Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day

Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day

by Joel Selvin
     
 

View All Available Formats & Editions

In this breathtaking cultural history filled with exclusive, never-before-revealed details, celebrated rock journalist Joel Selvin tells the definitive story of the Rolling Stones’ infamous Altamont concert in San Francisco, the disastrous historic event that marked the end of the idealistic 1960s.

In the annals of rock history, the Altamont Speedway Free

Overview

In this breathtaking cultural history filled with exclusive, never-before-revealed details, celebrated rock journalist Joel Selvin tells the definitive story of the Rolling Stones’ infamous Altamont concert in San Francisco, the disastrous historic event that marked the end of the idealistic 1960s.

In the annals of rock history, the Altamont Speedway Free Festival on December 6, 1969, has long been seen as the distorted twin of Woodstock—the day that shattered the Sixties’ promise of peace and love when a concertgoer was killed by a member of the Hells Angels, the notorious biker club acting as security. While most people know of the events from the film Gimme Shelter, the whole story has remained buried in varied accounts, rumor, and myth—until now.

Altamont explores rock’s darkest day, a fiasco that began well before the climactic death of Meredith Hunter and continued beyond that infamous December night. Joel Selvin probes every aspect of the show—from the Stones’ hastily planned tour preceding the concert to the bad acid that swept through the audience to other deaths that also occurred that evening—to capture the full scope of the tragedy and its aftermath. He also provides an in-depth look at the Grateful Dead’s role in the events leading to Altamont, examining the band’s behind-the-scenes presence in both arranging the show and hiring the Hells Angels as security.

The product of twenty years of exhaustive research and dozens of interviews with many key players, including medical staff, Hells Angels members, the stage crew, and the musicians who were there, and featuring sixteen pages of color photos, Altamont is the ultimate account of the final event in rock’s formative and most turbulent decade.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
05/30/2016
Fewer than four months after the amorphous idealism of the 1960s achieved its Woodstock apogee, the Altamont Free Music Festival destroyed and buried it; in this methodical history, music journalist Selvin (Red, cowritten with Sammy Hagar) provides a cultural coroner’s report. Altamont was the brainchild of the Rolling Stones, who hoped to burnish their hip bonafides by embracing psychedelic San Francisco, but the concert was a disaster of poor planning, greed, and drug-addled naïveté about the social forces underlying the event. Hired as security for $500 worth of beer, the Hell’s Angels behaved like peckish sharks in a tankful of agitated minnows, attacking the audience and murdering a young African-American man while a documentary film crew, which included George Lucas, captured the tragedy. Selvin’s meticulous research exposes the criminally irresponsible management of the event. There were many culprits—including bad acid, an indifferent local police department, the Rolling Stones’ noblesse oblige, and the Grateful Dead’s embrace of the Angels—but Selvin assigns equal blame to the preposterous idealism of the era. Though his reconstruction brings events nearly a half-century past as close as yesterday, his biases undermine some of the book’s broader claims (e.g., declaring that the Stones never made a good album after the concert). Selvin’s presentation of Altamont busts the myth of innocence lost; in fact, Altamont just made reality harder to ignore. (Aug.)
-- AllMusicBooks.com
Joel Selvin’s book...is a deeply researched, minutely detailed, account of the event as it unfolds, occurs and concludes; and as a result comes to conclusions much greater than historical myth or a ‘documentary’ film can portray...This book is definitely worth a read, and it is extremely well researched.
-- Lee Child
“Meticulous research, evocative detail, and a brave conclusion—exactly what a history book should be.”
-- Grace Slick
“Boy did I live in a bubble—or something. I had no idea the extent of bruising under the melting rainbow. Selvin is revealing our tricky gestation in the weird womb of sixties rock. Frightening.”
-- MOJO Magazine
“It was worse than you think. A lot worse…[A]n account that moves at movie pace, Selvin cuts through woolly cop-out rhetoric, offering clarity and detail…Altamont was a tragedy in the classical sense-a disaster born of hubris and folly-and Selvin nails every last shred of both.”
Library Journal
07/01/2016
The Altamont festival of December 1969, a concert near San Francisco that featured the Rolling Stones and others, is often seen as a prime example of the darker side of the Sixties. Its chaotic and shambolic planning, vast quantities of dangerous drugs, and ultimately the stabbing death of a concertgoer, seared Altamont into one of rock's bleaker moments. Journalist and author Selvin's (Summer of Love) narrative history of the festival, from its conception to its aftermath, draws on interviews he conducted, published journalism, and remembrances. He portrays participants from the Stones to the Grateful Dead and members of their organizations, while depicting a changing music scene, and counterculture infighting, coexisting with the era's naïveté and innocence—all percolating elements that culminated on the fateful day; his observation that Altamont was an illustration of these dynamics and "dramatized" them rather than caused them, is prescient. VERDICT A fascinating account of the festival and its repercussions, this is also a cultural historical portrait of the West Coast rock scene, a history of the bands involved, and of the counterculture itself. Will be of interest to rock and pop culture fans.—James Collins, Morristown-Morris Twp. P.L., NJ
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-05-18
An incisive account of the most infamous concert debacle in rock history.Most music fans know all they need to about Altamont, the ill-conceived and hastily planned free show near San Francisco for which the Hells Angels provided "security" and killed one man in the process. All of this was chronicled in the classic 1970 documentary Gimme Shelter. Veteran San Francisco Chronicle music journalist Selvin (Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm and Blues, 2014, etc.) acknowledges the film's power. However, he writes, "the filmmakers used their material brilliantly to tell a story, but they tell only a slender slice of the entire drama and if it is not exactly a lie, it is far from the whole truth." This book provides context and perspective, showing the sea change in rock that was taking place as the Rolling Stones attempted to reassert themselves amid the increasing dominance of San Francisco psychedelia and the spirit of Woodstock. There are all sorts of culture clashes here: between the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead, profiteers and anarchists, drugs and alcohol, hippies and bikers. They all came together at Altamont, a speedway more accustomed to crowds in the low thousands and a last-minute site because the Stones' focus on their film and its distribution had complicated the process. There are more victims here than the young black man who was killed (and whose killer was acquitted), there are no heroes, and there is plenty of blame to spread around: to the Dead for suggesting the Angels, to the Angels for acting like the Angels, and to at least one suspicious character who claimed to act on the Stones' behalf. However, Selvin concludes with most of the blood on the hands of the Stones. The detailing of the actual concert reads like old news, and the sourcing could be clearer, but this is a compelling analysis of an event that hadn't seemed like it needed anything more written about it.
Grace Slick
“Boy did I live in a bubble—or something. I had no idea the extent of bruising under the melting rainbow. Selvin is revealing our tricky gestation in the weird womb of sixties rock. Frightening.”
MOJO Magazine
“It was worse than you think. A lot worse…[A]n account that moves at movie pace, Selvin cuts through woolly cop-out rhetoric, offering clarity and detail…Altamont was a tragedy in the classical sense-a disaster born of hubris and folly-and Selvin nails every last shred of both.”
— AllMusicBooks.com
Joel Selvin’s book...is a deeply researched, minutely detailed, account of the event as it unfolds, occurs and concludes; and as a result comes to conclusions much greater than historical myth or a ‘documentary’ film can portray...This book is definitely worth a read, and it is extremely well researched.
— Lee Child
“Meticulous research, evocative detail, and a brave conclusion—exactly what a history book should be.”
— Grace Slick
“Boy did I live in a bubble—or something. I had no idea the extent of bruising under the melting rainbow. Selvin is revealing our tricky gestation in the weird womb of sixties rock. Frightening.”
— MOJO Magazine
“It was worse than you think. A lot worse…[A]n account that moves at movie pace, Selvin cuts through woolly cop-out rhetoric, offering clarity and detail…Altamont was a tragedy in the classical sense-a disaster born of hubris and folly-and Selvin nails every last shred of both.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062444257
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
08/16/2016
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
36,814
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

Meet the Author

Joel Selvin is an award-winning journalist who has covered pop music for the San Francisco Chronicle since 1970. Selvin is the author of the bestselling Summer of Love and coauthor, with Sammy Hagar, of the number-one New York Times bestseller, Red. He has written twelve other books about pop music.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >