Rolling Stones insider pins Altamont fracas on cops

Thu Dec 4, 2008 9:00pm EST
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By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - December 6 is a day that will live in infamy in the annals of rock 'n' roll.

On that day in 1969, the Rolling Stones gave a free concert at the Altamont Speedway, east of San Francisco, and watched helplessly as their gesture of goodwill spurred random beatings and the fatal stabbing of a fan by a Hells Angels member.

The events are captured in the Maysles brothers' 1970 documentary "Gimme Shelter," the world's first rock 'n' roll snuff film. And "Altamont" has become a byword for chaos, the gold standard for how not to organize a concert.

Many commentators have dissected Altamont, generally blaming either the Stones, because they should have handled things better; or the Angels, because clubbing fans with pool cues is never a good idea.

The Stones themselves have generally shied away from the issue. But a new memoir by their former tour manager, Sam Cutler, is the closest thing to an insider's view.

Cutler appears in "Gimme Shelter" as the mustachioed roadie who coolly pleads with fans to climb off the scaffolding or get off the absurdly tiny stage. His bold forecast to the 300,000-strong crowd that "this could be the greatest party of 1969" turns out to be a little off the mark.

In "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (Random House Australia), Cutler blames the disaster on "criminal cowardice" by the authorities. Law enforcement departments wanted the event to be a disaster to create a backlash against politically radical elements in the rock 'n' roll world, the British native said in a recent interview from his new home in Australia.

"The feds were there, there was all kind of people, all kinds of heavy law enforcement people and they chose absolutely not to do anything during the event," Cutler said.   Continued...

<p>Rolling Stones Ron Wood, Charlie Watts, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger (L to R) pose during a photocall to present their film 'Shine A Light' running in competition at the 58th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 7, 2008. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch</p>