Rent them now: from Woodstock to Altamont in 1969


Despite all of the hoopla surrounding the 40th anniversary of Woodstock in 2009, Ang Lee’s charming film about the run-up to the 1969 music festival — “Taking Woodstock” (above) — was  one of that year’s notable box-office failures.

When I saw with the picture at a local multiplex, I was part of an audience of five. Perhaps the (very long) string on baby boomer nostalgia finally ran out.

I have to admit that I can’t blame people in their 20s and 30s who are sick and tired of 50- and 60-something media folk dredging up the greatest hits of their long ago youth.

Can you imagine how members of the counterculture would have reacted in 1969 if everywhere you turned there were TV and magazine and newspaper features devoted to the pop culture of 1929?

(I love the music of The Beatles, but do you believe all of the coverage that was given to the release of that Fab Four video game and CD boxed in 2009? Enough already!)

The flip side of “Woodstock” and the counterculture happened within months of the New York music festival and can be seen in “Gimme Shelter” (below), a classic documentary that shows the dark side of the 1969 pop music scene and the boomer youth culture.

The movie follows the 1969 tour of the The Rolling Stones, with a special emphasis on the free concert that ended the tour — the nightmarish music festival at the Altamont Raceway near San Francisco that resulted in four deaths (including a murder right in front of the stage as Mick and the boys played “Sympathy for the Devil”).

Less than six months after the “peace and love” of Woodstock, the Altamont gathering displayed the dark side of the rampant drug taking that was destroying the counterculture from within.

The emphasis in the Woodstock documentary was on the music and the idyllic upstate New York setting. In “Gimme Shelter” the filmmakers decided to focus their cameras on the audience while The Stones performed and the result is an appalling vision of the ultimate bad trip — young people too wasted to react to the atmosphere of imminent violence (and the absurdity of the festival organizers hiring The Hells Angels motorcyle gang to provide “security”).

The Rolling Stones at Altamont

Joe Meyers