"Dark Star crashes
pouring its light into ashes.
The forces tear loose from the axis.
Searchlight casting for faults
in the clouds of delusion.
Shall we go you and I while we can
Through the transitive nightfall
- "Dark Star", Hunter-Garcia
Jerry Garcia, guitar & vocals and guiding spirit of The Grateful Dead, sits feet crossed, beautiful dark leather jacket open, halo hair, eyes "on" in the non-luxury of the wise man, his room at the Chelsea Hotel. Six pieces of furniture: bed, two chairs, lamp, dresser, television also on, the third person, the neutral party. Our talk is an express, no local amenities, just the stroboscopic velocity of his rap, totally there and then, "good-by," gone.
Altamont: A Destruction Car Derby Race Track east of San Francisco in the industrial wastelands. Toll: 4 dead, countless injured at the Rolling Stones free concert.
"It's the only thing on my mind...it's the news...like a dirty trick...the best people in San Francisco were working on it...we started two months before...this incredible energy was just rolling, so utterly...I'm responsible for what happened...I mean you could blame the Grateful Dead, we did the first free concerts...we wanted to keep it quiet, a free concert where the Stones would come and play...we wanted to let them loosen up...get beyond the rock and roll band thing they do...but the media got to it...you say 'Rolling Stones' on the radio, 'for free' and 300,000 people just appear...the Stones didn't know...they are so out of touch...their fame makes it impossible...and everything was handled by their business front in New York...all dollars, that hassle...we wanted them to come, walk around, see other people doing what they do...like the Be-In...no one announced the Be-In on the radio, it just happened...it's the whole role of music fighting the money-system-music-business shit...it's been six years and that's still where we are...the Stones are a rock and roll band...they come from that...an incredibly popular commodity...we didn't want the media to know... that's why Gleason (the San Francisco rock critic who accused Jagger of being responsible for the murder of Meredith Hunter by the Angels) was so angry...none of us would talk to him about it before hand...but he found out and announced it...the media killed it.
"Everyone here has a new sense of responsibility...it's all WHERE CAN WE GO FROM HERE?...it will NEVER happen again...no more "festivals" until we can get it COMPLETELY COOL...Woodstock, that was a proven crowd, heads...and they were really stoned...yeah, Woodstock was lucky...but they were cool...we know if we're going to do it with that many people they have got to be cool.
"The night before Altamont it was really beautiful...the fires, the stage going up, just a few hundred happy heads...but the next day...polluted air, orange-y and thick...desolate hills...a downer...I came in by helicopter...really high...this STP...man, the vibrations...Santana was just leaving, they're friends of mine...it was horrible...people as far as you could see...sitting in panic...there was no way out...walking through the large crowd was like going through the circles of Dante's inferno...here and there you saw these groups of patient heads...but the rest...and up by the stage...people nodding out on downs, people with no shirts, skin all scratched, eyes in panic...empty heads...it was murder...THE BIGGEST VOLUNTARY MASS BUMMER OF ALL TIME!
"The Angels...yeah...imagine if there were still sabre-tooth tigers walking around...that's the Angels...and not the San Francisco or Oakland Angels, they're already different...these were the San Diego Angels, San Bernardino Angels...and busting heads, man, that's the Angels' whole bit...but I mean when you live with them you get cool about the Angels...you learn how to walk...you learn how to avoid em...it's cool...the people there weren't hip, most of them...it was just people...Rolling Stones fans...consumers...'Get your free Rolling Stones'...not heads...they didn't know about the Angels...they didn't understand...and once the Angels get violent they go all the way...that's it...imagine a group of Angels standing around something you can't really see...beating on it...I was afraid for my life...I've got to hand it to Jagger...the music was OH FUCKIN' KAY...GOOD SHIT...JAGGER IS A HEAVY DUDE, MAN.
"They filmed the murder...if the Mayseles had any sense or cool they would burn the film...(the Mayseles flew back to San Francisco with the developed film to be used as evidence for indicting the offending Angels)...that'll stir them up...The Mayseles fly out...but we have to live with them...it's cool...the Angels are always being indicted for murder.
"Everybody fucked up...it was a hard and expensive lesson...when I heard there were four deaths, only four...it was a relief...you can't imagine what it was like...it could have been hundreds...it's the only thing on my mind...everybody's talking about it...it's the news."
A river of pure water flowing over the waters, around the bends, among the trees. Only high up in the mountains, in America, are there any rivers of pure water. The Grateful Dead are seven of the most together musicians that play together.
In the weeks that have passed one impression remained constant: Altamont was so much the outcome of everything that preceded it, back to Kesey and the acid in the orange juice of the Merry Pranksters bus right up to Woodstock, People's Park and everything this year, and the experience is so organic and the lesson so deep - like Dylan's accident or the death of Brian Jones - it's the Dark Star.
"Ken Kesey...yeah, he is living up on his farm in Oregon...but he has to explain to his neighbors what happened at Altamont...he knows that he's responsible...that we're all responsible...what happens to one of us, now, happens to all of us...and that's not the way things used to be...it's beautiful."
Of course, there are other things on his mind, like the Earth. "If we don't do something in five years it's too late." The project is called Earth People's Park, devoted to acquiring land and setting up ecologically sound communities. "It's time for a big interruption of the game while we try and get the board back together. It's not political, and I can't say 'You are poisoning the earth!' Difference just don't count anymore. I mean there are infinite differences between every two human beings...but we're all in this one together. I hope humanity can get it on in the last minute and pull it out...otherwise, well, it'll be over. There are flashing signs, big neon signs, EMERGENCY. For me, it's the most important thing."
And through it all, music. The scene is "sweeter than ever." Stephen Stills now lives near the Marin county ranch where the Dead are, and is producing their next album. Any of you who heard the Dead's Fillmore concerts this weekend may have noticed the tight vocals, the three voices (Garcia, Phil Lesh and Bob Weir) in soaring harmony...that's Stills, and Garcia is very happily into it. The set I heard was brought to a close by a most remarkable song, "Uncle John's Band", lyrical with Band influences as well as Stills'. If it sounded awkward sometimes it's because some of the songs are only two weeks old. The album is already revolving around a subject. "We're thinking of a title...'The Working Man's Dead'." "Any relation to the Stones' 'Factory Girl'?" "Well...no, that's a banner song...this is something intimate, personal, not about them but from them...there are a lot of people whose lives are just work until they get old and die...Micky (Hart, the drummer on the left as you face the stage) goes out with the cowboys every day...he looks like a redneck...well, you'll see him...he goes drinking with them, too...they turn him on to juice and he turns them on to dope...they turn him on to work and he turns them on to music."
Hendricks did New Years Eve, and New Years Day eve, and he sure wasn't the old Hendricks. The group, a Band of Gypsies with Buddy Miles on drums and Billy Cox on bass, works out musically very well, but the racial dissonance (cool dissonance) and the flamboyance...gone with the old year. The guitar is essentially feminine, the shape, the strings, the way you stroke it and caress it...but at one point Jimi spread his legs, bent his knees, hung it between them, and wow did it change sex...there it was, stretched foreskin and all, sailing. 15 seconds and that was it. He did it, like an allusion, a reference, the high old times of the Monterey Festival raping the amplifiers, setting his ax on fire, seem to be over. Guess it's time to follow the gypsies.
The most moving thing about the concert was (were) the Voices of East Harlem! Talk about music born from the community! Wow, if you could pay rent with warmth and good vibrations they'd have their own penthouse anywhere they want it. Something to get into very soon. The Voices include the youngest singer (he is really something else) in rock and roll, and on Tuesday night a very likeable Philadelphia group called Sweet Stavin' Chain brought us..."Here he is folks (said mad Nero, the lead guitar) the biggest singer in rock and roll." And out he came, 6 feet 6 inches tall, about 220 pounds in blue jeans and a tie-dye shirt. It was quite a shock. They were very funny when they were putting on rock and roll...a wonderfully freaky rolling on the floor "In A Gadda da Vida," and most amazing of all "The Teddy Bears' Picnic" (Right, "if you go out into the woods today you'd better not go alone...") dedicated to all the 7-year-olds in the audience. Unfortunately the straight stuff wasn't as enjoyable.
With the Dead were Mr. Graham's proteges, Cold Blood. "Good music continues to come out of San Francisco," Bill said as he introduced them. They are very good musicians. Their lead singer, Lydia Pense, is overwhelmingly similar to someone whose first name is Janis, a lot sweeter. Also there was Lighthouse, a 12 man group with horns, winds, and of all things an electric string section, violin, viola and cello (2 of them). Can I report a whole new departure? Unfortunately, not at all. But they did a version of that soul-shaking masterpiece from the Band's first album, Robertson's "Chest Fever" with each word beamed at you like the Midnight Special.
[ . . . ]
(by James Lichtenberg, from the East Village Other, 21 January 1970)