|The Rolling Stones at Altamont|
Dateline October 24 – In a weird act of Flying Spaghetti Monster manifested Synchronicity, today is the birthday of both Bill Wyman (1936) and Meredith Hunter (1951). Although separated by 23 years, they will always be linked by a singular event in history: The Altamont Free Concert on December 6, 1969.
Bill Wyman was the second bass player for The Rolling Stones after the original bass player, Dick Taylor, decided to return to school. There are conflicting stories of how Wyman heard of the opening. One says early Stones drummer Tony Chapman told him; another report says he answered an advertisement. Both could be true. Either way, by December of 1962 Wyman was a Rolling Stone and stayed with the band until he quit the Stones in 1993.
Meredith Hunter was an 18-year old from Berkley, California who went to Altamont Speedway (along with an estimated 300,000 other people) for a free concert which advertised appearances by The Rolling Stones, Santana, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and The Grateful Dead. In the end the Dead declined to play because of the violence.
The concert was a gift from The Rolling Stones to ‘Merka and had been hastily organized after many people criticized the band for the high price of tickets for their ‘Merkin tour. Originally the concert had been planned for San Jose State, then changed to Golden Gate Park, but they couldn’t get a permit. The next proposed venue was Sears Point Racetrack, which was owned by Filmways, Inc., the same company know for such tee vee hits as The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres. However, Filmways wanted $300,000 up front and the distribution rights to the resulting movie. This left slighly less than 2 days to find a new venue and the Altamont Speedway was hastily chosen.
One of the major complications of the venue change was the height of the stage. It was only a meter high. That would have suited the Sears Point Raceway, which would have placed it at the top of a hill. The location for the Altamont stage was at the bottom of a hill. To keep people from rushing the stage The Hells Angels, hired to provide security for a reported $500 in beer, surrounded the stage.
By now everyone knows what happened. The Hells Angels were out of control, as was the crowd. There were many fights, long before The Rolling Stones hit the stage. However, the one that everybody remembers is when Meredith Hunter, hopped up on methamphetamines, was stabbed to death by Hells Angel Alan Passaro. The horrifying act was caught on film directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin. The resulting movie was called Gimme Shelter and chronicled the entire ’69 tour, but culminated in the disater at Altamont, often called the deathnell of the Hippie movement.
Passaro was charged, tried and acquitted of murder after he claimed self-defense. The jury agreed after being shown some of the footage above. He later served time on unrelated charges and was found drowned in the Anderson Reservoir a year after he was released from jail.
Happy Birthday Bill Wyman and Meredith Hunter.