August 22, 2016

All Posts, Reviews


In early 1969, the Rolling Stones were almost as good as they were ever going to get. They had just released a highly successful album called Beggars Banquet. Before the end of the year they would record a haunting song called “Gimme Shelter” featuring a brilliant backup singer named Merry Clayton. The song would become a kind of soundtrack to the last half of the Vietnam War; the title of a famous documentary film about Altamont; and it has since devolved into a cheap trope, a flaccid cliché without which half of Martin Scorsese’s films would lack a soundtrack. The trope has even worked its way down into Sons of Anarchy.

The Stones had made $17 million in the previous three years and they were broke – or at least they were broke for rock stars. Keith Richards couldn’t come up with a down payment on a house in Chelsea. According to music critic Joel Selvin “Bill Wyman was writing bad checks.” So shortly after Woodstock the group decided to do its first American tour since 1966.

History is all lies. You must have noticed this. Woodstock is now remembered as a “free concert” and a sort of high water mark for hippie values like cheap, bad drugs and glib hypocrisy. Actually, Woodstock’s promoters sold 186,000 tickets for $18 each which amounted t a lot of money in 1969. The Stones also wanted to get some of that big time cash and the result was a mostly poorly planned concert tour that ended up in the general vicinity of what was then the center of the rock n’ roll world – San Francisco.


The Stones’ obvious greed annoyed San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ralph Gleason who wrote: “The Rolling Stones tour which is now coming up is another such case (of concert inequity). We all want to see them. They put on a good show, but the prices they and their managers demand (guarantees such as $25,000 and up a night against take home percentages running over $59,000) are exorbitant. The Stones’ managers offered Ike & Tina an average of $1200 a night to be on the show with them. This is really some kind of artistic and moral crime, in my book.”

The upshot of all this was a “free concert” to say  “thank you,” Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah to the “American youth” who lived in the Bay Area for all the money collected from the “American youth” who lived someplace else. The Hells Angels were invited to sit on the stage and drink beer to keep the musicians safe.

The Stones had hoped to make a few thousand dollars or so from a film of the free concert. They offered the job of filming them to acclaimed documentarian Haskell Wexler. He passed the opportunity on to filmmakers David and Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin. They were filming when a 22-year-old Angels prospect named Alan Passaro stabbed and killed a young black man named Meredith “Murdock” Hunter.


Selvin has just published a book about the concert titled Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day. It is his 16th book about rock music. It is impeccably researched, an easy read and Selvin seems to have found a few new things about the event. But what you can read in the book will not be revelatory. Selvin thinks the big news is “that the show was almost entirely a production of the Grateful Dead.”

Most people will probably read the book to read about Hunter’s death.

According to Selvin, Hunter had already tried to climb onto the stage once. “One of the Hells Angels grabbed his ear and hair and shook his head. The Angel laughed. Murdock wrenched himself loose and gave the man a cold, hard stare, The Angel smashed him in the face,” Selvin claims “four or five Angels” surrounded Hunter as he tried to escape. “Stumbling, hurt, out of breath, he pulled the gun from his waistband. He didn’t get the chance to even aim the gun. His legs crumpled under him, and he tumbled sideways, the gun in front of him pointed to the ground.”

Passaro stabbed Hunter multiple times. Someone pulled the gun from Hunter’s hand and he “got up staggered a couple of steps, and went down to his knees. Another Angel grabbed his shoulders and kicked him in the head and he fell down face first. Murdock turned over and looked up at the towering, raging Angel.”

“I wasn’t going to shoot you,” he said.

“Well, why did you have a gun” the Angel yelled.


Hunter was dead in moments. Passaro, lived until 1985 when his body was found floating in Anderson Lake in Santa Clara County. He had $10,000 in his pocket. Apparently, the moment of their violent collision will never die. What it means – if it means anything at all – after almost 47 years depends on you. Two years ago, before Selvin started his book, USA Today remembered Altamont as “rock’s darkest day.” Not the day Spandau Ballet released “True” or the day Billy Ray Cyrus released “Achy Breaky Heart” but the day Meredith Hunter died.

Obviously that moment – or day, or tour, or movie or whatever the historical Altamont now is – is still important enough that editor Matt Harper of Harper Collins asked Selvin to write the book. In its review of Altamont two days ago The Daily Mail said Selvin’s book told the “dark truth about Mick Jagger and his notorious gig.”

The Daily Mail be right. This volume might be for truth seekers. But the appeal of this book may also have more to do with nostalgia for that lost, dark time than for any new truths about it that have just now been discovered – or invented. We live in an age of technological wonders, zero tolerance, and political correctness. And all recollection happens in the here and now. So ultimately Selvin’s book about Altamont may say more about today than it doers about the day before the day before yesterday.

Altamont Cover thumb


, , ,

32 Responses to “Altamont”

  1. Nihilist Says:

    And hopefully this won’t be propagated as more justification for the never-ending white guilt the MSM keeps trying to get us all to feel. Black Lives Splatter!

  2. Dasein Says:

    “Murdock wrenched himself loose and gave the man a cold, hard stare”
    Pretty sure it’s “Meredith”. Anyway, can’t believe this story still has “legs’. Nostalgia apparently trumps pokemon.

  3. Grumbler Says:

    Am surprised to see the club’s patch in that cover photo. Appears to be an ill advised attempt to boost book sales. Fritz Clapp is very good at protecting the club’s trademarks.

  4. Fxr Says:

    Is the angel w/short hair chewing gum, who at one point rips the colors off the other angel on stage tripping his ass off…Phil Cross? Just read his book

  5. FF Says:

    Rock and roll’s darkest day, or evening as it were— was in Cincinnati during a Who soundcheck in 1982.

    A good about Altomont is Altamont Augie, by Richard Barager. It profiles the fictional narrative of the young man who drowned at Altamont, who’s body I don’t think was every identified.

    If Selvin can make a buck off flogging this dead horse, God bless him.

    If while perusing the library book shelf in some town somewhere in America and come across it… I’ll read it. I guess that was the day the music died, or jumped the proverbial shark. Who knows? Who cares. Fuck it.

  6. Grumbler Says:

    Incidently, The Lords of Altamont are a rock and roll band from El Lay. The band mixes the sounds of ’60s Garage and psychedelic rock, American punk rock, British rhythm and blues and glam combined with B-movie biker exploitation imagery. They’ve released albums on various labels including The Lords Take Altamont, an homage to the infamous concert from which the band takes its name.

  7. BigUglyMotherFucker Says:

    Damn I remember that day! I was still a kid, not even a prospect. Fucking ancient history. Dunno what’s sadder, me getting old or nothing’s changed.

  8. old & stoned Says:

    “flaccid cliche’,,” ha! perfect.

  9. WheresMyBoots Says:

    Rebel you are the only human being on planet Earth who has written about this thing and not said, “Where a young black man was murdered by The (81)” -and left it just like that, inferring that was all there was to it.
    All others mention nothing about the guy’s behavior beforehand (see the film folks) or the fact that he pulled a big-ass, long-barrel revolver and headed TOWARD THE STAGE. Everybody else always words it the same way -very cleverly- as if the entire club killed some ‘young black man’ for no reason whatsoever. “Legs crumpled under him and he fell sideways”: is Selvin watching the same film as the rest of us? Maybe he should watch it again, though he’ll still probably remember it just like every other writer (besides Rebel) remembers it.

    Much like when (Santana drummer) Mike Shrieve tells Garcia and the Dead’s bass player (who had just arrived via helicopter) that: “The (81) are beating up musicians.” Musicians -plural. Not: (Jefferson Airplane singer) “Marty Balin was dumb enough to jump off stage into some dust-up involving 81 prospects, and -armed to the teeth with a tambourine- and got KO’d.”

    Everybody always, *always* says the guy tripping balls on stage (who gets thrown off by 81) is an 81 guy, yet: no colors, no nothing. Just some dude tripping balls it appears.

    The 81 to Mick’s right (who clearly doesn’t think much of Mick) was -I think- Frank Sadilek (Frisco Pres at the time?) if I remember that mentioned in Sonny Barger’s book correctly (or if at all), but not positive.

    Not good to get in the middle of a group of irate 1%ers, or steelworkers, or boatswain’s mates, etc. etc., much less wear a lime green Huggy Bear outfit, keep sticking your tongue out, try to eyeball fuck one of them, and pull a hand cannon.

    Passaro just may have saved Mick’s life, or Keith’s, or Zorro’s -who knows. He won’t be remembered for that though.

    Respects, and Ride Free,


  10. Grumbler Says:

    Frank Sadilek, former president of the San Francisco Hells Angels, moved to Hilo, HI, maybe around 1964. He became an ardent anti-Vietnam War activist. He drowned in Hilo Bay in 1968. He was described as a good-natured soul who died out there when his kayak tipped over and he couldn’t swim.

    Birney Jarvis, in his “What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor” book, wrote that Frank died in 1968 in a boating accident off Hilo, Hawaii. Birney Jarvis was given the disrespectul name of Preetam Bobo in HST’s Hell’s Angels book. Then Came Bronson pilot tv movie and tv series were based on the adventures of Birney Jarvis.

  11. WheresMyBoots Says:

    @Grumbler: Thanks much for the correction there, and certainly no disrespect whatsoever meant to anyone mentioned -apologies and Respects.
    And thanks much for the info re: Birney Jarvis and “Then Came Bronson.” I loved that show, and knowing it was based on a true story pretty much made my day. Thank you.

    Respects, and Ride Free,

  12. swampy Says:

    And here all this time I just thought Lynyrd Skynyrd’s plane going down in the Tunica Hills was “Rock’s Darkest Day.”

  13. Grumbler Says:

    @WheresMyBoots – No problemo, hombre. It’s all good. Here’s a long 1970 article about Altamont:

    Just watched the Then Came Bronson DVD (WB version) on my desktop PC using Media Player Classic. Stompers MC of Frisco in the pilot tv movie was a fictional club invented by Birney Jarvis as they didn’t want to pay the R&W $3,000 to include them at the Boots Sickle Repairs scene where Bronson picked up his ’69 XLH900.


  14. Dasein Says:

    Rock’s darkest day was the recording of Muskrat Love.

  15. stlrzfan Says:

    Stanley Booth “The True Adventures of The Rolling Stones”. He was there. On stage. Left in the overloaded helicopter with the Stones. How much more ya need?

  16. Va.Bob Says:

    fxr and WMB@ pretty sure the individual to whom y’all are referring is the late Bob Roberts.About the dude who was tripping hard:he was led off the stage relatively gently;maybe he knew the right people,I don’t know.

  17. Fxr Says:

    Fuckin A must have seen that 50 times, just now see the dude trippin balls had on only a jean jacket.

  18. Paladin Says:

    With enough time, research and diligence, most anyone can write about the past. However, there are very few that can accurately write about the future.


  19. puterindabasketchief Says:

    Speaking of Merry Clayton: I highly recommend watching the documentary, “20 Feet from Stardom.” Well worth it.

  20. Shovelhead Says:

    I remember my patch holding uncle talking about That “black Pimp” (he used more colorful words) at Altamont, who tried to kill an Angel but they got him first. We were on the east coast at the time.

    Wonder what ever happened to that little white whore who was with him.

    Never heard a good thing about the Stones after that from My 1%er Uncle or any of his Brothers.

  21. Wino Enzed Says:

    There were dozens of injuries and 3 others died at Altamont.

    I read allot of history and the one thing that sticks out about this concert is how badly it was organised.
    Traffic, parking and most of the basic things were badly done as was the stage.
    It was too low to the ground. It was ridiculous having it that close to hundreds of loaded groupies and concert goers. It was always going to end badly.A secure area behind the stage was also also needed to park the MotorCycles.
    Only an opinion, but it appears who ever organised that concert totaly fucked it up

  22. don waldron Says:

    Achy Breaky Heart is a classic rock tune? ya learn from history or you repeat it!

  23. Rebel Says:

    Dear Shovelhead,

    The woman with Hunter was Patti Bredehoft. I believe she might have been a source for Selvin’s book. She was interviewed by the Times of London in 2005. She has a Facebook page that is private. Apparently, she can’t escape her past.


  24. Brad Milch Says:

    I believe the Angels did a great job of keeping the artists safe from harm, considering the clusterfuck the concert was. Management for the Stones really sucked to expose their artists to danger face to face, toe to toe. I wouldn’t have wanted that security gig. The fact that the Angels kicked some asses tells me that perhaps those asses needed to be kicked.

  25. WheresMyBoots Says:

    @Va.Bob: Thanks much for the info, and apologies for how I worded that -tripping dude was not -as I had worded it- ‘thrown off the stage’, indeed if anything he was helped off, and help he seemed to need.

    @Grumbler: Thanks much for the info! Haven’t seen the pilot since I was ten years old, I’ll have to grab a copy when I get a few bucks. Looking for the episodes too. Bonnie Bedelia looked sweet, and I still like that red XLH after all these years.
    Fun read that Rolling Stone article, though I think some of the people might have sampled the Orange Sunshine or whatever jean jacket guy dropped.

    Respects and Ride Free,

  26. swampy Says:

    I believe it was a pregnant Denise Jewkes[sic?] of the chick band Ace of Cups that caught a bottle to the head; resulting in a concussion and fractured skull. I think it happened earlier in the day while she stood at stage side watching other bands. Anyway, I read where it came from the crowd of concert goers. I read Sonny Barger’s book about 13 or 14 years ago – can’t remember if that’s from where I’m recalling this incident.

  27. swampy Says:

    With all due regards and respect for Mr. Barger: No, the incident I described above was not written into Sonny’s book – I got it from the internet. Just another indication of how rowdy the crowd had become.

  28. rob Says:

    Seems to me it was justified. Anybody waving a gun around is fair game. That “Angel” may have even saved some lives.

  29. Sieg Says:

    Let’s see, without even reading any books or articles, you can watch the footage and see hippie’s getting rowdy with scooter-trash, bikes getting fucked with, and oh yeah, an Indigene pointing a gun at the stage.

    Well, guess they should have had good ol’ Cliff Trahan there that day…

    “wop wop bam bam who likes a nigger…”


  30. Paladin Says:

    Threaten me with a weapon of any kind and that individual will be DRT (dead right there).


  31. Glenn S Says:

    I just finished the latest book on the topic, which I sort of ordered by accident and decided to read. The perspective is from the businessmen of rock and roll, the bean counters, promoters, critics, agents, record company fixers, club owners, et al, that allowed the idiot savants of rock and roll to live inside a bubble whilst making music. I’ve never understood the preoccupation with Altamont, but the book will probably introduce the fragile generation to a different time that they will not understand because the writer made no attempt to explain that times were different then.

    I never understood why anybody with the sense God gave a jackass would call the death of Meradeth “Murdock” Hunter a murder or a homicide. If a rent a pig had done it, The whole thing would have just been another day. If a real pig had done it, he would have been commended for saving lives. As it happened, the men hired to protect the band from the audience did so, killing a meth crazed idiot pointing g a gun at people. As a result, we’re not reading books about the murders of Jagger and/or Richards and the likely riot that would have followed. It seems pretty obvious to me, even through the media filter and the fact that I was 9 years old and halfway across the country at the time that the MC did the right thing in a bad situation that was not of their making. The lesser violence was so common for the times that it was probably only misdemeanors. The rock concerts of my childhood didn’t have an overbearing law enforcement presence, assigned seating, smoking bans, metal detectors at entrances, dress codes, or drug sniffing dogs. Shit happened.

    The Rolling Stones threw their protectors under a bus. Law enforcement used the situation to try to persecute their chosen enemies. The jury ruled self defense. IMHO, the Rolling Stones and everybody involved with the logistics of that concert and anybody that has used the words “murder” and “Meredeth Hunter” in the same sentence owes 81 an apology.

  32. Straight Shooter Says:

    The band themselves were never in control of their careers. LOOK up who (rhymes with) managed them. Controlled them & robbed them of COPYRIGHTS. MASSIVE theft. It was an event designed to fail. Really, how could this be anything BUT? Sure enough, like naive school children the same old fairy tail is rolled out for yet another generation.

Leave a Reply