o’clock.”
It was nearly noon already.
It was quarter to three on Saturday when the first helicopter carrying the Stones and their entourage touched down on the asphalt pit area of the Altamont racetrack. Immediately, a minor mob scene formed as about 500 people jumped off the nearby fence they were sitting on or rushed from the hill toward the copter, almost crushing a smiling Stone and his escorts.
“Who is it? Who is it?’ rasped a blonde chick to her black-garbed girlfriend.
“It’s Mick Jagger! It’s Mick Jagger!” And, mouth wide with joy, she bent over slightly, arms pressed tightly to her sides, her hands clenched as if in religious fervor — the way only 16-year-old chicks can do to show just how excited they are.
They were both soon lost in the sea that seemed to swallow the Stones.
Shortly thereafter, a crazed freak broke through shouting, “I hate you, I hate you!” and punched Mick smack in the chops. It was a foretaste of delights to come.
Mid-morning on Saturday, Berkeley people laid what looked like a thousand tabs of sunshine acid on the Angels — not good sunshine: it had a lot of speed in it — and this was being dispersed both at the Angels’ bus thirty yards uphill and on the stage. At one point, 500 reds were scattered on the front portion of the stage. The Angels were downing tabs of acid/speed and reds in huge gulps of Red Mountain wine. The more they took, the more fighting there was. The usual thing was to pick off non-Angels, but they were seen to turn on their own prospects (non-members who were trying to gain full status into the club). One prospect was soundly kicked — they were jumping on him — after Santana’s set. He took a terrible beating, and, amazingly, was back on his feet ten minutes later, telling the full-fledged Angels he was their brother and everything was cool.
Meredith Hunter wasn’t the only one who never made it home from Altamont. Three others died that day, two in a hit-and-run auto case, one by jumping into an irrigation canal where the fast-moving waters overpowered him.
The two killed by the car were Mark Feiger and Richard Savlov, both 22, of Berkeley. They had recently moved to the Bay Area from New Jersey. They were killed around midnight Saturday when a 1964 Plymouth sedan plowed into them and several others as they sat around their camp fire by the side of the speedway road. The official cause of death was listed by the coroner as “multiple blunt crushing injuries.” The wheels of the hit-and-run car went across their chests, and they were dead on arrival at Valley Memorial Hospital in Livermore at 12:20 A.M. Sunday. The driver of the car has not yet been found.
Candy Sue Johnson, 22, of Oakland and James McDonald, 21, of Santa Cruz both suffered head and internal injuries in that hit-and-run. Both were hospitalized, and Candy’s infant child, who was with her but not injured, was put in the custody of Candy’s parents in Oakland.
The fourth death was listed by the coroner as “John Doe,” who died of asphyxiation due to drowning. Sheriff’s deputies said he slid down an irrigation canal after being warned not to, and drowned almost immediately. By Wednesday, his identity had not been established. He was in his early 20’s, and wearing a white metal cross in his pierced right ear. He had long dark brown hair, a moustache, sideburns below the ears, and was wearing black levis with a sash brown cloth belt and brown buckle shoes. He was 5-10, 155 pounds, and had brown eyes. An attempt is being made to identify him through FBI fingerprint files.
As for the number injured seriously, there are no precise figures. The confusion which reigned over the affair made it impossible for medics to keep records, local hospitals were generally uncooperative in dealing with the media, and the injured seem to be spread out in hospitals all over the Bay Area.
One thing is most certain: Even the most incomplete medical reports show that this was a festival dominated by violence. The volunteer medics treated more than just the usual bad trips and cut feet. They also treated dozens of lacerations and skull fractures. On top of those, they had an extraordinary number of bad trips — so many that they ran out of thorazine even though they didn’t start using it until late in the day. They came to the four medical tents in waves after each escalation by the Angels, many of them having bad trips on good acid — bad trips seemingly induced by the violence going on around them. People sitting near the stage said they could feel the wave of paranoia spreading through the stoned crowd with each beating. Acid plus muggings equalled terror and revulsion.
Understandably, there was a bad aftertaste in the mouths of medical volunteers along with just about everybody else at the festival. Richard Fine, chairman of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, labeled the concert promoters “morally irresponsible” for the manner in which the festival was staged.
“We had one day to mobilize medical personnel and supplies. We got shitty support from the people running the thing who didn’t realize what was crucial from a medical standpoint, and wouldn’t give us the authority to do such things as set up a workable evacuation procedure. And we had no time to mobilize community people for help with bad trips. It was just piss-poor planning. A lot of the bad trips were violent because there was so much violence in the air. There were a lot of beatings. Girls were beaten — I sewed up a lot of girls. It was like the fucking [police] Tac[tical] Squad ran around. We feel that we as well as everyone else in the crowd was exploited by the promoters,” Fine fumed.
According to Fine, the medical people had been promised telephone communications. It never happened. They’d been promised a helicopter. None materialized. And when it turned dark — during the hour and a quarter wait for the Stones — and dozens of people lay injured in the medical area, Stones representatives refused to turn on the backstage lights so the medics could tend to them. The lights would just damn well have to wait until the Stones came out to play. (To turn them on before might rob some impact from the Stones’ entry. People were injured? Well . . . tough shit . . . the Stones were more important.)
The MCHR is an all-volunteer group which provides medical aid at almost all Bay Area demonstrations and festivals. They’re an irreplaceable part of the scene. They were assisted at Altamont by four Red Cross chapters, Langley Porter Neuropsychiatric Institute staff members, and dozens of volunteers. The medical aid was coordinated primarily by Dr. Richard Baldwin of Point Reyes, who said the main problem was “all those freak-outs.”
“With all our units, we treated probably about 700 freak-outs,” he guessed, “plus all those we never saw, that were handled by friends in the crowd. That’s a lot. They came in waves. We got one big wave early in the morning, and then another one when the violence broke out with the Airplane. Then it was back to ‘normal’ again. The biggest wave we got was near the end, when the Angels started picking up again. They were leading each other in twos and threes, totally confused and totally freaked out by it,” Baldwin said.
The standard procedure for dealing with bum trips was to assign a person experienced in drug crises to each person who came in. They would try to “talk down” anyone in trouble on a one-to-one personal basis. But as the day wore on, and the violence increased, personnel were unable to keep up with the massive numbers seeking help, and doctors had to start relying solely on thorazine. Although none had any idea how much thorazine was finally used, doctors had to have an emergency supply flown in later in the day as bad trips increased. Aside from thorazine, though, first aid tents were well stocked with everything they needed.
Some of the bad trips were the result of yellow pills given away in the crowd and said to be organic acid. “It was very crude stuff,” according to Baldwin. Most of the dope being sold at the festival, though, was of about standard street quality. Several bummed out when they drank wine without knowing it had acid in it. Only two drug cases had to be evacuated, though, both because of too many reds. The extraordinary amount of wine consumed posed another problem for Baldwin’s crews.
Aside from the bad trips, doctors treated a large number of victims of the Angel rampages. The number of violence-induced injuries was “unusually high,” according to Fine. Doctors at one tent said they treated 12 — one skull fracture, one fractured facial bones, and 10 skull lacerations. And that wasn’t even the tent behind the stage, which was the first aid station closest to the danger zone and thus presumably the one most of the injured would go to.
Both doctors seemed certain that, despite reports, there were no births at the festival. First reports had four babies being born, two before, two during the music. There were cases of false labor, but none of the medical staff at the site delivered a baby, and no one showed up at any of the medical tents with a new-born child. The same was true of local hospitals. “I think somebody just picked up on that story because it sounded groovy and the promoters could use the story about births to try to balance out the deaths,” Fine charged.
The frustration of trying to provide adequate medical service at an affair where the sponsors didn’t seem to give a shit about the injured apparently got to some of the doctors. “Wavy Gravy” (Hugh Romney) of the Hog Farm, who spent most of his time at the medical tent, gave this report: “The medics were squaring off against each other. It was really funny, man. This other medic wasn’t working hard enough, so they were punching away at each other. It seemed like a pretty convenient place, in the hospital and all.” That’s some idea of how high tensions were running.
Medics weren’t the only ones pissed off by a complete lack of cooperation from the Stones’ management. Another man with a medical problem related his run-in with the promoters: “I went up on the stage to make an announcement to find the father that was stoned on acid and got separated from his wife and baby, because the baby had been stepped on by an Angel and they thought the baby was dead. The Stones’ manager said, ‘We’re not making any personal announcements; we’ve told people where lost and found is, we’ve told people where the Red Cross is. There will be no personal announcements. I don’t care if you die; there’s not going to be an announcement.’ He was the most uptight dude anybody ever saw.”
Photographer Jim Marshall, who’s been to perhaps 200 festivals in the past ten years, including about a dozen during 1969, said he’d seen more violence at Altamont than all others this year combined. “The sound was crappy and everybody felt bummed by that. There was no community feeling here at all. There was more violence at this festival than all the other ones I’ve attended this year. And somehow it relates to the hysteria over the Stones, though I can’t really make the connection.”
Frank Morin, administrator of Valley Memorial Hospital in Livermore, said that between Friday night and Sunday night his staff treated “about 45” people from the festival. Ten were for drugs (all bum trips, no needle O.D.’s), 24 were for auto accidents, and eight were for “other traumas.” By Wednesday, only one person was still at the hospital. That was James McDonald of Santa Cruz, who was injured in the hit-and-run that killed two. He suffered head and internal injuries, and fractured ribs and left leg. By Wednesday, he was no longer in the intensive care unit, and was able to talk.
“I don’t remember a thing except where I am right now and what they told me about the guy who ran into us. But I remember about the festival. I’d hitched down from Capitola [near Santa Cruz] and I just wanted to hear the music. But lots of people weren’t there for the same reason. They didn’t really dig what was going on. They were there so they could say they had been there, and they wanted to get as close as possible. I just wanted to have a good time, and I was trying to be pretty cool about all the other stuff going on. I don’t even know now if it was worth it, and I can’t say because this might never have happened.”
Eden Hospital in Castro Valley still had two casualties on Wednesday. One was Candy Sue Johnson, who suffered head injuries as a result of the same accident as McDonald. The other was Steven Vitali, 19, who also suffered head injuries in an accident of still-undetermined origin. By Wednesday, Steve was in satisfactory condition, and Candy in fair condition, but both were still in the intensive care unit and unable to speak. Highland Hospital in Oakland reported treating one person.
At least one casualty was admitted to Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco — Denise Jewkes of the Ace of Cups. She had a fractured skull.
She had undergone emergency surgery to have a jagged chunk of skull (about the size of a quarter) removed. This was over her left eye, in her forehead, below her hairline. Because of the position, nothing more than a local anesthetic was possible. The doctors told her she could have died from the injury.
“Somebody threw a beer bottle way up in the air and it came down on me and knocked me unconscious,” she said. “There were lots of beer cans still full being thrown around, and that was the stupidest thing going on. I was between the stage and the bus to the right, and the vibes weren’t very good at all around there. It was very packed, and more people were always walking through, stepping on us and trying to find a place to sit when there obviously wasn’t one. There was no way. It seemed kind of cool early in the morning, like it was going to be a nice day and was going to get a lot better, but as the day went on it just wasn’t there at all.”
The other serious injury reported immediately was that of Arnold Hull, 21, of Oakland. Hull supposedly told an ambulance driver to take him to a maternity ward, that he was about to have a baby. He then undressed and jumped off a freeway overpass, and was taken to Valley Memorial in critical condition.
David Crosby put most of the blame for the whole sordid mess on sloppy planning due to a lack of time, but had some scathing remarks for the Stones as well.
“You can’t have that big a gathering that sloppily, and it wasn’t sloppy for lack of effort, but for lack of time,” he said. “The people made a heroic effort. But doing it that sloppily, we could have paid much heavier dues. We could have dumped a helicopter full of two or three good rock bands into a crowd of about a thousand people and killed them all; we could have paid much heavier dues.
“There were several big mistakes. They weren’t necessarily mistakes of intent, but people just didn’t really know certain things. The Rolling Stones are still a little bit in 1965. They didn’t really know that security isn’t a part of anybody’s concert anywhere anymore. I mean, our road managers could have covered it. Nobody would have gotten on that stage, nobody would have hassled anybody. We didn’t need the Angels. I’m not downgrading the Angels, because it’s not healthy and because they only did what they were expected to do. I don’t know why anyone would expect them to do anything other than exactly what they did. The mistake that was made was in thinking security was needed, and that the Angels should do it. The Stones don’t know about Angels. To them an Angel is something in between Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. That’s not real, and they just found out the reality of it. Unfortunately, we all had to pay some dues for that.
“Another level of this is that I don’t think gatherings that big is where it’s at. I don’t think it’s conducive to making magic. The Airplane and the Dead have done this kind of thing right before. They’ve taken a sunny afternoon and a beautiful field and put a few thousand people on the best possible state of consciousness that a few thousand people can reach on this planet that I know of. Full-out brotherhood and a full-out really happy feeling. That kind of trip you can provably do and you can provably control how many people come to it and what kind of people by how you disseminate the information. Our own band is kind of like that, and this big trip thing is not for me, since this one went down. I’ve talked to my friends in the Airplane and they’re kind of the same way, and the Dead, too, and we’re three of the bands you’d call if you want to do that kind of hugeness, and we won’t go now. We won’t play this kind any more,” Crosby stated emphatically.
The rest of his own band feels pretty much the same way, he noted. “They were all bummed out by this; they did it mostly for me, because I asked them to. When you’re trying to do something that’s as fragile as making music, to have a couple cats pick some dude off, fire on him with blows that are out of his order of magnitude entirely, lay him out cold and then kick him for 15 minutes right in front of you, you just can’t do it.”
Crosby felt the Angels were not entirely to blame for what went down. “They have an absolutely definable code, and they stick to it very carefully. They are, in their own way, intensely moralistic; they have a very definite rigid set. That’s how they work, and it’s very definite and very committed; they are not kidding. There’s another mistake that was made. Nobody knew that there was an Angels officers meeting in Oakland that afternoon. And the Angels that came were all people like Hayward Angels, Berdoo Angels, cats that I did not know, that I could not talk to. Had Sonny Barger been there, Terry the Tramp, Magoo, these are cats I can talk to. I say it’s a better trip if they don’t do that, and they say cool it and they don’t do it. It’s that simple, but those guys weren’t there.”
Barger was there, but arrived too late to alter the tide of violence.
“Remember, the Angels were asked there. If it’s not that kind of scene, they don’t get into that kind of bag. I’ve been around the Angels dozens of times . . . remember the Magic Mountain festival on Mt. Tamalpais, or all the times you’ve ever been at the Avalon? I don’t think the Angels seek it out; I’ve never seen the Angels deliberately seek large scale trouble. They’ve always showed up at gatherings, but they were not asked to guard a stage. This time they were and they did it. In their mind, guard a stage means guard it. That means if anyone comes near it, you do them in, and in the Angels’ style if you do them in, you do them in. I don’t dig everybody blaming the Angels. Blame is the dumbest trip there is; there isn’t any blame.
“The overall point to be taken is that we have proven as a subculture, and they are not part of it, that we can get together and have a set of values that does not include beating each other up, and get along conspicuously well with it. And do it for a period of time, with huge numbers, and we’ve done it beyond the capacity of the straight world or anybody else to equal, in history. Those cats are on a different trip, and I think that people who don’t understand what trip they’re on should not judge so quickly what went down. I ain’t trying to justify it at all, you don’t see me hanging out with the Angels, because at any point you can break what they think are the rules and get dead. I can’t live with that; that’s not my kind of way to live, that’s their way, that’s the trip they’re on. I ain’t going to put them down, I’m not going to put them up. I understand it, I know how to deal with it, and that’s to stay the hell away from it and respect it for what it is — pure unadulterated danger. Don’t mess with them, but I don’t think they were the major mistake. I think they were just the most obvious mistake.”
And, finally, some harsh words for the Stones themselves. “I think the major mistakes were taking what was essentially a party and turning it into an ego game and a star trip. An ego trip of ‘look how many of us there are’ and a star trip of the Rolling Stones, who are on a star trip, and who qualify in my book as snobs. I’ve talked with them many times and I still think they’re snobs. I didn’t want to talk to them at all Saturday, once I saw what was going on. I’m sure they don’t understand what they did, and I’m sure they won’t understand my thinking they’re snobs, but they are in my book. I don’t like them. I think they have an exaggerated view of their own importance; I think they’re on a grotesque ego trip. I think they’re out of touch with the people to whom they’re trying to speak. I think they are on negative trips intensely, especially the two leaders.”
Carlos Santana, lead guitarist for Santana, the afternoon’s first band, watched the fighting breaking out in front of him during Santana’s set.
“There was bad vibes from the beginning. The fights started because the Hell’s Angels were pushing people around. There was no provocation; the Angels started the whole violence thing and there’s no fucking doubt about that.
“It all happened so fast, it just went right on before us and we didn’t even know what was going on. There were lots of people just fucking freaked out. During our set I could see a guy from the stage who had a knife and just wanted to stab somebody, I mean, he really wanted a fight. Anybody getting in the way of anybody had himself a fight, whether he wanted it or not. There were kids being stabbed and heads cracking the whole time. We tried to stop it the best we could by not playing, but by the time we got to our fourth song, the more we got into it, the more people got into their fighting thing.”
Santana said that besides the Angels, “you could blame reds and liquor for the whole fucking mess. People just got themselves fucked up and wanted to fuck up everybody. You lose control of and respect for yourself, and you lose control of and respect for anybody else. That’s what happened — reds and liquor did it.”
But the big mistake, he felt, was having the Angels act as security guards. “I mean, the stage has to be guarded by somebody, but you don’t need cops and you don’t need Hell’s Angels. At Woodstock, they had all kinds of cats keeping the stage clear who were all wearing colored jackets and you knew who they were and you didn’t need cops or Angels.”
As a musician there to play for the people, he was also disappointed in the audience. “The bands played good,” Santana said. “And then at the end of their sets, people who just have the attitude, oh well, they’re finished now. There was no energy there, nobody wanted to get it on or the bands would have played that much better. The vibrations were really strange. Everybody was trying to have a good time, but there just wasn’t any energy from them. It was all a big ego thing. They wanted another Woodstock, but they didn’t want to make one, they wanted it to just happen to them. We made a nice try, but maybe next time we’ll be better. As long as we’re alive we deserve another chance and we’ll try it again,” he added.
Several of the musicians who were there placed the blame directly on Jagger. “If I ever get that asshole up against the wall,” promised one San Francisco musician, “he ain’t never gonna walk away.”
Told of this, Sam Cutler exploded: “That’s bullshit! Mick didn’t make the arrangements. I did. Put it on me.”
Asked for his comments on the festival, Marty Balin declined. Paul Kantner was the lone member of the Airplane willing to speak, and his basic point was to make clear the fact that the Angels would not be asked to provide security at any more concerts involving the Airplane. Members of the Grateful Dead refused to discuss it at all, at least not for the record.
The Dead were scheduled to play just before — and then, as the day wore on, just after — the Stones. But by the time the Stones had finished their set, the scene was too tense to risk stretching the day out any longer. That’s the way things went at Altamont — so badly that the Grateful Dead, prime organizers and movers of the festival, didn’t even get to play.
Getting there had been half the fun, just like Woodstock. Except not as bad as Woodstock. Only suckers parked ten miles away, and there were no serious traffic jams — never mind the Top 40 radio hype — to speak of.
True, some people had parked six or eight miles away. But hustlers from the nearby town of Livermore were giving rides to Altamont for $5 per customer. Just hop in the back of this pickup, pal, I’ll get you there. Twenty minutes worth of back road and you’re there.
At first — before people settled in on the rolling pasture land — there was a nice kind of communal spirit on the hike. At least half the crowd was from the San Francisco Bay Area, but lots of them had come from afar. There was one red-headed longhair in Bermuda shorts who’d driven up in three and a half days from Florida. People from Denver, Los Angeles, Orange County (“everybody we know is coming up,” says one VW busload full), San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver, even New York and Pennsylvania.
“We cheated,” said Tom Frieberg, of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, who’d driven to Altamont with his old lady, “We were already in Chicago when we heard about it.”
In the early morning hours of that distastrous Saturday, several thousand persons took their micro-buses up a wrong turn in the road and wound up stranded on Altamont Pass five to ten miles from the concert site. Apparently convinced that they were reliving the wonderful Woodstock experience, all of them happily abandoned their cars in the middle of the road (just like they’d read in Life) and began the long trek to the promised land. The absurdity of it all was compounded by the fact that many left the winding asphalt road and began climbing the dusty hills. “I think it’s just over the next ridge,” they shouted as they waded through the cow dung eight miles from their destination. Hundreds of others decided to beat the crowd by walking on the railroad tracks which cut right through the pass — right through the pass and into the countryside in the wrong direction. As they all walked blindly in several erroneous beelines, the California Highway Patrol (CHP), which had directed them to the cul de sac in the first place, was busy having their cars towed away.
That new freeway, still under construction, was converted by the California Highway Patrol into a parking lot, and had cars parked across all four lanes for six miles. Even that wasn’t enough.
One CHP who refused to identify himself said the main problem was just too many people. “Those roads are only designed for about 15,000 cars at the most, and there were thousands more than that. It wouldn’t have even mattered if the new freeway was finished; it couldn’t have handled it either.”
Those people who had cars towed away had incredible hassles. When they returned to their cars that night, it was pitch black, and many thought they were lost, or that their cars had been stolen. Most of them either had to find another way home or sleep there overnight, sleeping bag or no sleeping bag.
The next morning they had to find out where their cars were, lay out $30-$40, and pay a traffic fine. And towers were none too concerned about how they got the cars out. No safety catches on the axles. There were several cases where the tow truck would go around a corner, and the car it was towing would swing out and smash into other cars along the roadside. The primary concern of the towers seemed to be to move as many cars as possible. One bragged of making $500 in just five hours.
Art Gilbertson, manager of G and H Garage in Livermore, said the traffic jams were to blame for the jacked-up towing fees. He said he went in at 9 AM Saturday and it was 9 PM before he was able to move a car because he had to clear the roads first. Even when the roads were clear, traffic turned what is normally a one hour round trip into a two or two and one-half hour trip. He felt the extra charge was justified, as did a tower from Groth Bros. Oldsmobile, also in Livermore.
Both denied doing any damage to cars, though the obvious physical condition of some of the cars showed otherwise. In all, about 200 cars were towed off, and some are still sitting in the yards of garages in Livermore and Tracy.