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“Please allow me to introduce myself . . .” — The Rolling Stones

January 16, 2013

Everyone has to deal with stuff in each, our own way. I’ve been off and on sick for a while now and the sick got pretty bad. I decided to get over it once and for all, so I went to the Doc and got examined and got the right advice and the right stuff to put the “bug” away, once and for all. Well, getting off my work-a-world routine and getting a lot of rest was top on the Doc’s list. So, I packed it in. For me, when I’m sick, I turn on the TV, make sure I have plenty of extra blankets to stay warm, juices in the fridge and I sleep in two or three hour spurts and watch whatever is on the TV between the sleep spurts. In the end, this all worked, I am very glad to say.

This time around, I stumbled into a couple of pieces of video in and out of the sleep that I definitely wanted to revisit when I wasn’t so totally focused on the one thing, like on “getting well.” I just happened to stumble onto one of those video pieces tonight and it just really grabbed me. This piece of video is a documentary about the early career of the Rolling Stones. It’s titled “Crossfire Hurricane.” While I’ve always liked the Stones, and I know the words to lots of their songs, if just by fifty years of exposure, I am definitely no superfan. I don’t follow all the details and in and outs of what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. This movie gave me a much greater depth of knowledge of what the Rolling Stones are all about. And in the end, when the titles nearly finished rolling, the individual members of the Rolling Stones were listed as the executive producers of the film. I had to smile at that. It was a good movie.

But there was one part of this retrospective that was very uncomfortable for me. It was the segment about the Stone’s free concert at Altamont in 1969.

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Hells Angels Colors

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In the mid 1960s, Jack Kerouc, Alan Ginsberg and a handful of others were the prominent and influential personalities of the beat generation on the West Coast. These guys were in their mid forties and fifties and I wasn’t even twenty years old at the time. I never met any of them on a “one to one” basis, but I was an avid follower of their antics here, in our special neighborhood of Northern California in the sixties. At some point in time, it became common knowledge that the beats were involving the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club in their going ons. The Hell’s Angels were becoming a hip thing.

During this time, I was living with about a half dozen young hip couples in an old hunting lodge that had been converted into small, informal apartments. The lodge was located in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the obscure and dusky neighborhood called Zayante. Zayante was located on a sand mountain fairly evenly distant from Ben Lomond, Scotts Valley and Felton. Its out of the way location offered me the opportunity to leave my car at the lodge and hitch hike down to the more mundane communities where my friends lived: Santa Cruz, Soquel and Aptos, along the beaches. I liked to hitch hike because it forced me to overcome my extreme bashfulness and chat with strangers.

On one such excursion, I was thumbing a ride out of Aptos to get back to the lodge and it was near dusk. I was anxious to get some sort of ride as walking up Zayante Road in the dark, with no moon, was no easy matter. Parts of the walk were as black as pitch. You would simply be walking on faith and any distant speck of light you might find. This time at Aptos, my thumb was out and my pea coat was buttoned up tight on the on-ramp to the freeway. The evening fog was being pushed on shore and it wouldn’t be long before my prospects would get very dim.

I was on the beach side of Highway 1 and before it really got dark, from across the freeway over on the Aptos town side, I heard a familiar and distinctive sound, the deep throated lugging of several Harley Davidson motors. I heard them get stuck at a stoplight and idle, then throttle up and come over the overpass, their bright headlights nearly blinding me as they approached the on ramp where I was standing.

As I shielded my eyes against their bright headlights, I heard the motors rev down and come to idle. They pulled up next to me, the sounds of strong motors and wet gravel getting squished by heavy tires filled my ears. The thick smell of oil rolled over to me. “Where you headed?” they asked me.

“Zayante,” I answered, and the three of them looked at each other with shrugging shoulders.

“Felton,” I added, “a few miles from Felton,” and their questioning brows turned into confident, knowing glances all round. “We know Felton.” They looked round to each other and one of them abruptly cocked his head, offering me the seat behind him on his “hog.” I climbed aboard and off we went into the gathering mist.

As we headed for Felton, we tried to chat, like all good hitch hikers should do, but for the dark, the wind and the loud motors, all we could really do is yell a few short introductions back and forth over the driver’s shoulder.

There was about a quarter mile long private road that led to the lodge from the county maintained Zayante Road, proper. As I rode one of the three Harleys making their final approach to the lodge, I had to smile. The young, hip folks at the lodge had to be freaking out about the approaching motorcycle gang in the middle of the night. It probably wasn’t even 7:00 p.m. on this fall evening in the mountains.

The noisy Harleys got to the top of the private road, where the lodge was located, and they browsed around for a few turns looking for good, solid ground upon which to kick out their stands and park the bikes. Some of the lodge residents were gathering at the glowing, main, front door to the lodge and I waved at them to assuage their anxious curiosity. They just stood silently, watching us shut down the big bikes. Most of them at the door were in t-shirts and cut off levis and barefoot, and looking very forlorn and impotent, with their unwashed locks hanging on their tall, slender shoulders. They were standing in dark profile against the lodge’s warm candle-like light. The Hell’s Angels were the last thing they wanted to see. Well, the last thing just before cops.

Down in the the driveway gravel, the four of us were shaking the bikes on their stands to make sure they were secure and we were mumbling our names to each other so I could sound like these guys were my oldest best buddies from long ago. After all, they were wearing their “colors” emblazoned on their backs (the “colors” were the large Hell’s Angels patches fixed to their leather jackets). We proceeded up the simple, straight cement walk to the lodge’s main entrance and I introduced everyone as best I could. One of the taller residents, a guy we called “Spaghetti John” offered the newcomers a very large, very red ended joint. As my driver smiled and accepted the offer, the tensions between all parties were instantly relieved and these three Hell’s Angels spent a few days relaxation at the Zayante lodge. It was mellow and unwound and, frankly, hardly worthy of note. The three Angels brought in groceries and we cooked them and they slept warmly. It was a calm, fair deal for all involved

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Harley Forrest

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About three years later I found myself married to a beautiful, young Monte Sereno rich man’s daughter who wanted so bad to be a hippy. She would introduce herself to my old, road buddies as “Ed’s old lady.” She was smart, spunky, sometimes devilish in her pranks, but not real confident. She was a dyed-in-wool artist, as were nearly all of my friends. While this was the era of the Viet Nam protests, none of us were the political type. We were sympathetic, but rarely active, not screaming and yelling and being irrational. We were more the intellectual radicals. No, more the artistic sympathizers but we were never into it for blood and guts. There is a famous, old picture of some girls putting the long stems of budding flowers down the barrels of the National Guard’s rifles during a People’s Park demonstration in Berkeley. My wife was one of those girls. While she was sabotaging government property, I was busy checking out KPFA’s “roving reporter’s” VW mini-van equipped with the essential equipment needed to relay live, “on the spot” news reports to the eclectic, left wing Berkeley based FM station. Yep, we just weren’t that “blood and guts” radical. In fact, the radicals really didn’t want us around that much, we were just way too mellow. We sort of watered down their firebrand demands for violent revolution and chaos.

We got married in August of 1969. Around that upcoming Thanksgiving, there were rumors all over the place about a free Rolling Stones Concert someplace in the Bay Area. While we had been to dozens of free concerts (and many not so free) performed by local bands and some of Bill Graham’s special bands when they sold out closed venues. But the Stones? Not Bad! This is one not to miss. Soon the Bay Area rock stations had official announcements all over the radio waves. Everyone in the world was going to go. Sure as hell, we were going too.

As the concert approached, we made our own plans as how we would spend the day. While it was December, the Bay Area weather had been pretty mild. Surely the Concert would last long into the night but, most likely, the afternoon would be mild enough for us to pack a pretty nice picnic dinner. We folded up some heavy utility blankets to sit on and wrap ourselves in. This thing was going to take place at a speedway in the Central Valley, which could get pretty windy and blustery in these autumn nights. Most of our favorite San Francisco bands were going to be there, ending with the Stones. Who knows how it long it would go on. Because we had heard the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane so many times before, we thought it prudent to not catch these early bands and pace ourselves so that we would get to the raceway in the later afternoon, catch the last one or two acts before the Stones and make sure not to get wasted so we could have an easy, safe ride home.

Since the day, indeed, the entire weekend was dedicated to the concert, we decided to go north on the longer-way-round Bay Shore freeway and not take the East Bay Nimitz freeway, a trip that was always ugly, long and boring, always depressing. We’d go north on the Bay Shore and head inland over the Bay Bridge. We looked forward to the day with rosy cheeks on each side of our cherubic grins.

On the day of the free Rolling Stones Concert we were stuck in traffic miles away from the Bay Bridge approach. It seems everyone else came up with the same plan we did. The skies were steely gray and low and still, like painted roughly. This was more depressing than the Nimitz freeway ever was. We didn’t move a hundred feet in an hour. Concert goers were yelling from car to car as everyone was listening to the radio reports about the concert. Everything at the raceway was falling apart. The Hell’s Angels were secured by the promoters as the security team. As it turns out it was a secured team stoned out on acid and pot and whatever else. The Angels were not being the nice fella’s I’d met in Zayante. I was looking forward to seeing a non-official security effort taking care of us, the hip helping the hip. It just wasn’t happening.

Slowly, we noticed the cars started moving, but not in a normal freeway manner. Here and there, cars were pulling out of the frozen formation and made it down the shoulder to the first available off ramp. We looked around us, more and more cars were doing this. We didn’t get it. Then it hit us, the other music lovers on the freeway were abandoning the concert. The sky, the traffic jam, the radio reports, everything was gray and depressing. We looked at each other with quizzical wonderment, shrugged our shoulders, and I revved up the motor and pulled onto the shoulder.

We were already in the City so we went to one of our favorite restaurants and celebrated our avoidance of depressing things. Our waiter informed us that someone had been stabbed to death at the raceway and having avoided this, as well, our merriment rose even higher.

The next day, we spread out our picnic dinner on the huge lawn at Villa Montalvo and had a very lazy and relaxing Sunday, and we never turned on a radio.

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Rolling Stones 1

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So I was watching this documentary tonight about the Rolling Stones, by the Rolling Stones and I heard them talking about the Altamont concert. In voice-over, they told us that they were terrified there, on the stage and in the wings. They were the performers, not the promoters. The promoters had engaged the Hell’s Angels. The Stones just figured that’s the way they do things in San Francisco. But things had gotten way out of hand. They had the facility and the ability to leave the stage and its audience of 300,000 but they thought better of it. If they were to leave and not perform, the crowd would most likely riot. The Grateful Dead had already refused to play, for the tension and the fear, they were not sure of their safety. To have the headliners wash out as well, that would not go over so well, for sure. Break a leg and on with the show.

For a very long time, the Rolling Stones have been labeled “the bad boys of rock and roll.” Listening to them talk about the situation at Altamont, they sounded pretty reasonable, professional and conscientious to me. And I remember how relieved we felt when we abandon that concert. Luckily, we didn’t have to feel guilty about it.

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