free concert at Altamont Speedway near San Francisco in early December
1969. The event was all but destroyed by violence that marked the end of
the peace and love euphoria of the 1960s. The night began smoothly,
with the supercharged Flying Burrito Brothers opening up for the Rolling
Stones and performing the truck-driving classic “Six Days on the Road”
and Tina Turner giving a sensually charged performance. But on this
particular evening, the Stones made the fateful (and disastrous)
decision to hire the Oakland chapter of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle
gang as bodyguards and bouncers. It was a foolhardy, careless choice
that turned the night into an unmitigated disaster; halfway through the
Stones’ act, the Angels killed one black spectator, and injured several
others who were present (including Jefferson Airplane’s lead singer
Marty Balin). In the film, we watch Mick Jagger — ere an ebullient,
charismatic performer of bisexual charm — reduced to standing on stage
like a frightened child with his finger in his mouth in wake of the
violence. Unsurprisingly, the Grateful Dead refused to perform after the
violence erupted; the picture ends on a despairing note, with the
Stones repeatedly watching a film of the murder. Celebrated
documentarians Albert and David Maysles directed and Haskell Wexler shot
the film, with heightened instinct and control; as a result, this film
is considered one of the greatest rock documentaries ever made. Stones
songs performed include “Brown Sugar,” “Under My Thumb,” and “Sympathy
for the Devil.”
to Albert Maysles (in 1999 while he visited UCLA), George Lucas was one
of the cameramen for this shoot. Unfortunately his camera jammed after
shooting about 100 feet of film that night. All of his footage was
deemed unacceptable and wasn’t used in any version of the final product.
- After all the negative press of the supposed jinx behind the
song “Sympathy for the Devil”, The Rolling Stones didn’t perform the
song for six years.
- Contrary to popular belief, Meredith Hunter
was not killed during the performance of “Sympathy for the Devil”. He
was actually stabbed just as The Rolling Stones started the first verse
of “Under My Thumb”. The version of “Under My Thumb” that appears in the
film was actually played after the killing with the stabbing moved to
the end of the second version of the song.
- In the original
version, played to theatre audiences, Mick Jagger used foul language on
two or three occasions – appropriate for the moment but later censored
out for TV broadcast with a “guitar strum” sound overdub to block the
“offending” word. Only early copies of the film contain the original
- A rough demo version of the classic “Brown
Sugar” is heard in the sequence detailing The Rolling Stones stay at
Muscle Shoals. According to ‘Bill Wyman’ in his book on his days in the
band, the Stones performed the song for the very first time in front of
an audience at Altamont.
- Besides Ike Turner and Tina Turner,
the other opening act on The Rolling Stones tour was B.B. King, who does
not appear in the film.
- After viewing footage of the stabbing
of Meredith Hunter police identified Alan Passaro, a local Hell’s Angel,
as the man who did the stabbing, arrested him and charged him with
murder. At his trial, however, closer examination of the footage showed
that Hunter had pulled a gun before Passaro pulled his knife. Passaro
was acquitted on grounds of self-defense.
- Michael Lang, who was
one of the promoters responsible for Woodstock, was also one of the
promoters for Altamont. He is seen being interviewed about the building
of the stage, as well as onstage during the concert.
concert originally was originally going to be held at Golden Gate Park
in San Francisco, but the city wouldn’t give a permit after hearing that
The Rolling Stones would be on the bill and feared a huge crowd. The
concert was then moved to Sears Point (now Infineon) Raceway in Sonoma,
but after a dispute with the track’s owner, the stage and all the sound
equipment was moved to Altamont within 24 hours before the concert was
to take place.
- Besides “Brown Sugar”, two other songs that were
unreleased at the time are heard during the scenes filmed at Muscle
Shoals. They were “Wild Horses” and “You Got to Move”. Those songs,
along with “Brown Sugar” would be released on the classic “Sticky
Fingers” album that came out two years later in 1971.
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