Wednesday, 18 January 2017

ALTAMONT 2.0: EMPATHY WITH THE DEVIL

In the blue corner...

And in the red corner!



Evil, be thou my good…

Satan, from John Milton’s Paradise Lost



Please allow me to introduce myself…
The Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil





Altamont. December 1969. The gig has its own little room in the rock and roll hall of infamy. Widely seen as the epitome of the death of the Sixties, Altamont joins the shadowy background of the Love Generation. It crouches down there in the dark along with Manson and the Family, the Weathermen, The Black Panthers and the rest of north America’s greasy underbelly. Altamont was the exemplar of the how the profiteer can use popular culture to change history, usually via the law of unintended consequences. We see it still now.

Students of popular culture will be familiar with received opinion about the gig that ended the most optimistic Western decade on a bum note. Promoters were beginning to realise in post-Woodstock 1969 that there was an awful lot of money to be made from the potent combination of rock music and the kids who wanted to hear it live. Altamont Speedway in Indiana was duly selected for a gig – at the last minute, the original venue having wisely backed down - involving Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and, of course, The Rolling Stones. The Grateful Dead agreed with the original promoters and presciently pulled out when they gauged the atmosphere at the gig to be too potentially violent. The singer of a local band got hit in the head with a bottle, fracturing her skull. Mick Jagger was punched in the head as he got out of the helicopter that took him to Altamont Speedway. I always believed it was a mistake, that helicopter…

The Stones were not, in my view, at the top of their game at Altamont. Not that I saw Altamont, of course, but the footage doesn’t show the band as being at its best. I saw them in 1975, the week that Fool to Cry came out, and they really were their Satanic majesties. Jagger thrashing his belt on the floor during a rape song would not be allowed now, which is what made it so delicious. The cherubic Mick Taylor partnering piratic goblin-king Richards made it one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen.

At Altamont, The Stones hired Hell’s Angels to see to security, and provided them with $500 dollars’ worth of beer. As things became increasingly fractious in front of the stage, and while their Satanic majesties were strutting through Under My Thumb -  not diabolic anthem Sympathy for the Devil, as is widely believed - a young black man named Meredith Hunter was fatally stabbed by one of the bikers. By some accounts, he was picked on for being black. By others, he was winding up the Angels. Neither is an excuse for murder, but soon you won’t need an excuse for murder.

The footage I have seen certainly looks as though Hunter pulls out a revolver. One of the paramedics in the footage says that he saw the gun. These, however, are the days of fake news, so we will never know. I suspect still that we hear a lot about Altamont because the victim was black and his murderers white. How different from today, when a Western white person is 45 times more likely to be killed by a black than vice versa.

300,000 people attended Altamont. Four died – although three not from violence - and I believe there were four births. As noted, I would usually stress that we hear more about Altamont’s casualties than other concert fatalities because Hunter was black. With Altamont, though, I believe that it has been semi-buried in history’s trashcan because the live music lobby is a strong one in the USA.

Sonny Barger was the chief Angel that day. He is well known, notorious in the States, largely because of what happened at Altamont Speedway. I have actually met Sonny Barger. He signed my copy of his book Hell’s Angel in a bookstore in London. I have the photo of us together somewhere. I neglected to ask him about Altamont, suspecting that it would be like meeting Neil Armstrong and asking him to tell me about what fucked him off most about walking on the moon. Sonny spoke through a laryngeal amplifier, having had throat cancer.

In this age of fake news, and fake news about fake news, and real news about fake news, and the whole fractal chaos that the Left have woven from the internet and its powers of dissemination, it is difficult to know a real story from a shonky one, to utilise a wonderful Australian adjective. But here is a story which is undeniably true. Leftist nihilists will be descending on Washington DC on Friday to try to disrupt the inauguration of Donald Trump as US President. This invasion is approved, and even funded, by the US political establishment. There will, I feel, be blood.

The violence the Left would like to visit on Trump’s inauguration is still at the rhetorical level, and we will have to see what Friday brings. But if it is true that musicians booked to appear at the inauguration have received death threats and been forced to pull out, the Left are gaining a dangerous level of power Trump will have to confront.

For the Left is Trump’s true enemy. But who are his friends? Apparently – and this may be fake news – up to two million Hell’s Angels will converge on Washington DC on Friday. Hell’s Angels may not have worked out as security at Altamont, but I’d love to see them protecting Trump. When Keith Richards got back from the USA after the infamous gig and an English journalist asked him about Altamont, Keef said he thought it was a good gig. I hope Friday is equally good.

I would pay good money to see the Left in DC confronted by a couple of million Angels. So, who have we got? Black Lives Matter. Yeah, right. Anyone who knows the streets knows that blacks will only fight whites if the odds are ten to one in their favour, and they are armed. And the New York Times or The Independent is there to lie about proceedings. Black Bloc. Seriously? Anarchist dopeheads against the Angels? Again, bring it. Special snowflakes yelling about transgender toilets and fascism? I think the Angels would just eat them. Literally eat them.

When I was 17, I turned up at a gig featuring my band, and I was fresh from having been in a play at my college. I was wearing full stage make-up, and looked like the biggest bumboy you would ever hope to see on a summer’s day. A summer’s day in Earl’s Court. The party my band was due to play at was half full of the local chapter of the Hell’s Angels. My band-mates’ faces reflected my fear as I walked into the room. We, I thought, are fucking doomed.

Not so. The Angels loved us, and often turned up at our gigs after that, offering protection in return for some good hard punk rock. They saved us from skinhead shite on more than one occasion. We were allowed to drink in their pub. We got rides on their bikes. Great days.  Trump could not wish for better security than the Hell’s Angels.

The day after Altamont, Sonny Barger had a long conversation with a radio show host about what happened at Altamont. He singled out Jagger for particular criticism. I think Altamont affected Jagger, for a while at least. It scared the shit out of Mick Taylor. As noted, Keith didn’t give a fuck, which is what makes him pure rock and roll. Charlie Watts said, memorably, ‘Well done Sonny.’ One thing Barger said sticks in the memory. ‘They started messing with our bikes, man.’ Bad idea. Now, the creatures of the Left are messing with a lot more than the Angels’ bikes. They are messing with their freedom, and they are messing with their whiteness. Good luck with that, snowflakes.




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