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Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamont

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A thrilling account of the Altamont Festival--and the dark side of the '60s. If Woodstock tied the ideals of the '60s together, Altamont unraveled them. In Just a Shot Away, writer and critic Saul Austerlitz tells the story of "Woodstock West," where the Rolling Stones hoped to end their 1969 American tour triumphantly with the help of the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airpla A thrilling account of the Altamont Festival--and the dark side of the '60s. If Woodstock tied the ideals of the '60s together, Altamont unraveled them. In Just a Shot Away, writer and critic Saul Austerlitz tells the story of "Woodstock West," where the Rolling Stones hoped to end their 1969 American tour triumphantly with the help of the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, and 300,000 fans. Instead the concert featured a harrowing series of disasters, starting with the concert's haphazard planning. The bad acid kicked in early. The Hells Angels, hired to handle security, began to prey on the concertgoers. And not long after the Rolling Stones went on, an 18-year-old African-American named Meredith Hunter was stabbed by the Angels in front of the stage. The show, and the Woodstock high, were over. Austerlitz shows how Hunter's death came to symbolize the end of an era while the trial of his accused murderer epitomized the racial tensions that still underlie America. He also finds a silver lining in the concert in how Rolling Stone's coverage of it helped create a new form of music journalism, while the making of the movie about Altamont, Gimme Shelter, birthed new forms of documentary. Using scores of new interviews with Paul Kantner, Jann Wenner, journalist John Burks, filmmaker Joan Churchill, and many members of the Rolling Stones' inner circle, as well as Meredith Hunter's family, Austerlitz shows that you can't understand the '60s or rock and roll if you don't come to grips with Altamont.


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A thrilling account of the Altamont Festival--and the dark side of the '60s. If Woodstock tied the ideals of the '60s together, Altamont unraveled them. In Just a Shot Away, writer and critic Saul Austerlitz tells the story of "Woodstock West," where the Rolling Stones hoped to end their 1969 American tour triumphantly with the help of the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airpla A thrilling account of the Altamont Festival--and the dark side of the '60s. If Woodstock tied the ideals of the '60s together, Altamont unraveled them. In Just a Shot Away, writer and critic Saul Austerlitz tells the story of "Woodstock West," where the Rolling Stones hoped to end their 1969 American tour triumphantly with the help of the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, and 300,000 fans. Instead the concert featured a harrowing series of disasters, starting with the concert's haphazard planning. The bad acid kicked in early. The Hells Angels, hired to handle security, began to prey on the concertgoers. And not long after the Rolling Stones went on, an 18-year-old African-American named Meredith Hunter was stabbed by the Angels in front of the stage. The show, and the Woodstock high, were over. Austerlitz shows how Hunter's death came to symbolize the end of an era while the trial of his accused murderer epitomized the racial tensions that still underlie America. He also finds a silver lining in the concert in how Rolling Stone's coverage of it helped create a new form of music journalism, while the making of the movie about Altamont, Gimme Shelter, birthed new forms of documentary. Using scores of new interviews with Paul Kantner, Jann Wenner, journalist John Burks, filmmaker Joan Churchill, and many members of the Rolling Stones' inner circle, as well as Meredith Hunter's family, Austerlitz shows that you can't understand the '60s or rock and roll if you don't come to grips with Altamont.

30 review for Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamont

  1. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamont by Saul Austerlitz is a 2018 Thomas Dunne Books publication. Altamont. That word always conjures up images of the melee and basic cluster f**k of the December 1969 free Rolling Stones concert in San Francisco. Forty-eight years later, we still can’t seem to stop dissecting this event, trying to pinpoint how it all went so far awry, trying to figure out exactly what transpired between the Hell’s Angels and Meredith Hun Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamont by Saul Austerlitz is a 2018 Thomas Dunne Books publication. Altamont. That word always conjures up images of the melee and basic cluster f**k of the December 1969 free Rolling Stones concert in San Francisco. Forty-eight years later, we still can’t seem to stop dissecting this event, trying to pinpoint how it all went so far awry, trying to figure out exactly what transpired between the Hell’s Angels and Meredith Hunter, and hoping to finally get to the bottom of just whose fault it was. I stumbled across this book in the Overdrive library and despite the fact, that I’d read the best book ever written on this subject, a couple of years ago, I’m always up for hearing another perspective, even if the subject has been examined six ways to Sunday. Sadly, this book has quite a few issues. It looks as though it has been hastily arranged and rushed to publication in a ‘quick cash grab’ manner. There are no footnotes or references, no sources named, which should be a requirement,I would think. I can’t believe the publisher allowed this to go unchecked!!! However, most of the information regarding the actual show, can easily be verified if one wants to do the research or check out a few YouTube videos. Under these circumstances, I’d be tempted to slap a one-star rating on this bad boy because I can’t imagine recommending a book in this condition to anyone. However, this book has one redeeming quality, an approach often overlooked by other biographers, and that is the focus on Meredith Hunter. In this way, the book is timely, addressing the death of young black man at the hands of a ruthless and very racist motorcycle club. Over the ensuing years, the finger pointing and blame game is ongoing. Was it the fault of The Grateful Dead who suggested the Angels act as security? Was the last- minute switch in venue? Was it because the planning was rushed and disorganized? Was it the flippant attitude of The Stones? Was it the copious amounts of drugs consumed by the crowd and the Angels? Many have testified that there was just something off- a tension hanging in the air that day- right from the get-go and things steadily declined until the atmosphere boiled over. I think it was all these things combined and it was a very toxic brew. The aftermath of the show is just as murky. There was no conviction, no justice was ever served. Meredith Hunter was buried in an unmarked grave, and to this day no one from The Rolling Stones has ever reached out to his family, not even to offer a simple condolence. Later, when they got wind of a possible lawsuit they paid the family a paltry ten thousand dollars, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the money they earned on that tour, and what they eventually forked over to appease the Hell’s Angels for their ‘services’ at the concert- and maybe to keep them off Jagger's back. Although this book is poorly constructed, edited, and pretty much a recap of the events that transpired before, during and after Altamont, the steps the author took to show Hunter as aliving, breathing human being, and not just someone who symbolized the end of a movement, is the only reason I’m giving the book a higher rating than it really deserves. If you want a truly comprehensive accounting of Altamont I highly recommend the Joel Selvin book: “Altamont: The Rolling Stones, The Hell’s Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day.”

  2. 4 out of 5

    Cvillejon

    Disappointing and poorly edited. The lack of footnotes — probably the decision of the publisher to save space and production costs — is particularly galling in a book that relies very heavily on factual reconstruction of long ago events. And basic fact checking is shockingly lacking. It’s hard to have much faith in a book that gets details wrong, especially about the Rolling Stones. How hard is it to fact check song titles? At times the writer uses a narrative style that suggests he was actually Disappointing and poorly edited. The lack of footnotes — probably the decision of the publisher to save space and production costs — is particularly galling in a book that relies very heavily on factual reconstruction of long ago events. And basic fact checking is shockingly lacking. It’s hard to have much faith in a book that gets details wrong, especially about the Rolling Stones. How hard is it to fact check song titles? At times the writer uses a narrative style that suggests he was actually there at Altamont in December 1969 but that event clearly happened long before he was born and the first person narrative reads like a written up version of the movie “Gimme Shelter” as many scenes from the documentary are simply transcribed. Ironic because the best parts of the book are when the author steps back and discusses the making of that documentary. For a book about the concert at Altamont on December 6, 1969 the author ignores many readily available sources — there is, for example, a well-known audio recording of the Rolling Stones set that provides important contrast with what’s in the film. Listen to the recording and it’s clear the basic chronology and length of the set was very misleadingly edited for the documentary. It’s a huge oversight that the author ignored the audio recording because he does make much of the divergent impressions of the concert in which many concert goers had no idea how much violence occurred near the stage. The divergent impressions were not solely due to whether people were sitting too far away to hear clearly or not. Even people fairly close to the stage had no idea a murder had taken place. The murder of Meredith Hunter was a horrible tragedy and the author is at his best discussing the almost casual manner in which that news was received by many at the time and the way that event has since been regarded as an abstract symbol or metaphor. Austerlitz does a good job in restoring the simple humanity of Meredith Hunter and what his murder meant to his family and loved ones. It’s surprising that there is no mention of the three other people who died at Altamont. Granted, a hate crime should be the focus but it’s curious that the three who died in accidents don’t get a single mention.

  3. 3 out of 5

    Jeff

    So we have Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day which I read and Let It Bleed: The Rolling Stones, Altamont, and the End of the Sixties which I want to read as well as the movie Gimme Shelter, so I was wondering why another book on Altamont. This one focuses a lot of attention on the man who was killed at Altamont, Meredith Hunter. The only problem I have with the book is the glaring mistake that had Jorma Kaukonen instead of Paul Kantner tha So we have Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day which I read and Let It Bleed: The Rolling Stones, Altamont, and the End of the Sixties which I want to read as well as the movie Gimme Shelter, so I was wondering why another book on Altamont. This one focuses a lot of attention on the man who was killed at Altamont, Meredith Hunter. The only problem I have with the book is the glaring mistake that had Jorma Kaukonen instead of Paul Kantner thanking the Angels for knocking out their lead singer. Anyone who has seen Gimme Shelter knows that is was Paul Kantner. It made me wonder what else the author got wrong in his research of the book. Also the Airplane were playing The Other Side of this Life not Somebody to Love when Marty Balin jumped into the crowd and got knocked out.

  4. 3 out of 5

    Courtney

    Very disappointed in this book. First off, there are stupid little mistakes that should have been caught by the author or the editor. For example, the title of one of The Rolling Stones songs is “Moonlight Mile”, yet the author calls the song “Midnight Mile”. There are other mistakes as well regarding the forming of the band and who founded it, and other similar things that I am not going to take the time to list, but suffice it to say, they are mistakes that should have been caught by the edito Very disappointed in this book. First off, there are stupid little mistakes that should have been caught by the author or the editor. For example, the title of one of The Rolling Stones songs is “Moonlight Mile”, yet the author calls the song “Midnight Mile”. There are other mistakes as well regarding the forming of the band and who founded it, and other similar things that I am not going to take the time to list, but suffice it to say, they are mistakes that should have been caught by the editor. Secondly, the author had a agenda from the start that he definitely got across. That being that anyone with white skin is evil and out to get our black brothers and sisters, and there in lies the problem. If you are looking for a history of race relations from 1969 to the present, this book is for you, but if you are looking for the story of Altamont, or a small segment of Rolling Stones history, you may want to look elsewhere.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    This is quite simply the best rock history book I have ever read. I was too young to know about what happened at Altamont at the time, but as I grew older and became interested in music, I learned a bit about "the day the music died." (One of them, anyway.) The book resonates and haunts because it doesn't just address the lack of planning and the disastrous choice of the Hells Angels as security. It also looks at the troubled life of Meredith Hunter, the 18-year-old African-American man who was k This is quite simply the best rock history book I have ever read. I was too young to know about what happened at Altamont at the time, but as I grew older and became interested in music, I learned a bit about "the day the music died." (One of them, anyway.) The book resonates and haunts because it doesn't just address the lack of planning and the disastrous choice of the Hells Angels as security. It also looks at the troubled life of Meredith Hunter, the 18-year-old African-American man who was killed by them, and the heartbreak his family suffered. Most of the coverage I've read about Altamont talked about what it meant for music and the end of the '60s peace movement. Much respect to the author for reminding everyone that a young man lost his life that day and he had a family who still mourns him. I am a big Rolling Stones fan (they are my all-time favorite band), so it was a little hard for me to process their culpability in the disaster; much blame has been heaped upon the band, especially Mick Jagger, for somehow "harnessing" the dark energy present that day and unleashing it upon the crowd. Bollocks. Mistakes were made, certainly by the planners of the event, but it's absurd to blame it all on the band or on Jagger. Things went downhill fast and while it wasn't handled well, I don't think the blame lies with them. I am certainly no scholar of the incident. This is the first in-depth take I've read on it. But I would have to place much of the blame on the Grateful Dead, who arranged the free concert, pegged the Hells Angels for security, and then bailed when they saw the violence getting out of control. (Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane was knocked unconscious by a Hells Angel, and the Grateful Dead refused to take the stage.) I would place the majority of the blame on the Hells Angels. Their violent tendencies were exacerbated by mass quantities of booze and drugs, and they were ready to beat some heads. A drug-addled crowd of 300,000 probably didn't help matters. Crowd dynamics can be strange; you can often sense a change in a crowd, moving from just enjoying the music and being happy to a darker tone, with people ready to fight. From the start, Altamont was set up for failure. While this was a fascinating read, it was also a tragic one. Highly recommended for anyone interested in rock history and the '60s in particular.

  6. 3 out of 5

    Nick

    Austerlitz does a good job of bringing Meredith Hunter to life through accounts of his troubled family life, which was mitigated somewhat by his sister Dixie, who raised him. The author also has a solid feel for what it was like in the crush of the crowd near the tiny stage that was bristling with Hell's Angels. Lastly, he gives full attention to the aftermath of the concert - the making of the film, and the trial of the Hell's Angel who drew first blood in the killing of Meredith Hunter. People Austerlitz does a good job of bringing Meredith Hunter to life through accounts of his troubled family life, which was mitigated somewhat by his sister Dixie, who raised him. The author also has a solid feel for what it was like in the crush of the crowd near the tiny stage that was bristling with Hell's Angels. Lastly, he gives full attention to the aftermath of the concert - the making of the film, and the trial of the Hell's Angel who drew first blood in the killing of Meredith Hunter. People that mythologize the Sixties won't like the author's negative view of the Stones or the Grateful Dead. Others, whether they're Baby Boomers who voted for Trump or of some other age cohort, won't like the author's view that Hunter's death was no different from a lynching or a cop shooting. 300,000 people attended Altamont. Allowing for attrition over the years, there are still hundreds of thousands of eyewitness points of view on the subject. With that in mind, if you read this book do yourself a favor and read Joel Selvin's book on Altamont, as well. Selvin's prose is less overheated and his connections with Bay Area music types allowed him to get a detailed view of the situation backstage as well as the business chicanery that fed into the hastily "organized" concert.

  7. 4 out of 5

    victor harris

    Held in December, 1969, the Altamont concert conveniently marks the end of the 60s and casts a cloud over the often upbeat assessment of the counterculture and Woodstock Generation. Because of the killing of Meredith Hunter by the Hell's Angels, who were hired as security for the concert, the focus of the narrative was on tragedy rather than a celebration of high profile bands. It was a free concert offered by the Rolling Stones in a hastily assembled venue that was ill-equipped to handle the ma Held in December, 1969, the Altamont concert conveniently marks the end of the 60s and casts a cloud over the often upbeat assessment of the counterculture and Woodstock Generation. Because of the killing of Meredith Hunter by the Hell's Angels, who were hired as security for the concert, the focus of the narrative was on tragedy rather than a celebration of high profile bands. It was a free concert offered by the Rolling Stones in a hastily assembled venue that was ill-equipped to handle the masses that assembled. They were also responsible for hiring the Angels based on a recommendation by The Grateful Dead. The Dead would abdicate responsibility when the Angels went on a violence binge and didn't even take the stage. In fact no one wanted to take responsibility for the murder of Hunter who would fall into obscurity. This work corrects that and traces his early life and the impact his death had on relatives and friends. He would not be entirely blameless in the incident as he pulled a gun on the Angels ( an unloaded one) which gave them some justification for their overreaction. Very good pace and the author weaves the various story lines of the musicians, Hell's Angels, and cultural backdrop into striking commentary on the demise of the 60s counterculture.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I didn't know much about Altamont before reading this book although I've always liked the history of the 60s. This book is a mess though, like others have said, no citations, boring accounting of most of it, and it starts out with an angle. While I'm sure race played a role in the Hells Angels actions, and moreso in the media ignoring Hunter's death, it shouldn't have been such a huge focal point. Everyone was on LSD and meth and lord knows what else, drunk, miserable, jammed in, and a violent b I didn't know much about Altamont before reading this book although I've always liked the history of the 60s. This book is a mess though, like others have said, no citations, boring accounting of most of it, and it starts out with an angle. While I'm sure race played a role in the Hells Angels actions, and moreso in the media ignoring Hunter's death, it shouldn't have been such a huge focal point. Everyone was on LSD and meth and lord knows what else, drunk, miserable, jammed in, and a violent biker gang in charge of security. So a kid waves a gun around? And in the direction of the stage? Not too many other ways this could end. There were many other injuries and a few other deaths that day that are completely glossed over. It's ironic that the author mocks the terrible coverage by the media when his own reporting is just as shoddy. Disappointed in this. I caught numerous writing mistakes too, like one minute Meredith is running away, and the next it's so crowded that a reporter can't put both feet on the ground. Distracting when you're reading about an already chaotic moment.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dennis

    A good read but not awesome. I like the author’s attempt to humanise Meredith Hunter, the teen allegedly stabbed to death by the Hells Angels at Altamont in 1969. Some good interviews with key players certainly shed some new light but there was a fair bit of repetition throughout this book. The point was laboured very heavily - hells angels / greatly dead bad; stones - callow, unsympathetic and hunter - just a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time. I did enjoy some of the socioeconomic A good read but not awesome. I like the author’s attempt to humanise Meredith Hunter, the teen allegedly stabbed to death by the Hells Angels at Altamont in 1969. Some good interviews with key players certainly shed some new light but there was a fair bit of repetition throughout this book. The point was laboured very heavily - hells angels / greatly dead bad; stones - callow, unsympathetic and hunter - just a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time. I did enjoy some of the socioeconomic history in the text but I wanted a bit more from this.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Chad Malkamaki

    This reads like an overly long magazine article than history book with just a bit too much proselytizing by the author about comparing this event to today. But the facts remain, Meredith Hunter's name is known for his tragic murder, but no one remembers the young man or knows his story. Also, the Grateful Dead remain one of the largest collection of scum bags and their actions at Altamont are unconscionable.

  11. 3 out of 5

    Edu

    You're better off watching the Maysles brothers' acclaimed documentary Gimme Shelter (1970). The book reads like a transcript of the film, anyway.

  12. 3 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

    A mostly compelling and thoughtful chronicle of the disastrous 1969 event. Lack of source notes is a notable oversight.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dana

  14. 4 out of 5

    Elaine

  15. 3 out of 5

    Blair

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Doyle

  17. 3 out of 5

    Shane Bua

  18. 5 out of 5

    Greg Broom

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jill

  20. 3 out of 5

    Larry

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Cameron

  22. 4 out of 5

    KP

  23. 4 out of 5

    Joblio

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mike

  25. 4 out of 5

    Shove Mink

  26. 3 out of 5

    Lisa

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dave

  28. 5 out of 5

    Elisha

  29. 4 out of 5

    Robert Andre

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Lyon

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