Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamont

Saul Austerlitz. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-08319-7
Austerlitz (Money for Nothing) offers a blistering exploration of the deadly confluence of racism, stoned naïveté, biker belligerence, and rockstar obliviousness that resulted in the murder of 18-year-old Berkeley arts student Meredith Hunter at the Rolling Stones’ infamously disastrous concert in Altamont, Calif. Hastily thrown together for December 1969 after the surprisingly peaceful success of Woodstock, Altamont, with its 300,000 attendees, was the biggest rock concert ever held in the Bay Area. But instead of hiring off-duty cops as security as Woodstock’s organizers did, the organizers of Altamont brought on a phalanx of Hells Angels, chummy with local hippie bands like the Grateful Dead, who thought of them with “misplaced confidence” as countercultural allies. The result, as hundreds of thousands of concertgoers swarmed the site, ingesting substances in a “full-on bacchanalia,” was the “hippie aesthetic of laissez-faire planning” slamming into a violent atmosphere as the Angels beat anyone who got too close to the stage. It was during the Stones’ set that the Angels “pummeled and stomped” Hunter after he pulled an unloaded pistol trying to ward off further beatings. Hells Angel Alan Passaro was brought to trial for stabbing him, but was acquitted on the grounds of self-defense. This is a deeply researched and colorfully written account of the disastrous symbolic end to the 1960s. (July)
Reviewed on: 04/30/2018
Release date: 07/10/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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