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Topic: Brown: Stones' movies chronicle the end of a dream Return to archive
November 28th, 2004 01:31 PM
Ten Thousand Motels Brown: Stones' movies chronicle the end of a dream
November 27, 2004
Rocky Mountain News


There's a silly argument as to when the '60s ended - specifically, the peace-love-music movement that has become synonymous with the era.

After all, 1967 is the year that's called the Summer of Love, even if historians argue that the scene that fostered that notion was really happening in San Francisco in the summer of '66. By '67 it was gone, as George Harrison discovered when he went to the Haight and found it fast becoming a magnet for addiction and poverty.

Nothing so sharply contrasts the myth of the '60s that many in the media portrayed (and what some music fans so desperately wanted it to be) and the reality as two Rolling Stones movies, one of which was just reissued.

The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus just came out on DVD, chronicling a ludicrous TV event the band tried to stage in London in December of 1968. The counterpoint to it is Gimme Shelter, the classic documentary shot just 360 days later at a disastrous free concert the band decided to have near San Francisco.

Plenty of people have seen Gimme Shelter and the violence that marred the concert that was eventually held at (and became synonymous with) Altamont.

Far fewer have seen Rock and Roll Circus, as the Stones kept it under wraps for decades before a VHS release in the '90s and, finally, this DVD. But it's this bit of filmwork that puts the tragedy of Altamont in perspective.

What were they thinking? They were thinking they could do anything, with no consequences.

In the wake of Sgt. Pepper and their own Her Satanic Majesty's Request, the Stones took it over the top. Rock and Roll Circus is an exercise in excess and indulgence. The musical performances (some quite good, some abysmal) are performed on an elaborate circus set, interrupted by midgets, clowns, acrobats, fire-eaters, trapeze artists, jugglers, fanfares, stoned backstage banter and make-believe dress-up clothes that likely inspired Michael Jackson years later.

"You're heard of Oxford Circus. You've heard of Piccadilly Circus. This is the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, and we've got sights and sound and marvels to delight your eyes and ears," ringmaster Mick Jagger croaks, his eyes little stoned slits, as he kicked off the poorly paced ego trip.

"And now, ladies and gentlemen, dig The Who," Keith Richards spat out between puffs on a cigar, eye-patch and top hat in place.

"For a brief moment, it seemed that rock 'n' roll would inherit the earth," David Dalton writes in the breathless opening credits.

Oh please.

Less than a year later, the Stones were dealing with Sonny Barger instead of Marianne Faithful. They were out in the real world, where things weren't quite so pretty and neat.

Slap in the Gimme Shelter DVD and it's a whole different reality. Fueled by meth and alcohol, the Hells Angels are taking pool cues to anyone who gets in their way. Suddenly the peace and love shtick, the dress-up clothes and "we're all one" bit aren't working.

Instead of "sights and sounds and marvels to delight your eyes and ears," Jagger is desperately pleading: "Who's fighting and what for? Why are we fighting? Why are we fighting? We don't want to fight. Come on."

Desperate fans in the front, panicked by the melee behind them, plead with Jagger to do something. He looks at the burgeoning violence, perplexed, then goes into his spastic chicken dance. Strangely, it didn't seem to much help quell the violence.

The Stones bought into the myth they wanted to believe just as much as everyone else did, which is why they had the misguided notion that they could bring 300,000 people together in the middle of nowhere and give little thought to parking, water, restrooms, food, and most of all, safety and security.

"For once, we're just gonna let it happen," one organizer tells his crew.

And happen it did. Within seconds of getting off the helicopter at the concert site, Jagger is hit in the face by a fan who screams "I hate you."

Appeals were made over the loudspeakers for gauze and ACE bandages before the show even started. Pleas for doctors get more urgent as the show goes on. Eventually those pleas escalate to ambulances. "An afternoon in hell," Jerry Garcia reportedly called it.

What's most frightening is the sick feeling you see on the Stones' faces once they realize there are no rules anymore, that they're in the middle of a sea of people, nonstop violence, and nobody can help them.

"Brothers and sisters, brothers and sisters. Come on now! That means everybody just cool out! Will you cool out, everybody?" Jagger pleads ineffectually.

"Either those cats cool it or we don't play," Richards says, pointing at the Angels.

It's just as ineffective. More people are beaten, one is stabbed to death. In all, four die at the one-day festival. The overloaded helicopter rescuing the Stones from the mess they made groans away like the last copter out of Saigon, with the band sitting on each other's laps to fit in.

The Stones suddenly found themselves only a few hours older, but infinitely wiser. No wonder they kept Rock and Roll Circus in the vaults for decades.

Mark Brown is the popular music critic. Brownm@RockyMountainNews.com
November 28th, 2004 02:49 PM
Mr. D This writer comes off as a little cynical and anti-Stones. He pretty much calls the R&R Circus an ego trip and tries to put the blame of Altamont on the Stones. What really gets to me is how he describes Jagger's actions on stage at Altamont. It's as if this writer has no sympathy for the Stones, who had to watch their free concert turn to what it did. If he was in Jagger's shoes, he would be pleading with the crowd too.
November 28th, 2004 11:03 PM
corgi37 Frankly, i 100% agree with him.

Am i right in saying the whole 69 doco was only commissioned because The Who had gotten into the Woodstock film and Jagger was a tad worried they might usurp the Stones popularity by making a successful appearance on film, whereas, the Stones hadnt been on film (one plus one could hardly be called a mainstream film)?

But, if i see one more reference to the band leaving in the chopper like "leaving the fall of Saigon"(or similar), i'll go fucking bannas!
November 29th, 2004 08:16 PM
Mel Belli If they were that worried about it, they wouldn't have kept it under wraps for so many years.
November 29th, 2004 09:15 PM
Soldatti Great article, thanks
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