Everything I know about The Rolling Stones at Altamont and what went down I think I’ve pretty much gleaned through cultural osmosis, scattered throughout the various rock biographies, articles, interviews and documentaries I’ve consumed over the years (that decade loomed particularly large in my imagination as a teenager, so I consumed a lot)
This is an excellently written look at everything that led up to the concert, what happened during it and the fallout from it that reads like a blend of some of the best rock journalism and true crime that I’ve read.
Selvin conveys well the mix of idealism, hubris, greed, naivety and opportunism that saw the Stones and their team decide to put on a free festival following the success of Woodstock while failing to learn from any of the mistakes and making humungous new ones of their own. The atmosphere of utter chaos is made clear by Selvin from the start, building the tension as the hype is built a little too far and wide for the concert all while they’re still flinging a stage together on the morning of.
By the time the gig opens Selvin does a great job of making you feel how different the atmosphere was to that at Woodstock, with this particular mixture of booze, bad trips and the amped up Hells Angels who’d been employed as security leading to a hostile and twitchy atmosphere that always seemed to be speeding towards violence.
It’s hard to read about the death of Meredith Hunter, but Selvin writes compassionately about him while getting the facts across. And he also sets out afterwards, when looking at the shock, lawsuits, and murder trial that followed, to call out people responsible for the decisions that led to one of rock’s most notorious events.
If you enjoy reading something that makes you feel like you’ve been dropped in the middle of the action, and if you’re at all a fan of that era of music (the Stones were just one of the names actually playing on the day) then you need to read this book.