The Rolling Stones Death Concert

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To some, December 6, 1969 may not hold any particular significance. To Rolling Stones front man Mick Jagger, however, it’s remembered as the day the sixties suffered a tragic death. Irrational bikers and terrified fans were not a part of Jagger’s vision when him and his bandmates organized a free concert at California’s Altamont Speedway. Despite incessant warnings that a concert of such a large magnitude was not the best idea, the Stones went ahead with it in light of criticism they’d received regarding their ticket prices being too high. They’d performed for overflow audiences without incident in major cities before, but this crowd of 300,000 was different. A total of four births and four deaths were the result of that evening, one of which was a homicide. The stabbing of Meredith Hunter by Hell’s Angel Alan Passaro happened to be captured on film, and is now the climax of the legendary rock n’ roll documentary Gimme Shelter. Larger cultural discourses shape the way non-fiction narratives are told, and the only entity larger than the notion of disaster within the film is the notion of Jagger as a celebrity. In the words of Amanda Howell, “Jagger's ‘double self’ literally takes center stage in Gimme Shelter. On the one hand, Jagger embodies the freedom, expressivity and hedonism of the countercultural movement, while on the other he appears adept in his relation to "straight" society.” In addition to this “double self,” Jagger can also be described as a commodity in the eyes of his adoring fans. What happened at Altamont was, in a sense, an explosion of tensions that had built up over the sixties; an explosion which Gimme Shelter depicts Mick Jagger to have been shielded from as a result of his three façades. First of all, Jagge... ... middle of paper ... ...ge of people; naked men, topless women, hippies, bums, drug addicts, alcoholics, and everyone in between. As horrific as that night turned out to be, the one thing the Altamont free concert did right was bring together all of these people. Despite his or her differences, each and every person was there for the same purpose - to achieve a state of ecstasy invoked by rock - and this speaks volumes about just how powerful the art of music can be. What makes Gimme Shelter so popular to this very day is that it allows viewers to live vicariously through the film. By shrinking down time and space for our consumption, we are able to relive the pandemonium that occurred at Altamont in as little as an hour and a half. Gimme Shelter documents a rather violent vision of America, one which had been inconceivable to the many sides of Mick Jagger before the catastrophe took place.

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