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 Post subject: F&LILV Tidbit #26 - The Day the Music Died
PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2005 3:20 am 
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In the San Francisco Bay Area when you hear the word "Altamont" the first thing that comes to mind is windmills. Other thoughts are of the Altamont Pass, a major corridor to the Central Valley; the way to get to Tahoe, Yosemite, and the path to I-5 to Sacramento and Los Angeles; in recent years a major commuter route, as the "Bay Area" expands to Tracy and beyond.

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Outside of this area, Altamont is famous for its wind power, but is probably more famous for the Altamont Concert, held on December 6, 1969. It is not fondly remembered. It is always at or near the top of the list of Rock and Roll tragedies and referred to as "The Day the 60's Died". It is for this that Altamont is chronicled in several film documentaries, and in the song "American Pie" by Don McLean. (more on this later)

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The Altamont Concert was set up by the Rolling Stones as a free concert at the end of their very successful North American tour, attempting to be "Woodstock West". The Stones had not played at Woodstock. The concert was originally slated for San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, but moved to Sears Point when it was realized that the attendance would be too large. It moved again to the site of the Altamont Speedway, with the speedway being contacted less than 24 hours before the concert. 100,000 people were expected. About 300,000 showed up.

In addition to the Rolling Stones, there were performances by Santata, Tina Turner, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. The Rolling Stones were the final act.

There was a lot of violence at the concert, caused by very poor planning, overcrowding, the security situation, and other factors.

The Hell's Angels were hired by the Rolling Stones as security for several reasons. The Grateful Dead had a long-standing relationship with the Angels and had used them for security on several occasion without incident. The Stones had used the Hell's Angels for security in London over the summer for one of their free concerts in Hyde Park. The Hell's Angels in London, however, were Jagger-type lookalikes, who were for the most part harmless, not like the American Angels, who were notorious for their violent nature and excessive drug use. At Altamont, the Angels acted just like they always did, drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana, and dropping acid. The Angels probably abused more drugs, in varying combinations, than anyone else. There were no other security forces except the Hell's Angels, so if they got out of line, there would be no stopping them.

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At this point in the genesis of rock festivals the mistakes of Woodstock were bound to be repeated: inadequate toilet and medical facilities, as well as open drug use, almost promoted by the fact that the Angels were security. The violence, however, that was to come was not expected.

By halfway through Santana's set, swirls and flurries of violence, at first almost too quick for the eye to follow, were happening all along the stage - from there to its scaffolded corners where massed Hell's Angels confronted the ordinary public.

The Angels' most popular choice of weapons for the day were pool cues, which were used to beat people. The other popular weapon was the beer can. They assumed that the best way to calm an angry crowd would be to throw full cans of beer at them. From this point to the end "it had become, to a disgusting degree, a Hell's Angels festival."

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The Rolling Stones' road manager Sam Culter decided that he should intercede in order to calm the Angels down. He decided that if he moved the beer right next to the stage area, perhaps this would help to keep the Angels in one area and be ready to protect the stage if necessary. Culter bought the beer the Angels brought with them for $500. This was the origin of one powerful Altamont legend--that the Hell's Angels were given $500 in beer for security. Either way that it is examined, it was not a wise decision.

It should be noted that the stage was too low for this kind of event. It should have been very high and monstrous, like the one at Woodstock, instead of being one foot high. With all of the Angels, film crews, and members of the audience at the foot of the stage, it is amazing that anyone actually saw any part of the concert.

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Another unfortunate incident happened during Jefferson Airplane's set when Marty Balin got knocked out by an Angel during a scuffle near the stage. When Paul Kantner told the audience what the Angels had been doing, one of them grabbed a microphone and started threatening him. Another fight was barely avoided.

Like the rest of the Stones' tour, the group waited as long as possible before taking the stage. They wanted their entrance to be as great as possible. The lights around the medical units were even asked to be turned off so that as their set began the only light would be a single spotlight on Jagger.

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Small fights kept breaking out as the Stones played. Meredith Hunter, an eighteen year old black man, was near the stage with a knife and a gun. As the Hell's Angels attacked him with their pool cues, "Mick sang his song about how groovy it is to be Satan. Never has it been sung in a more appropriate setting." Hunter was beaten to death by the Angels. "There could be no worse circumstances for making music, and the Stones are playing their asses off." It soon became apparent what was happening, Jagger stopped singing, and tried to calm everyone down, finally calling for an ambulance. They had to continue playing their set, otherwise even more violence was sure to follow.

Image

About 850 people were hurt. Three other people died, but this was afterwards, and not of violence. Two men were run over by a car as they slept in sleeping bags in a field. Many people spent the night in the surrounding fields and cars were everywhere. Another person drowned in the California Aqueduct.

It is a shame that a concert like this would have to end under such disturbing circumstances. Four months earlier, Woodstock seemed like the future of rock festivals; everyone getting together to have a good time, people enjoying the music and each other, and nothing was getting in anyone's way. For future good, Altamont showed that a festival like this must have better and more proper organization.

In 1999 there was a hand painted sign along 580 approaching Tracy going east that seemed to be trying to drum up support for a 30 year anniversary concert. It never happened, as this is an event that people did not want to remember, let alone repeat.

Now, nearly 36 years after the fact, investigators have closed the case, dismissing a long-argued theory that a second member of the Hell's Angels played a role in the stabbing. The incident, which occurred amidst nearly 300,000 people, was documented in the film documentary "Gimme Shelter." As the Stones play on stage, a member of the Hells Angel's can be seen stabbing Hunter in the film footage.

The Hell's Angel in question, Alan Passaro, was acquitted of the charges against him after a jury concluded his actions were in self-defense because Hunter was carrying a gun. But there had been rumors over the years that a second unidentified assailant had inflicted the fatal wounds, not Passaro, and the case remained open since.

But Alameda County Sherriff Department member Sgt. Scott Dudek said Wednesday that after a renewed investigation over the past two years, authorities came to the conclusion that Passaro acted alone in his assault on Hunter and did so only after Hunter pointed a gun toward the stage where the Rolling Stones were performing.

Sgt. Dudek said Passaro's lawyer confirmed his client (who passed away in 1985) was the lone assailant. In addition, enhanced and slowed-down footage from the film shows Hunter brandishing the gun just before Passaro leaps from the stage and stabs him, Dudek said.


Now to the Don McLean Song…..

"And as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage
No angel born in hell
Could break that satan's spell
And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw satan laughing with delight
The day the music died
He was singing..."


And as I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage
No angel born in hell
Could break that satan's spell


Meredith Hunter was stabbed by a Hell’s Angel while the Stones performed “Sympathy for the Devil”. Public outcry that the song had somehow incited the violence had caused the Stones to drop the song from their show for the next six years. This incident is chronicled in the documentary film "Gimme Shelter".

It's also possible that McLean views the Stones as being negatively inspired (he had an extensive religious background) by virtue of "Sympathy for the Devil", "Their Satanic Majesty's Request" and so on.


And as the flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite


The most likely interpretation is that McLean is still talking about Altamont, and in particular Mick Jagger's prancing and posing while it was happening. The sacrifice is Meredith Hunter, and the bonfires around the area provide the flames.

I saw satan laughing with delight

If the above is correct, then Satan would be Jagger.

The day the music died
He was singing...


For the interpretation of the rest of the verses to this song see:

http://www.faqs.org/faqs/music/american-pie/

Image


Sources:
http://www.elivermore.com/photos/Hist_lvr_altamont3.htm
http://www.echoes.com/rememberaday/altamont.html
http://sbindependent.org/node/417
http://www.faqs.org/faqs/music/american-pie/



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2005 8:29 am 
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Wow, Makes me want to read my Hells Angels book now. thanks Liz! :cool:



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2005 10:50 am 
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A couple of side notes here... I watched an interview with Hunter and Keith Richards and (at least the parts I could understand through the mumbling :lol: ), Hunter asked Keith about Altamont. Keith said they were asked to play at a concert already set up by the Dead as a finale to their US tour and that the Dead were in charge of security and had used the Hells Angels before. It has also been said that the Rolling Stones were to have taken the stage in the afternoon but delayed their appearance because they were filming a documentary on their tour. The story went that they wanted to wait until night so the lighting would be correct and also to have as many people in the audience as possible. I know the accusations have gone back and forth ever since the concert. So who really knows? :-?



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2005 11:07 am 
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Wow - what an interesting tidbit, Thanks, Liz , great job! :cool:

I couldn't help but think, though - It's strange/awesome that the Stones are still on tour today. (they just came here to Hartford Friday night :cloud9: ) What a history that band has. And I caught American Pie on the radio the other day (and turned it up real loud :)) and I was thinking about the lyrics, and I knew they were probably referring to something, but I had no idea what it was :baby: Thanks for these insights :cool:


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2005 11:15 am 
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DITHOT wrote:
Quote:
I watched an interview with Hunter and Keith Richards


What interview was this, DITHOT?

Btw: The tidbits are fascinating reading, as always. Thanks.
bluebird



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2005 11:38 am 
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I wonder how many times I have heard and sung along with American Pie and never once connected that verse with Altamont. :dunce: Thanks for the revelation, Liz!

And the contrast of the pictures of the festival and the barren fields of windmills is cool, too. I have seen Gimme Shelter and that is one concert I'm glad I missed. It is really scary when Mick is trying to calm the crowd. You can just sense the drug-fueled tension and menace in the air. The miracle is that it didn't erupt into a huge riot with more deaths.

I've got to read Hells Angels again one of these days.



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2005 12:08 pm 
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thanks Liz!

nice job!

I had an interpretation of American Pie around here many years ago. It was almost exactly the same as Rich's wonder if they were the same interp? Or everyone agrees? I love the song anyway, whatever the meaning.

thanks for the history lesson again!

Raven



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2005 2:04 pm 
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bluebird, it is a compliation of Hunter interviews called the Best of Hunter S. Thompson. I bought it from 5minutestolive.com. It is a lot of his press tour from Proud Highway. Interviews with David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, Charlie Rose... Hunter actually interviews Keith as part of an ABC special. :-O

I thought the part about Altamont and American Pie was very interesting too. I had always thought the song was about the death of Buddy Holly but I think the parts Liz pointed out are definitely about Altamont.

Bix, is that the documentary I was referring to above? I haven't seen that in years.



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2005 2:31 pm 
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DeppInTheHeartOfTexas wrote:
I thought the part about Altamont and American Pie was very interesting too. I had always thought the song was about the death of Buddy Holly but I think the parts Liz pointed out are definitely about Altamont.

Bix, is that the documentary I was referring to above? I haven't seen that in years. [/b]


DITHOT, you are right about Buddy Holly. You can read the rest of the interpretation to the song on this site:

http://www.faqs.org/faqs/music/american-pie/

I'm assumed that Gimme Shelter and the documentary they were filming that night were one in the same. But I could be wrong.

And Kristen, I thought it was weird, too, that they were having their tour right now while I was working on this tidbit.



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2005 2:34 pm 
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DeppInTheHeartOfTexas wrote:
Bix, is that the documentary I was referring to above? I haven't seen that in years. [/b]


Yes, it is. Gimme Shelter was filmed by the Maysles brothers, David and Albert, who have their own unique documentary style. I looked at their filmography to see if I could find anything that might be more familiar to everyone and was surprised to find a documentary called Meet Marlon Brando which they did in 1966. That might be really interesting! My favorite of theirs is one called Grey Gardens, which they released in 1975 and in which they exhibit some really gonzo documentary work. It is about this completely batty aunt and cousin of Jacquelyn Bouvier Kennedy, Little Edie and Big Edie, who live in a litter-filled, crumbling mansion in the Hamptons. It is just fascinating. (And that's way more than you wanted to know, I'm sure! :blush: )



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2005 2:41 pm 
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Bix wrote:
DeppInTheHeartOfTexas wrote:
Bix, is that the documentary I was referring to above? I haven't seen that in years. [/b]


Yes, it is. Gimme Shelter was filmed by the Maysles brothers, David and Albert, who have their own unique documentary style. I looked at their filmography to see if I could find anything that might be more familiar to everyone and was surprised to find a documentary called Meet Marlon Brando which they did in 1966. That might be really interesting! My favorite of theirs is one called Grey Gardens, which they released in 1975 and in which they exhibit some really gonzo documentary work. It is about this completely batty aunt and cousin of Jacquelyn Bouvier Kennedy, Little Edie and Big Edie, who live in a litter-filled, crumbling mansion in the Hamptons. It is just fascinating. (And that's way more than you wanted to know, I'm sure! :blush: )


Thanks for clarifying that, Bix. :cool:



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2005 3:58 pm 
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Quote:
August 3, 1993
THE LAST WORD (PROBABLY) ON "AMERICAN PIE"

As you can imagine, over the years I've been asked many times to discuss and explain my song "American Pie" [June25]. I have never discussed the lyrics, but have admitted to the Holly reference in the opening stanzas. I dedicated the album American Pie to Buddy Holly as well in order to connect the entire statement to Holly in hopes of bringing about an interest in him, which subsequently did occur. This brings me to my point. Casey Kasem never spoke to me and none of the references he confirms my making were made by me. You will find many "interpretations" of my lyrics but none of them by me. Isn't this fun? Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.

- Don McLean
Castine, Maine


Image The theories and interpretations about “American Pie” are quite interesting. But isn’t it fun to think that all of it could be completely wrong?

Image Perhaps I’m showing my age -- or ignorance -- but I had never heard of the Altamont Concert. Maybe that’s because it ended up so differently than Woodstock.


Thanks for the tidbit, Liz.

Image


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2005 4:16 pm 
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theresa wrote:
Quote:
August 3, 1993
THE LAST WORD (PROBABLY) ON "AMERICAN PIE"

As you can imagine, over the years I've been asked many times to discuss and explain my song "American Pie" [June25]. I have never discussed the lyrics, but have admitted to the Holly reference in the opening stanzas. I dedicated the album American Pie to Buddy Holly as well in order to connect the entire statement to Holly in hopes of bringing about an interest in him, which subsequently did occur. This brings me to my point. Casey Kasem never spoke to me and none of the references he confirms my making were made by me. You will find many "interpretations" of my lyrics but none of them by me. Isn't this fun? Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.

- Don McLean
Castine, Maine



Image The theories and interpretations about “American Pie” are quite interesting. But isn’t it fun to think that all of it could be completely wrong?

Image Perhaps I’m showing my age -- or ignorance -- but I had never heard of the Altamont Concert. Maybe that’s because it ended up so differently than Woodstock.


Thanks for the tidbit, Liz.

Image


I wonder if he will ever commit either way.

I think the only reason I was familiar with Altamont was because I lived in the Bay Area. I really don't remember much talk about it with my friends at the time. I think I learned more in later years when I met someone who was there. I should really give her a call.



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2005 4:24 pm 
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theresa wrote:
Quote:
August 3, 1993
THE LAST WORD (PROBABLY) ON "AMERICAN PIE"

As you can imagine, over the years I've been asked many times to discuss and explain my song "American Pie" [June25]. I have never discussed the lyrics, but have admitted to the Holly reference in the opening stanzas. I dedicated the album American Pie to Buddy Holly as well in order to connect the entire statement to Holly in hopes of bringing about an interest in him, which subsequently did occur. This brings me to my point. Casey Kasem never spoke to me and none of the references he confirms my making were made by me. You will find many "interpretations" of my lyrics but none of them by me. Isn't this fun? Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.

- Don McLean
Castine, Maine


Image The theories and interpretations about “American Pie” are quite interesting. But isn’t it fun to think that all of it could be completely wrong?

Image Perhaps I’m showing my age -- or ignorance -- but I had never heard of the Altamont Concert. Maybe that’s because it ended up so differently than Woodstock.


Thanks for the tidbit, Liz.

Image



Geesh, I thought I was the only one! I was a newlywed :flirt: in December 1970, but I did come up for air occasionally! :shocked:
I suppose it was a much bigger story on the West Coast, but I swear, I had never heard of Altamont. Also, I always thought American Pie was about Buddy Holly. :sing:


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PostPosted: Sun Aug 28, 2005 5:00 pm 
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CarrieKY wrote:
theresa wrote:
Quote:
August 3, 1993
THE LAST WORD (PROBABLY) ON "AMERICAN PIE"

As you can imagine, over the years I've been asked many times to discuss and explain my song "American Pie" [June25]. I have never discussed the lyrics, but have admitted to the Holly reference in the opening stanzas. I dedicated the album American Pie to Buddy Holly as well in order to connect the entire statement to Holly in hopes of bringing about an interest in him, which subsequently did occur. This brings me to my point. Casey Kasem never spoke to me and none of the references he confirms my making were made by me. You will find many "interpretations" of my lyrics but none of them by me. Isn't this fun? Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.

- Don McLean
Castine, Maine


Image The theories and interpretations about “American Pie” are quite interesting. But isn’t it fun to think that all of it could be completely wrong?

Image Perhaps I’m showing my age -- or ignorance -- but I had never heard of the Altamont Concert. Maybe that’s because it ended up so differently than Woodstock.


Thanks for the tidbit, Liz.

Image



Geesh, I thought I was the only one! I was a newlywed :flirt: in December 1970, but I did come up for air occasionally! :shocked:
I suppose it was a much bigger story on the West Coast, but I swear, I had never heard of Altamont. Also, I always thought American Pie was about Buddy Holly. :sing:


I was a senior in high school in 1970 in Texas (graduated spring of 1971) but I knew all about Altamont. It was a big story in the crowd I hung with. Hmmm... maybe I shouldn't admit that? :blush: I had never read Don McLean's actual words about the song, I just had that interpretation floating around in my head from something else I read a long time ago. I can certainly see how those lyrics could be interpreted to be about Altamont. You never know how someone will interpret what you write! :-O



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Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
Wow! What a ride!
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