Monday, December 28, 2009

Every Time a Pool Cue Breaks, a Hell's Angel Gets His Wings

For most, the Yuletide season is a time of joy, warmth and togetherness. But for many, the holidays are a total bummer.

In that spirit, December marks the 40th anniversary of the ultimate rock & roll bummer, Altamont. The Rolling Stones' West Coast version of Woodstock started out as a lousy idea and quickly deteriorated into the most bad-vibes scene in rock history, resulting in the death of a concert-goer at the beer-bloated hands of the Hell's Angels.

Herewith, Rock Turtleneck fan and contributor Kevin O' Connor weighs in with his take on Altamont, the Stones, the end of the 60s and the general lameness of the Jefferson Airplane. Take it away, Kev:

Happy anniversary to Jefferson Airplane vocalist Marty Balin, who forty years ago was relieved of his instrument by a pack of angry, drunken Hell's Angels (not to be confused with the docile, sober Hell's Angels) and beaten unconscious. Twice.

And who can blame them. Anyone who has suffered through Surrealistic Pillow has certainly had the urge to clobber the Airplane. Perhaps the simplest irony of the day was that just moments earlier, Grace Slick had been opining from the stage just how necessary the Angels' presence was. Perhaps the Angels' greatest crime was that they didn't take out Paul Kantner while they were at it.

Much ink has been wasted this week on this milestone, with the esteemed rock critic Robert Christgau declaring that "Writers focus on Altamont not because it brought on the end of an era but because it provided such a complex metaphor for the way an era ended." I will leave the critical commentary and mangled metaphors to others, at least for now, and simply trust the words of those who were there.

Hell's Angel leader Sonny Barger, always the voice of reason, had a simple approach. "They told me if I could sit on the edge of the stage so nobody could climb over me, I could drink beer until the show was over. And that's what I went there to do." No complex metaphors there.

But the last word, fair enough, should go to the singer, Sir Michael Jagger. Perhaps it was inevitable. "I thought the scene in San Francisco was supposed to be so groovy," said Jagger, "I don't know what happened; it was terrible. If Jesus had been there he would have been crucified."

Perhaps. But you can be sure that Jagger would have made sure that his own cross was front and center. And that officially licensed versions of said crucifixes would be available at the concession stand for 45 quid.

Oh, well. It's only rock and roll, but I like it.

Thanks, Kev, for your seething, acerbic, insightful rant. These clips and many others can be seen in the greatest rockumentary of all time, Albert Maysles' Gimme Shelter. A must for any music lover's DVD library.

Let's take things out with an Altamont photo essay set to the Airplane's one great song, "White Rabbit." Happy Holidays!!!


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