The White Rabbit Meets the Hells Angels: Part 2
One thing you don’t do is knock over a Hells Angels’ bike. To a one percenter that is a sacrilegious act and is much more than a mere mortal sin: it is biker blasphemy! Unfortunately this did happen and, though minor sounding at face value, it became the flashpoint that touched off an avalanche of violence, which gained momentum as the afternoon wore on, and became so intense that the Grateful Dead— one of the prime promoters of the festival— decided to keep on truckin’ out of there and refused to perform. Sugar Magnolia decided to hit the high road as Casey Jones highballed it back to San Francisco!
The growing violence was not confined to altercations between the concert going public and the Hells Angels. Marty Balin of the Jefferson Airplane, ended up getting punched in the head and was knocked unconscious during their performance. Obviously, especially to Marty, the Angels were not Somebody to Love… unless you’re into that sort of S&M thing, and yes, some people do pay good money for that. The point of no return had been reached and breached as security was falling apart. Quickly, Dr. Jekyll’s Mr. Hyde came storming into plain sight.
Adding to the restlessness was the fact that the Stones waited until sundown to perform. It seems they had forgotten to bring along Bill Wyman, who missed the helicopter ride to the speedway. When the Stones finally made their way on stage, the crowd was staggering from too much booze, LSD, and speed. At this point the 5,000 strong Trojan Horse of concert goers decided to rush the stage in a scene reminiscent of the Bolsheviks storming the Winter Palace.
Jagger was also attacked as he emerged from the helicopter. One of the concert goers, who apparently had no sympathy for the devil, landed a punch on the King of Swagger. Though visibly shaken, the Stones set got underway and Jagger pleaded in song with the unruly crowd, “Please allow me to introduce myself…I’m a man of wealth and fame”. With that a fight broke out amongst the crowd assembled around the stage front. When Jagger asked for calm, the Stones managed to get through that number, but, it was not to last: gasoline had already been tossed on the raging fire. It was during the song “Under My Thumb” that an 18 year old concert goer, Meredith Hunter, ended up under Hells Angels fists and boots as he tried to climb up on stage during the set. Though was grabbed and told to get lost, which he initially did, he later returned, more loaded, and— by all accounts— angrier than ever and, this time, the Billy the Kid wannabe, started pulling a revolver out of his pocket, intent unknown. While most would back away from this type of situation, to a Hells Angel, it’s party time.
The Angels were now in Special Forces mode and one of them grabbed Meredith, knocked the gun aside, and stabbed him five times in the upper back. Other Angels joined the biker version of the Bristol Stomp and Meredith already dying from stab wounds, was beaten to death. The Hells Angel who did the stabbing was later arrested, tried, and found not guilty as it was determined to be self defense. An autopsy found that Meredith was loaded on amphetamines and was living proof speed does indeed kill!
The Dead wrote songs about Altamont including “New Speedway Boogie” and “Mason’s Children. Rolling Stone Magazine later stated, “Altamont was the product of diabolical egotism, hype, ineptitude, money manipulation, and, at base, a fundamental lack of concern for humanity”. The article covered many issues with the event’s organization and was critical of the organizers and the Rolling Stones. One Rolling Stone writer stated, “What an enormous thrill it would have been for an Angel to kick Mick Jagger’s teeth down his throat”.
As the years passed, the mystique of Altamont would not die. Years later aFBI report stated that some Hells Angels, wanting revenge— I guess for a tarnished reputation (now, that’s irony!)— were going to kill Jagger. They were rumoured to be planning the use a boat to reach the house Jagger was staying at on Long Island, but the boat was sunk in storm, à la the film Key Largo with Bogart and Robinson.
Woodstock and Altamont were warning flags. One was a mud bath, the other a bloodbath. Both signalled the end of an era and the end of the dream of peace and harmony. There were other warning signs on the horizon leading to vicious extremes: Timothy Leary’s peace and love mantra would soon be overshadowed by events that would take the tie-dyed generation from Kaleidoscopic beauty to a bright, deadly Clockwork Orange and Charles Manson was poised to take centre stage as the Flower Power skies darkened into a thick, dark, black as deep as dried blood in a L.A. mansion where the final nail was pounded into the coffin of Peace and Love.