Altamont: When the Hippies Were Expelled From the Garden

Woodstock parody "Altamont" shirt via

Woodstock parody “Altamont” shirt via

Everything you think you know about the 20th century is wrong.

It’s been a favorite theme of mine for years — that liberal (self-)mythologizing rarely withstands even the slightest scrutiny:

The Rosenbergs were guilty. Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty. Alger Hiss was guilty. OJ was guilty. Lee Harvey Oswald was guilty. Mumia was guilty. Leonard Peltier was guilty.

Rachel Carson lied. Alfred Kinsey lied. Betty Friedan lied.

To that list, Ed Driscoll adds familiar names like Kitty Genovese and Truman Capote.

Earth Day started out as a commemoration of an event that didn’t quite happen as advertised.

Vietnam? Don’t get me started.

One day, we’ll find out the Scottsboro Boys were guilty.

And some people still wonder why a lesbian waitress would cook up a hoax about homophobic customers…

Once you realize that liberals live in a nostalgic past of their own invention and on-going promotion (like Mrs. Havisham or a tragic Tennessee Williams “heroine”) almost everything “progressives” do then makes “sense.”

On December 6, expect to hear a bit about “rock and roll’s worst day”:

The deadly 1969 Rolling Stones concert at California’s Altamont Speedway.

The traditional version of the Altamont story goes like this:

Eager to recreate the success of Woodstock earlier that year, a free concert headlined by the Rolling Stones was mounted at the Altamont Speedway. The Stones foolishly hired the Hell’s Angels to act as security guards, paying them with $500 worth of beer. Between the tripped out “kids” and the boozed up Angels, bad vibes were generated all around, climaxing in the fatal stabbing of a young concertgoer by one or more bikers. And that event marked The Official End of the Summer of Love and the Hippie Era and the Age of Aquarius.

I was in my thirties when I learned that Meredith Hunter, the fellow who’d been stabbed to death, had been black, and certainly no innocent, peaceful hippie.

That’s an inconvenient detail normally race-obsessed Baby Boomers skim over when they can.

Meredith had also (and here perceptions differ) pulled a gun, prompting an Angel or Angels to kill him in “self-defense” (although “multiple stab wounds” normally aren’t helpful in winning such cases…)

Here’s the owner of the Altamont Speedway:

Most of the books and articles about Altamont are filled with bull. Like the Hell’s Angels were the only security, and they were hired for $500 worth of beer. We had every off-duty police officer available and every security guard in Northern California there. There were about 17 Angels who came to the concert because they were in Oakland for a convention. Sam Cutler, the Stones’ manager, asked if the Angels would escort the Stones through the crowd on motorcycle and then sit around the stage during the show to protect the band. We had purchased $500 worth of beer for the bands, and Cutler told the Angels they could have some.

The Angels were blamed for the death of Meredith Hunter. But that kid was waving a gun and screaming that he was going to shoot Mick Jagger. One of the Angels jumped his back, after Hunter fired a shot at the stage, and stabbed him with a knife several times. The audience was going to tear Hunter limb from limb, but the Angels formed a circle around him and got him out of the crowd and into a bread truck where he could be moved to get medical attention. He died in the racetrack office, but the Angels tried to save him.

To this day, people who were there disagree wildly about who did what when and to whom.

This is hardly surprising, and contrary to what one might assume, the fact that the incident was captured on film has only muddied the waters.

(Remember: the most photographed murder in history — the JFK assassination — remains one of the most contentious, even fifty years later.)

It also doesn’t help that the editor of that famous movie about the concert, the Maysles brothers’ Gimme Shelter, admitted that, well, Michael Moore isn’t the only documentary filmmaker who bends the truth in order to craft more satisfying narratives:

Contrary to the impression created by Gimme Shelter, Hunter was killed not long into the Stones’ set. But as the film’s editor, Charlotte Zwerin, explained to Salon some thirty years later, the climax of the movie always has to come at the end:

“We’re talking about the structure of a film. And what kind of concert film are you going to be able to have after somebody has been murdered in front of the stage? Hanging around for another hour would have been really wrong in terms of the film.”

What wasn’t wrong, apparently, was deliberately altering the sequence of events in what was ostensibly a documentary film.

Which is especially fascinating because Albert Maysles can be seen in the 2004 doc Michael Moore Hates America rebuking Moore’s notorious fact-manipulation habit:

Oh, and as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage
No angel born in hell
Could break that Satan’s spell
And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died

— Don McLean, “American Pie”

And then there’s the “satanic” stuff.

You’ll hear that Hunter was stabbed while the Stones were performing “Sympathy for the Devil.” (Nope: it was “Under My Thumb.”)

That said, the Stones (or Jagger at least) were nibbling around the edges of the occult at the time. So werea number of other celebrities, including Sammy Davis, Jr., one of many famous people who joined Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan when it was the hip thing to do.

Poking into Altamont and beyond, it’s easy to get sucked into what I call the “Dakota Rabbit Hole” of the late 60s/early 70s:

Roman Polanski shot Rosemary’s Baby at the Dakota apartments in New York City, and then his wife was murdered by the Manson Family (who got their marching orders from The Beatles’ “White Album”), and John Lennon was shot outside the Dakota, and…

From there, it’s only a matter of time before you start believing in “backmasking” and “Satanic ritual abuse.”

(Selling Satan: The Evangelical Media and the Mike Warnke Scandal is not only the best book ever written about those late 20th century moral panics, it’s one of the best books about old-fashioned, thankless investigative journalism, period.)

If Altamont has anything to do with the demonic, then Meredith’s murder is actually the last place to look for it.

And if the Stones made some kind of “deal with the devil,” they should have asked for a refund; despite their fame and wealth, the group is reduced to trying to perform on a stage only one foot off the ground. They’re glared at by genuine toughs as they pretend to be “street fighting men.”

Powerless to control their fans, the “greatest band in the world” suddenly looks puny, impotent and very human.

You can almost hear Satan laughing at them, and at the spectacle of hundreds of thousands of life’s lottery winners voluntarily frying their brain cells, shoving their way to the front of the stage in the name of “peace” and “love.” It’s all very Screwtape.

In their own twisted way, the Hell’s Angels are the most honest, authentic people there — the only ones not pretending to be something they aren’t.

The truth about Altamont isn’t that it was “the end of the Sixties,” but that the hippie era was never that idyllic to begin with.

There were countless Age of Aquarius casualties.

At Altamont, one was caught on film, that’s all.