Days of Rage: The Rolling Stones' Road to Altamont

The tragedy that took place at the Rolling Stones free concert at Altamont in 1969 is well documented; the film "Gimme Shelter" in particular depicts the mayhem that took place and the murderous intent of members of the Hell's Angels motorcycle club who had been hired to provide security for the event. "Days of Rage," as its subtitle suggests, paints a vivid picture of how the darkness of the late 1960s --- the Vietnam War, assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, riots and a youth culture at war with "the establishment" --- led up to the early December 1969 concert where four people would die.

No members of the Rolling Stones were involved in the making of this film but there is featured commentary from the Stones entourage, including tour manager Sam Cutler, band photographer Gered Mankowitz and 1969 tour manager and Altamont festival organizer Ronnie Schneider. The film does an excellent job of showing how the personal lives of the Rolling Stones dovetailed into the dark zeitgeist of the era; band members had been busted for drugs, original band guitarist Brian Jones passed away under questionable circumstances and the Rolling Stones were, as a whole, at the lowest point in their career.

The group had shown naivete at hiring the Hells Angels to provide security for Altamont but there was some logic behind the decision. The Hells Angels in England regularly provided security at concerts but their members were tea-swilling milquetoasts, not the thugs that comprised their American counterparts. Already at a low spot in their career and on a live performance hiatus, the group was anxious to reestablish themselves as top dogs in the States, and here the film chronicles how the band decided to pair with the Grateful Dead and others for the massive show at Altamont (the Dead, upon deeming the venue's security inadequate, pulled out.) The film does an excellent job of juxtaposing footage of violence from the festival with clips of the daily news, showing that, unfortunately, the time was ripe for something like this to happen. In essence, it answers the question "why?"

An interesting note made by one of the commentators points out how the tenor of the Rolling Stones' music changed after the tragedy at Altamont; there would be no more very dark songs like "Sympathy for the Devil" or "Gimme Shelter." Those who think they know all about Altamont will likely be surprised by some of the revelations here; at the very least a screening of "Days of Rage" will give viewers a deeper understanding of what happened.

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