Thursday, December 6, 2012

Altamont - The End of Woodstock

Today is the anniversary of the Altamont Speedway Concert which featured the stabbing death of Meredith Hunter by Hell’s Angel Sonny Barger, who would later serve time for the crime he committed that day. It was supposed to be the wrap up to the Rolling Stones 1969 tour; a kind of present to their fans. It was organized by Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, along with their friends in the Oakland and San Francisco chapters of the infamous motorcycle “club.” When Jerry Garcia and his band showed up early on and felt the vibes; and saw the violence already taking place; they fled. The other scheduled acts chose to honor their commitments, albeit under arduous circumstances.

Several things were working against the success of the concert form the outset. First, there was the fact that the concert was too hastily organized. The next mistake was in building a low platform, rather than a stage; again due to time constraints; which made the situation volatile from the very opening act. The main problem with a low platform when having such high end acts as the Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin; and even the newly minted Crosby Stills, Nash and Young; is that every one of the audience; in this case almost 500,000 people; have access to the stage. This creates a need for aggressive security, and that is exactly what happened at Altamont.
One of the myths about the concert involves the Rolling Stones providing the beer for the Hell’s Angels as payment to be security for the band. The truth is that Sam Cutler; who was acting as the road manager for the Stones; bought the beer back from the Angels due to their drunken and violent behavior. The fact that they were able to recoup the beer later was no fault of the Stones at all.

The concert was the antithesis of Woodstock, with people charging outlandish prices for water and other essentials. The crowd of 500,000 was cowed by the actions of 500 bikers, whom the artists were unable to control. The only one to really take any action was Marty Balin of the Jefferson Airplane, who actually hit one of the Angels and was knocked out for his trouble.
The Rolling Stone’s film “Gimme Shelter” is the best record of the concert at Altamont Speedway. It shows the apathy which allowed a relatively small band of bikers to take control of a concert and exert their will on what should have been a joyous event. It was; in short; the end of the Woodstock Era. 120 days. See Charlie Watts reaction to the stabbing the following morning here in a scene from "Gimme Shelter";

For All the Kids at Pease Elementary School
This is for all the kids at Pease Elementary School on West Avenue in Austin, TX who were told by an afterschool teacher that there is no Santa Claus. The "Grinch" then proceeded to instruct the 5 year old kindergartners to go home and confront their parents about the issue. The phone number at the school is  (512) 414-4428. I called them earlier and left a hearty “HO-Ho-Ho!” on their answering machine to assure them that Santa was real. I hope my readers will all do the same. In the meantime, here is the famous written proof concerning the matter of whether or not there is a Santa Claus.
When 8 year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York's Sun in September of 1897, the editor, Francis Pharcellus Church, quickly responded to her query concerning the reality of Santa Claus. It is one of the most reprinted editorials in the history of journalism. Here is the text of that letter, as well as the timeless response. Let’s hope they read this in Austin!
"Dear Editor,
I am 8 years old. Some of my friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says if you see it in the Sun, it’s so. Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”
Virginia O’Hanlon
115 West 59th Street
Here is the reply she received on the Editorial page of the New York Sun on September 21, 1897;
VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

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