Sam Cutler’s Nuanced View Of Altamont

Everything appears to be ready, are you ready? Thus are Sam Cutler’s introductory words from the Stones’ ’69 tour memorialized on Get Yer Ya-Yas Out, introducing, in his lifted superlative, “The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band In The World.”

Now, more than 40 years on, Cutler has written a superb autobiography entitled “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” the best parts of which center around his stint as tour manager for the Stones on their epochal ’69 tour.  Less than a year ago, we had Ethan Russell’s great book of photos from the tour, Let It Bleed, along with written accompaniment, but Cutler’s book is a well-told, up-close look at interactions the Stones had along the way, the most historically important element being his telling the tale of what happened at Altamont in a nuanced manner that not only names names, but gives a different interpretation of events.

Cutler imparts like a slow-motion car wreck the events that led to Meredith Hunter’s death at the hands of Hells Angels.  The San Francisco bands and forces that encouraged the Stones to do a free concert in the Bay Area, but were organizationally too diffuse to think through the implications of a December outdoors concert.  The sleazy moves of the mysterious hood John Jaymes who attached himself to the Stones and with no actual authority, claimed the right to commit to the Altamont site, which proved to be so inappropriate.  The buckets of bad acid that were passed through the crowd, leading to a cacophony of bad trips.  The way the San Francisco bands who’d egged the Stones on into throwing the concert all disappeared when it hit the fan.

He describes how the chief instigators of violence against the crowd — the pool cue thugs, the puffed out sadists — were for the most part either Angels in training, on probationary status, or hick Angels from, like, San Jose, not the main branch in San Francisco lined up, mostly by Rock Scully of the Dead, to provide stage security.  Now, this is a little like blaming the Cambodian Holocaust not on Pol Pot but on the notion that the Khmer Rouge were from the country and just didn’t like those effete Phnom Penh residents.  But throughout the book, there’s the ring of truth, and Cutler is a straightforward, organized writer.  You get the feeling that he writes the way he probably ran the tour: no BS, just a workmanlike effort to get the job done.

His story of abandonment by the Stones within literal hours of their return to San Francisco from the concert, their leaving him to hold the bag, his sense of duty and honor infusing a possibly suicidal effort to straighten things out with the Angels afterward, is absolutely fascinating.  Makes it harder to see Mick’s remorseful face in Gimme Shelter watching the death of Hunter — for very quickly, Mick was out of the country, in his safe European home.  The Angels immediately  wanted to get their hands on the Maysle Brothers’ film to see what evidence of murder might be pinned on which Angel.  It’s a great read, and we’re glad that Cutler took the opportunity to write it.

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