The 50th Anniversary Of The Summer Of Love, 1967- The Ebb Tide- The Rolling Stones- Altamont 1969
Gimme Shelter, The Rolling Stones Altamont Concert 1969, 1970
I have written elsewhere in this space that when it comes to musical influences in my youth that the Stones played a key role in developing my tastes. I have also mentioned elsewhere that my youthful alienation was reflected in the language and sound of the group. I mentioned Street Fighting Man and Tumbling Dice, as well as an earlier cover of Little Red Rooster as important. All this is by way of saying that I looked forward recently to re-watching the old Stones documentary Gimme Shelter reviewed here, despite my knowledge of the tragic and unnecessary incidents that occurred at Altamont and marred the whole experience.
If one is to recount the nodal points of the too short counter-cultural explosion of the 1960’s one could arbitrarily assign the Summer of Love in 1967 as the height and Altamont as the start of the decline. We can argue that point endlessly but clearly something or some things happened at Altamont that exposed the ugly side of the dope/counter-cultural scene. Moreover, on reflection no one can deny the unreasonableness of having the notorious California Hell’s Angels, despite favorable press from Tom Wolfe in Electric Kool Aid Acid Test and Hunter Thompson in his classic study Hell’s Angels, as security for a 300,000 person event.
Now, we finally get to the music and the film. And I think that this is about the right place for such comments about the event itself in the scheme of things. There have been many, many Stones concerts during the past forty years but none have had the cultural significance of Altamont. Most of the film is about how the Stones, good-naturedly if ultimately naively, tried to put the event together. A fair portion of the film is footage of the reaction by the Stones to the events that they witnessed from the stage including the one that led to a death. These segments are interspersed in between parts of the performances by the Stones and others.
This film has not aged well, although Mick has. His voice comes off tinny here reflecting an earlier, more primitive sound technology that does not do justice to how Mick and the boys could whip up an audience. A nice surprise though is a very sensual Tina Turner (backed by Ike) performance. Unfortunately, the Jefferson Airplane's afternoon performance is marred by the same kind of violence that doomed the event. But here is the skinny. If you need to look at rock and roll history watch this one and one half hour documentary. If you want to hear the Stones at their best then purchase any one of about ten greatest hits albums available. That’s the ticket.