Altamont

The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day
Narrated by: John Pruden
Length: 9 hrs and 45 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (250 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In this breathtaking cultural history filled with exclusive, never-before-revealed details, celebrated rock journalist Joel Selvin tells the definitive story of the Rolling Stones' infamous Altamont concert in San Francisco, the disastrous historic event that marked the end of the idealistic 1960s.

In the annals of rock history, the Altamont Speedway Free Festival on December 6, 1969, has long been seen as the distorted twin of Woodstock - the day that shattered the '60s' promise of peace and love when a concertgoer was killed by a member of the Hells Angels, the notorious biker club acting as security. While most people know of the events from the film Gimme Shelter, the whole story has remained buried in varied accounts, rumor, and myth - until now.

Altamont explores rock's darkest day, a fiasco that began well before the climactic death of Meredith Hunter and continued beyond that infamous December night. Joel Selvin probes every aspect of the show - from the Stones' hastily planned tour preceding the concert to the bad acid that swept through the audience to other deaths that also occurred that evening - to capture the full scope of the tragedy and its aftermath. He also provides an in-depth look at the Grateful Dead's role in the events leading to Altamont, examining the band's behind-the-scenes presence in both arranging the show and hiring the Hells Angels as security.

The product of 20 years of exhaustive research and dozens of interviews with many key players, including medical staff, Hells Angels members, the stage crew, and the musicians who were there, Altamont is the ultimate account of the final event in rock's formative and most turbulent decade.

©2016 Joel Selvin (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers
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I was there...

I was 22 years old when I went to the Altamont event. This book reminded me of things I had long forgotten - the nude fat guy, Marty Balin getting punched by a Hells Angel, the Hells Angels forcing their way through us on their bikes, etc. I still remember the young African-American guy who had multi-color striped hair and balloons attached to his hair. I never thought much of the Stones after that. This book provides very interesting insight into why it was such a miserable experience.

6 people found this helpful

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Fascinating History

Would you listen to Altamont again? Why?

Brilliantly researched, perfectly crafted. If you're over 55 and were reasonably tapped into popular culture in 1969, this reads like a whodunnit starring a cast of people that you at least feel like you know. Just an amazing tapestry of events that led to the death of Meredith Hunter and, ostensibly, the end of an extremely short period of naive innocence for the nascent Boomer Generation. Much like Gimme Shelter, the documentary of The Stones '69 American tour, this is written cinema verite. You will feel like you are there. But unlike the movie you will actually see how, over a period of months, a series tragic decisions were made by mostly guileless people with, again, mostly, pure, or at least reasonable motives. These decisions led to what has been called the worst day in rock-n-roll history. How was the acid at Altamont different than it's "Summer of Love" predecessor? What role did The Grateful Dead play in setting up the concert? How did The Stones Hyde Park experience with English Hell's Angels lull them into accepting the California Angels as concert security? What role did Rock Scully play? Who the hell is Rock Scully? Why was the concert moved, 36 hours before the start, to the hellhole that is the Altamont Speedway? Was Meredith Hunter just and innocent kid in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or was he something more nefarious? Was Mick Jagger to blame? The author says yes to this last question, although over 9 hours he does not make a compelling case to back his contention. At best he shows correlation (Jagger wanted to give a free concert and didn't want cops present) but no causation. In his explanation Selvin seemed to be judging Jagger's decisions after running them through a filter of post-Altamont knowledge. To me, the events that finally took place that day feel as though they were almost predestined. Although I disagree with the author's ultimate conclusion, I loved and highly recommend this book! I was sorry when it ended.

What other book might you compare Altamont to and why?

Hell's Angels by Hunter Thompson. Not as poetic as HT, but just as powerful.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes.

5 people found this helpful

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Angrily fascinating

Truth is always crazier than fiction.

So glad I picked this one up. As a devotee to rock and roll bios and memoirs, I'm so glad to have added this one to my library. Altamont looms large as the sad, scary, exciting, debauched bookend to the 60's.

3 people found this helpful

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Excellent book

Great from start to finish. There is so much more to the story than I realized. I highly recommend this book.

1 person found this helpful

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Riveting !!

The best Stones related book I've read , a must read for any Stones fan ! If your from the Bay Area , if ya ride and a fan of the Stones music ... If ya remember those years .. Well yea , a great book !

1 person found this helpful

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So well done.

First of all, I had no idea that Meredith Hunter was a guy...AND I was always under the impression that she was killed during Sympathy for the Devil and that is why the Rolling Stones stopped playing it in concert. Now I know that Meredith is a boy and he was killed during Under my Thumb...*

This book had me from the start - mostly because of the time and the players. The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, CSNY and the end of the peace movement. The Rolling Stones were ruthless in their pursuit of fame and, after reading this book, you will understand the paths that these various bands that performed (or opted not to perform) took. The Stones skyrocketing and the Dead moving back to their roots and away from the spotlight. This is the story of the end for so many things and is so very well told.

* I also had no idea that the Rolling Stones were such assholes!

2 people found this helpful

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Excellent Book

This was an excellent book, I was too young for Altamont, I heard about all problems at concert. The stones represent capitalist, hells angels were unfortunate foot soldiers and the fans were divided between young future intellectuals and capitalist that build silicon Valley and lost men and woman that will be trapped in economic poverty and working class lifestyle. Great book, that should be a movie.

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Dark day

Overall a really enjoyable listen. Narration was great and the story, while tragic at times, was presented well. My only complaint is that it was difficult to follow the vast cast of characters.

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A balanced and thorough account of Altamont

Wow! This book really puts you there in the middle. Selvin places the “responsibility, if not the blame” on the Stones for the fiasco. He doesn’t exonerate the Hells Angels for their violence as much as he sees them as archetypes playing out their roles in an impossible situation (sorry but I still think they were thugs). The concert was hastily planned with literally no one in charge. I listened to the entire book twice just to make sure I could keep all of the people straight. I hope this becomes a TV miniseries. Not kidding.

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Very good and very detailed

This is easily the most comprehensive and detailed exploration I have seen on the Altamont Free Concert of 1969, pooling information, viewpoints and interviews from musicians, journalists, people involved in the setup of the show, hells angels and attendees. I am deducting one star because I found a couple of instances of falsehoods that have been repeated from previous books, which have subsequently been debunked. These do not impact the overall story or book as a whole but bothered me enough to knock it slightly for poor fact-checking. For example, it repeats an often-claimed story that Mick Jagger propositioned infamous groupie Pamela Des Barres for a threesome with Michelle Phillips at the Stones hotel post-Altamont on the night of the show. Des Barres and Phillips have stated in interviews that this didn't happen but it has been a gossip rumor item in circulation for over 20 years. There is also a questionable item in the book pertaining to one of the Maysles Brothers being assaulted by a hell's angel in a dispute over the film Gimme Shelter. The book takes the hells angels version of events as gospel, omitting a very different version of what happened as told by the Maysles Brothers in the commentary track of the DVD. I personally find the Maysles version far more believable and question why both sides were not presented. Overall though, a very good although ugly depiction of what happened that tragic day and a good history lesson in what not to do when it comes to crowd control.

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  • michael Billington
  • 06-20-20

the story of a rock and roll tragedy

I learned so much in this well written and enthralling account of the Rolling Stones free concert at the Altamont speedway. The author does an excellent job of making sense of how and why the concert became a shorthand for darkness and the end of an era. I really enjoyed this audiobook and learned far more than I thought I would

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  • John o'neill
  • 01-10-20

a great listen

the most detailed book about altamont i know of.
the stones comes across as either disorganised ,& clueless about what was going on; not knowing what their manager was up to,& casting aside one of their inner-circle as a somewhat 'sacrificial lamb' .
overall, a balanced & objective book.

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  • Louis Raubenheimer
  • 08-02-18

Rock and roll at its sordid worst

Absolute addictive listening. A must for music, and specifically rock 'n' roll fans.

It covers, in great detail, a staggeringly mad time in entertainment history and casts an illuminating light on a dark day, etched in infamy.

Now it's time for me to watch Gimme Shelter...

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  • nigeyb
  • 05-25-17

Superb account

Before I read this book all I knew about Altamont was gleaned from the Gimme Shelter film and a few magazine articles. Joel Selvin recognised that the accepted narrative was far too simplistic and so he wrote 'Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day' to delve deeper, and set the record straight.

It's superb.

A forensic examination of all the key players, and the events that led up to what must surely be the most nightmarish musical event of all time. A perfect storm of hubris, opportunism, naivety and toxic drugs that resulted in four deaths, and a life changing experience for many of the audience and the artists that participated.

It starts uncertainly, as Joel Selvin if far less authoritative on the London scene but once the Rolling Stones arrive Stateside for their 1969 US tour, that culminated with the Altamont Speedway Free Festival on December 6, 1969, it really clicks into gear. An essential read for anyone interested in the Rolling Stones, or the late 1960s counter-culture more generally.

5/5

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  • chris whitton
  • 09-27-17

a good listen BUT...

I found this a very intersting listen the neration was pretty simple and to the point which i liked...the book itself was good but seemed to be finalised with a big unproved opinion where the rest of the book seemed well reserched and factual. Iwould recomend though in spite of this.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-22-17

Too much doom and gloom

I gave up on this one. Despite being an avid Rolling Stones fan and seeing and enjoying the movie. I thought this book focused too much on all things negative. OK there was a menacing involvement of the Hells Angels surrounding the concert but the violence depicted and overall "feel" of the book was too gloomy for me so, after a while, I chose not to listen any more. Entertaining for some but it just made me feel uncomfortable for too long