Friday, December 06, 2019

Altamont, December 6, 1969 - The end of the '60's or, simply, childhood's end?

Altamont was dubbed “the end of the ‘60’s,” but for some of us it was simply childhood’s end. For this child of the 60’s it was a time when I left the safe confines of my desert village and moved to college, to the city. But it was outside of that city that the urban darkness descended on a typically bright and sunny California day.

What I saw, not heard - for there was a concert providing a soundtrack to all of this - was not just restless youth living in an uncertain time. It was as if the curtain of civility was being pulled back, just a little, much like what a carnival barker does to entice innocent bystanders into his tent. But this onlooker had his camera, so he stepped in and started shooting.


And what a spectacle it was - a mishmash of apparitions, part Hieronymus Bosch, part Dante and part Grateful Dead. Looking over the images now, 50 years after, it appears the day was darker than my youthful, hopeful 18-year-old self perceived.

Somewhere between Santana’s “Soul Sacrifice” and the Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” it was clear that Altamont wasn’t going to be the “California Woodstock.” Between August and December of 1969, we’d fallen down a rabbit hole.

Looking back, I was either oblivious to what this day would portend, or I was too young to know what a long, strange trip it was going to be. The images tell a different story, in the sometimes stark black-and-white of reality.

As we made the trek back to our car a few miles away, a young black man, the same age as me, would be stabbed to death, near the crowded stage, the ultimate shattering of our innocence. The lyrics to “Soul Sacrifice” being warily apposite:

I stand on your throat
To silence your life
Your punishment?
Soul sacrifice

Altamont 1969

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3 comments:

Marco said...

Powerful and poignant. We had the naiveté to believe that music and the lifestyle would take us down those lonely railways to an imaginary society that had actually lost all sense of direction and humanity. The lack of resolution, the belief in things we didn't understand yet...

Unknown said...

Brilliant!

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks Marco, Thanks Brad!

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