Endless Summer (A Review of Gimme Shelter)

That the Sixties, or the late Sixties which came to typify the decade in popular imagination, were about innocence, and that the hippies were about innocence, and that Woodstock was about innocence and that the innocence was lost in cataclysmic Stones concert at the Altamont Speedway one day in 1970 is one of the greatest frauds in recent American history.  If we are to believe Michael Sragow, Greil Marcus and John Burks of Rolling Stone magazine concocted this image of the Altamont concert as apocalyptic end of the summer of love.  Sure.  And who in the world was invested in the whole idea of Summer of Love anyways?

I have to give a disclaimer here: I am so pro-knowledge, you can call me anti-innocence.  And what is innocence anyways?  Look at some dictionary definitions:

Throw out some legal connotations, and we get:

  1. Freedom from sin or moral wrong, particularly through lack of knowledge of evil;
  2. Simplicity; absence of guile or cunning; naiveté.

Freedom from sin or moral wrong doesn’t imply lack of capacity for moral wrong. Newborn babies are innocent, for instance.  They innocently wake up their parents every other hour before their parents teach them. 60s innocence is of that kind; it’s simple and naïve and it doesn’t know right from wrong.  Hippies are “flower” “children,” not adults (G-d forbid you trust anybody over 30) but children, uncorrupted and pure, blissfully unaware of any behavioral regulations prescribed by mature society.  They do get preachy when it comes to an exercise of American power, but lets not get into that. 

Not unlike other preachy individuals, hippies are often noted for hypocrisy.  There is no question that evil of the violent kind existed in hippy circles.  For instance, Charles Manson started out in Berkeley and then quickly moved his cult to Haight and Ashbury.  Manson is a particularly egregious example, true, but ever wonder why he attached himself to the hippy movement?  Vincent Buglioci suggests that Manson’s brainwashing technique was to strip young women of the deeply ingrained bourgeois inhibitions surrounding sexual behavior.  While stripping these inhibitions he undid their moral foundations enabling these women to commit ultimate transgressions – murder.

On a lighter note, what does one expect from a culture pathologically infused with hard drags if not violent dealers and behavioral disturbances?  Consider the following Hunter S. Thompson quote:”The language was Love,” writes Hunter S. Thompson, “but the style was paranoia.”

Innocence is capable of evil.  In Gimme Shelter faux innocence is also gross.  Consider the case of a couple lying on the ground, making out in front of everyone, while the guy is holding his large dog on the leash.  Hmmm… if he is aware enough to not let your dog run away, he should also know enough to get a room.

When a twenty-year-old kid feigns innocence a large amount of intoxicant is a mast.  Why?  Because a twenty-year-old knows right from wrong.  Very telling is the footage of a guy first rolling on the ground laughing like a madman and then peered his vacant eyes at strangers and at the camera.  Then there is the case of an intoxicated naked girl thrown from side to side by the dancing crowd.  Their exercises in free spirit are contingent on drugs.  Did these individuals realize their little stunts in front of the camera are going to be the most memorable trace they left on this Earth?  Are they now ashamed?  Or did they age as hippies, becoming uglier and creepier with each passing day?

There is a place for giant egos, to be sure.  A young man walked up to the stage reporting that his first child was born right there, a short while ago, expecting that this fact to be announced to the whole crowd.  Apart from the fact that chaotic, unsanitary event safely removed from a hospital is just the place to have a baby, what is this young father doing running away from his girlfriend and his newborn and demanding his 15 minutes?

Another casualty of the Altamount is the notion that Jagger is a god.  To be sure, he was head of his time with his little gay dance and his rhythmic catchy tunes.  When built up by the media, Jagger looks fine, but in Gimmi Shelter he comes off as a pathetic elf exerting no control over the crowd. As the Angels were beating up and stabbing people, he was reduced to pleas to “be cool”.  And what could he do, really?  If he were to stop the show, audience would riot.  Who is in control?  No one, really.  Supposed security guards, the Angels couldn’t keep the crowd from creeping in to the stage or climbing their bikes.  Nobody had an ability to stop the violence.  It’s anarchy pure and simple.

A viewer learns to appreciate the kind of effort and forethought that goes into production of a safe large-scale rock concert.

So, yes, one great myth of the 60s is innocence.  Another – that the Altamont Speedway was the end of the Sixties.  The image of Grace Slick pleading the Angels to stop banging her friend, a band mate Marty Balin on his head comes to mind.  Marty, by the way, might be the only known hero of the Altamont fiasco.  When the Angels started beating up people with pool cues, he rushed to stop them.  Grace’s attempt to ration is chillingly relativist: We are all guilty one way or another; so lets just stop. The rhetoric of the so-called Summer of Love is still with us.

Recommended reviews and miscellaneous articles:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0065780/maindetails http://www.popmatters.com/film/reviews/g/gimme-shelter.shtml





December 18, 2006. Random thoughts.

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