Watching the remastered Gimme Shelter last week was not unlike watching Schindler's List; feeling like I'd actually been there left me drained and sad. But reading the brilliantly original commentary that followed (yes, that was sarcasm) replaced my grief with disgust. Whether local or national, all reviews hinged on one premise, both shallow and untrue: The '60s died at Altamont.
If the stabbing of Meredith Hunter killed the '60s, then every American decade since the 18th century has died a similar death. Hunter, God rest his soul, was hardly the first (or last) black man to die because he was out in public with a white woman. In the 20th century alone, he was neither the first nor last man of any color murdered by the Hell's Angels. But if the annihilation of an entire era of social and political change was accomplished merely by one atrociously managed rock concert, maybe the reviews should stop blaming Jagger and company and instead read something like this.
"Yessiree, the '60s died at Altamont. Disillusioned beyond redemption, after Dec. 6, 1969, the Peace Corps and VISTA sent no more supplies or volunteers to needy communities. Greenpeace also gave up, abandoning whales and harp seals to extinction. The women's movement dissolved as well, taking with it the need for any of that silly "safe, legal abortion" and "equal pay for equal work" stuff. Gays and lesbians remain invisible, because the Stonewall Riot, which might have taken place three weeks later, didn't. Of course Congress couldn't repeal the Civil Rights Act for another few days, but it wasted no time. Not one single African American has cast a vote, held a decent job or lived in proximity to white people since.
"Popular culture was forever altered as well. FM radio stations switched off that very same night. Rolling Stone devoted one final issue to the tragedy and then stopped its presses. Of course, the immediate cessation of large-scale rock concerts was hard for many former hippies to endure. But since they had stopped being hippies immediately after the Stones left the Altamont stage, they were too busy getting haircuts, bathing, returning to college and switching to ROTC or business majors to care. Groups like the Grateful Dead, the Band, the Who, CSNY, Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers Band, the Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac (and, of course, the Stones themselves), as well as solo acts like Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell regretted the sudden end of their careers, but hey, the '60s were over."
"Oh well, at least the Vietnam War didn't drag on for another six years. Perhaps this is the biggest blessing of all; it would have been a terrible shame if misguided youth had kept on protesting it. Six months after Altamont, four of them might even have died in their own blood, as Meredith Hunter did, but this time in an atrociously managed confrontation with National Guardsmen at Kent State University."