You should be ashamed of yourself. Here the most important date on my holy calendar has come and gone, and you didn’t buy me a single gift. I’m talking about the anniversary of Altamont, of course, the benighted free concert held on December 6, 1969 at the Altamont Speedway in northern California. Four people died, one poor fellow at the hands of the Hells Angels, who were hired to provide security. The Angels, anger fueled in part by the $500 in beer they received as payment for their services, also rendered Jefferson Airplane vocalist Marty Balin unconscious with a blow to the head, which is why the anniversary of Altamont is also known to strict religious observers such as myself as “Punch Marty Balin in the Mouth Day.”
Altamont is perhaps rock’s most significant day because it, along with the Manson Family killings, put paid to the Age of Aquarius. It was the end of the innocence, to quote that dick from the Eagles, the high water mark of peace, love, and understanding, and on that dark day the glorious lysergic wave of good vibes and universal brotherhood broke and receded forever, as Hunter S. Thompson so astutely notes in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
I write all of this because the Jefferson Airplane was Thee Official Band of the LSD era. “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” were as much countercultural signifiers as they were songs, as was “Crown of Creation,” as in “you are the.” But the whole scene went south, first with the numerous drug casualties of Haight-Ashbury, then with Charles Manson’s bloody murder spree and the disaster at Altamont, about which Grace Slick noted, “The vibes were bad. Something was very peculiar, not particularly bad, just real peculiar. It was that kind of hazy, abrasive and unsure day. I had expected the loving vibes of Woodstock but that wasn’t coming at me. This was a whole different thing.”