Book Review: Rock & Roll Books

Altamont

Rock & Roll Books

Towing the party line – "In a single day, the innocence of a generation was shattered" – the music prism magnifying four fatalities at a free concert by the Rolling Stones in northern California on Dec. 6, 1969, ranks naturally among the era's sociopolitical slaughter, though perhaps not that cataclysmic. Eleven kids trampled to death at a Who show a decade later nearly to the day, and 100 headbangers cremated in a 2003 Rhode Island club fire during a performance by Great White better frame its violent tragedy than the genocide of baby boomers' idealism. Bay Area music lifer Joel Selvin airlifts readers almost a half-century back, the Hells Angels smashing your face with a pool cue until you can't breathe. So died Meredith Hunter, a product of African-American poverty and civil negligence, bleeding out during the Stones set after being stabbed repeatedly by the motorcycle gang running security. If Selvin's writerly panache gets the better of him ("these swashbuckling rockers had thoroughly made their case"), more problematic is his forgoing attributions despite hundreds of interviews over decades, which undercuts Altamont's yeoman reportage with a slick true crime polish. George Lucas and late Austin scribe John Morthland make cameos, and previously unearthed details pile up definitive until this last word on the subject self-combusts.


Altamont

by Joel Selvin
Dey St., 368 pp., $27.99

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