The inside story of rock’s darkest day

stones_altamont_980I came home from a week of eating, drinking, and riding cable cars in San Francisco with a bug of some sort. So I’ve spent the past few days staying down and snorting and swallowing large doses of herbal cold remedies.

Plus…I’ve done a lot of reading.

While at City Lights Books in North Beach, I bought a brand new book by music journalist Joel Selvin called Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day.

I can’t resist dipping into San Francisco history whenever I visit there. And Selvin’s book details a particularly nasty moment — the notorious “free concert” the Rolling Stones headlined at Altamont Speedway, an hour east of San Francisco, in December 1969.

Some 300,000 people gathered for the concert and four died, one of them stabbed multiple times by a member of the Hells Angels “security team.” The guy was killed right in front of the stage while the Stones were belting out “Under My Thumb.”

Anyway, I read Selvin’s book this week in three big gulps.


I was already familiar with the Altamont story. I’ve seen the creepy 1970 documentary Gimme Shelter at least a dozen times. But this book is thorough and riviting. It’s astonishing that it took 47 years for someone to finally write it.

I give the book high marks. Read it if you’re fascinated by the Stones, the hippie culture of the 1960s, old rock and roll, the macabre, or even high-velocity crime drama.

But learn some lessons from it, too.

Sometimes, our ambitions can exceed common sense.

Sometimes, unchecked ego can drive us in dangerous directions.

Sometimes, you just have to pull the plug on a project before something really horrible happens.

The trick, of course, is being wise enough to recognize when things are getting out of control, and then doing something about it.

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