Gimme Shelter: A Review of Altamont Augie

Altamont Augie

By Richard Barager

Interloper Press (April 15, 2011)

Review by Michael Finch

The 1960s hangs over us like an omnipresent weight, a cloud cover frozen against a hillside, a dream one can not escape from, replaying itself over and over again in our minds and lives.

For some it is still the Age of Aquarius, free love, flower power, and the moment in which the revolution was at hand. They will retell this story forever. For others, it is as Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” reflected on an old ballplayer, “getting old sitting around thinking about it, boring stories of glory days.” In other words, enough already.

But, most aptly, it is described by the writing team of David Horowitz and Peter Collier in the title of their seminal book, Destructive Generation. One thing that cannot be denied is that the decade touched all of us, for good or ill. It is a decade that transcends time.

The ‘60s has been written about more than any other decade since, well, probably the ‘60s -- the 1860s and the Civil War. The 1960s was also a Civil War, but of a different stripe; it was all about politics, race, culture, music, and a foreign war. More than anything, what it was really all about -- as all stories of our lives are about -- was people: individual lives that were touched, loved, created, burned, and destroyed. That story, the one about people -- and how they were personally affected by the great issues that lay over that tumultuous decade, a story that is also free of rancor, hate, partisanship, and blind ideology -- has escaped us. Until now.

And this flowering of art, as so often happens, comes out of obscure and unknown fields. Richard Barager is a nephrologist (kidney doctor) who has never written a novel before in his life. Well, God must have kept him waiting for a reason, because his first novel, Altamont Augie, is as David Horowitz writes, “the novel of the Sixties.” It is surely that, and more.

Altamont Augie is told through the eyes of a young man who works for a Hollywood production company and who takes a trip up to Altamont in 1999 to work on a trailer for the 30th anniversary re-release of Gimme Shelter. The story begins and ends with his telling of his revelations.

It is a love story above all else, about how love endures through war and politics; how it endures though a decade like none other. That alone would make this a very readable book and the author tells a great love story. But to weave that through the turmoil of Vietnam, the college campuses, the cultural breakdown, the racial shifts, and to keep a story flowing and interesting is a singular accomplishment. And it is all here, from the battlefields at Khe Sanh to the fights on the campuses (in this case the University of Minnesota) to the drugs, sex (hang on to your hats on this one), and rock and roll. The '60s rollick through these 295 pages like a spun spool but everything is somehow kept tight all the while.