Thirty-three years ago this month, a member of the Hells Angels disclosed to U.S. Senators information about the MC’s two failed assassination attempts on Mick Jagger’s life. The details aren’t fresh, but they do make for a story that never gets old. Here’s how it went down:
At the March 3, 1982 judiciary hearing, the Angles acknowledged putting the contract out on Jagger after he threw them under the bus for that December ’69 disaster known as “Altamont.” You know, Woodstock’s mutant twin, the haunted rock concert, the Ghost of Aquarius – the hippies’ final solution.
Essentially a dustbowl between ranching fences and irrigation canals, Altamont itself was a demolition derby site/raceway located in the Bay Area. Laboriously cited as the death of the “peace and love” ‘60s, the world is still gagging on ever-evolving eyewitness accounts. They all tell the story of the tension and mayhem on the day the Stones decided to headline a “free” concert there.
Worst. Day. Ever.
As many as 850 injuries resulted, including one suffered by Jagger himself after he was cold cocked by a guy screaming, “I’m gonna kill you! I hate you!” as Mick was escorted from his helicopter.
That hello face punch was later spoken of as the omen of the day, though I’m guessing the much greater use of methamphetamine and heroin at Altamont than, say, at Woodstock, had something to do with its unraveling, too. (Or was it the swastika necklace glinting in the sunlight around the neck of Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen?)
Either way, delusional, quasi-holistic jet-streams of goodwill, openness, and joy were not coursing their way through the audience that day. The crowd was said to be taunting, unafraid, mean, and correspondingly lectured to and scolded from the stage.
With its organizers servicing the event as begrudgingly as has been described, how could ugliness not have hung in the air like a mist? Well, it did. According to one observer, "When you'd get up to go to the john, you'd get karate chopped on the legs as you stepped through the crowd."
Never mind the flower power, here’s the flamethrower.
(Click on pic below)
Everything about the tour-ending “Thank You” concert (whose lineup also boasted Santana, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and others) was hastily planned. It was organized in less than four days and kicked off with laughably few toilets for the 300,000 attendees who believed the hype. Altamont’s grounds were littered with broken glass from its more routine uses, and no police were reportedly present in the lead-up to –or during– the concert. Trained medical volunteers had just 24-hours to mobilize first aid personnel and set up care tents; the wounded would later swarm nearby hospitals.
Four van loads of medical supplies had been secured for the event, but these were used up almost as soon as the gates opened that Saturday morning. Altamont quickly became a hurt factory, a concert later summed up best in just three words: “irrational spontaneous violence.”
Most of the negative energy and brawling occurred around the stage. Most agree it was less evident the further away you were situated, but then so was the music (the sound system apparently sucked). Still, it was in one of those adjacent irrigation canals that an LSD-crazed fan later drowned. (In a foot of water.) Two more people were killed sitting around their campfire via hit and run.
Long before the Stones got into their set, the hammered Angels were assaulting women, cracking skulls, chucking full beers into the crowd like hand grenades, beating people with modified pool cues, and jumping from the stage to surround, stomp on, and stab pretty much anyone they chose.
Many in the audience went toe-to-toe with the Angels, even setting a couple of their beloved choppers on fire. It's surprising more wasn't burned. Even the stabbing/stomping death of Meredith Hunter by Hells Angel Alan Passaro might not have happened had the 18-year-old Hunter not arrived at Altamont with a handgun.
Sure enough, others were plagued by jagged glass and rusty metal from discarded demolition cars, and as many as seven small planes and multiple helicopters droned overhead throughout the day.
Altamont wasn’t Woodstock's mutant twin at all. It was more like the Do Lung Bridge scene in Apocalypse Now.
In the years since I first heard about Altamont, I’d thought the Stones getting the Angles drunk in exchange for stage muscle sounded like a resourceful, if laughably horrifying, proposal they'd thought up on the fly.
Turns out the Hells Angles had a running start.
Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie Hyde describes her own teenage encounters with “heavy bikers” in Reckless: My Life as a Pretender. Hyde portrays the Angels’ presence at numerous Ohio concerts, for instance, as a safeguard against anyone so much as placing “a finger on the band or the stage.” She avoids mentioning the grubby villains by name, calling them alternately “they of the famous patch," "they of the fear inducing winged skull motif" and "they of the red-and-white colors.” Point is, these “guys with the best drugs” also served regularly as security "for all the coolest bands.”
As for the Jagger death plot, those duty-bound men of the road believed (and probably still do) that the prancing imp deserved to die for pinning that whole ruinous day on the MC. Thirty-three years ago today, one of ‘em described under oath how, during one of their botched attempts, a platoon of Angels figured they could avoid the security at Jagger’s front gates by using a boat to engage their enemy by sea. Smart, right? Creep through the rock star’s garden from the waterline of his Long Island property? Except that a sudden storm swamped the boat and threw the men into the ocean.
Road dogs aren't sea dogs. Did they arm themselves with sharpened sticks, too?
In the end, Altamont Raceway is a grim-humored gift that keeps on cursing, and the concert once held there is a salute to the adage, "None of us is as dumb as all of us."
Some say the ‘60s had it coming, and maybe the Rolling Stones did, too. But no one expected it to look like Altamont or leave such a long-lasting, ugly scar. Me? I’m still scratching my head over why Hollywood hasn’t made a pulpy exploitation flick out of the whole salacious beast.
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In 1981 a Nelson family friend, and Manager of Wolf & Rissmiller's Country Club offered a “comped,” “safe” balcony seat for any show John cared to see at the venue. His parents reluctantly agreed. The Los Angeles band, X, was young Nelson’s first pick, and soon after, The Blasters, Oingo Boingo, 45 Grave and Agent Orange.
It all went downhill from there, but that's for another website.
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