You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out. You will not be able to lose yourself on scag
and skip out for beer during commercials.
The revolution will not be televised …
Nothing’s simple, of course, and even though Gimme Shelter, the Maysles Brothers’ cinéma vérité account of the Rolling Stones’ disastrous tour of America, is indeed a ritualistic tragedy over which Professor Albert Goldman, at New York’s Columbia University, can rub gleeful hands (‘They blew it!’) and Michael Goodwin, in the underground magazine Rolling Stone, can achieve the self-propelled orgiastic martyrdom which Easy Rider has made fashionable (‘We blew it!’ says Goodwin-né-Fonda), it was sort of nice to find the cinema so grass-filled the other night that you could get a contact high and to rediscover that, even second time round, when Jagger blasts off at Madison Square Garden with Jumpin’ Jack Flash, the fantastic, exhilarating power of hard rock slams you back in your seat yet again and your body lifts blood lifts and reels and even though you know how it all ended, like those Greek audiences in their stone Madison Squares, yet you still vouchsafe the music its life-dynamic and are forced to confront, once again, the paradox at the heart of what is still optimistically called the Revolution: that even within this particular sub-culture, there still exists all the terror, egotism, peacefulness, extremism, beauty and delusion—in a word, plurality— which makes the human situation human, and that in America today these contradictions are magnified a millionfold by their incarceration within the most violent and bloody-minded Empire State since Rome. Which was the message, beaten in with billiard cues and diffused on 300,000 bad vibes (‘It’s scary, really weird, man, really weird’: Jefferson Airplane even before the Jagger debacle) understood at last at Altamont.
Please people please stop hurting each other.
The voice is Grace Slick’s and she is trying to cool it at Altamont. But people have been hurting each other for a long time, they have been hurting each other ever since Cain slew Abel with a Stanley Kubrick jawbone and it is perhaps only this generation of young Americans who have been able to foster the self-delusion that if you turn your back on violence, which Rap Brown thinks is as American as cherry pie, it will like the bogeyman simply disappear in a whiff of good vibes and grass smoke. ‘If we’re all one let’s fucking well show we’re all one,’ Jagger complains petulantly into the mike, his Superhype cloak drooping from his shoulders.
All one? That’s another of the myths which the mainstream counter-culture has been assiduously propagating these last few years, what with George Harrison going on a treat about Within You Without You and the Maharishi preaching a sort of transcendental Oneness with the Unity or whatever other bloody Oneness we are supposed to be at One with—while in front of Jagger a black guy, a college student, is just a few seconds away from being stabbed and stomped to death and Hells Angels are leaping out into the crowd like killer whales, battering and smashing people’s heads open with pool cues, blood everywhere, kids flashing pathetic V signs or scrambling for their lives and bearded guys like Hasidic rabbis trying to get between the Angels and their victims and next to the stage two guys who look like students are looking up at Jagger with pain in their eyes shaking their heads NO NO NO NO (‘Twerpy hippies … demanding punishment,’ sneers Goldman) and next to them there’s a girl with an utterly immobile face and tears streaming down on to her neck and later there is this hysterical girl standing next to the stretcher (Meredith’s girlfriend?) screaming ‘I don’t want him to die, he isn’t going to die’ but Meredith Hunter already has a blanket over his face and blood has soaked right through his hip green jacket and the chopper is waiting and he is dead.
We are not One, we never have been One, there in conflict Within Us and Without Us, and the lesson the counter-culture(s), hopefully, will carry away from Altamont is that deluding ourselves we are One is a surrogate for working out how to deal with the fact we are not. ‘I ain’t no peace creep,’ snarls Hells Angel Barger afterwards—‘they got got’. ‘That was insane,’ says drummer Charlie Watts, looking at the re-run of Angels gunning their hogs through 300,000 peace creeps. ‘The Angels … seem more like heroes than villains,’ says Michael Goodwin of Rolling Stone.
Don’t follow leaders
Watch the parkin’ meters
In its desperate search for heroes the rock culture some time ago seized on, of all people, Mick Jagger … Jagger! Ole Mr Mephistopheles himself, the showbiz Lucifer who dabbles (Whist! dare we mention it?) in black magic and phony Satanism (Their Satanic Majesties), him of the Mandrake costume and liver-lipped fin de siècle decadence of Performance. Occult, him of the painted face and Regency kisscurls who opens his set at Altamont opens it for Chrissake with kids being chopped unconscious in front of him and people screaming and running and falling and that terrifying roar you get at football crowds and fight crowds when the blood shows yes opens it with Sympathy for the Devil and who when the song finally stumbles to a halt with Angels his own mock-Satanic hirelings stalking the stage and the rest of the Stones transfixed over their guitars at the mayhem at their feet can only blurt out ‘Something very funny happens whenever we start that number’ (giggle). And a few minutes later Meredith is dead for Chrissake Jagger DEAD you bloody fool—how does that fit with your phony devilry? Meredith who is one of the few black guys in that colosseum of 300,000 roaring onlookers who made the mistake of taking a gun to a love-in given by the love generation and made the further mistake of pulling it to ward off The Wild Ones and ended with a knife in his head and a mouthful of blood likewise of years and then— nothing. ‘Love is coming, love is coming to us all,’ sing Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It is an elegy. There has always been murder in the Garden. ‘Because your Adversary the Devil walketh about as a Roaring Lion, seeking whom he may Devour.’ At least Meredith picked up the gun. And in a single terrible act confronted the dilemma which haunts the ‘counter-culture’: when face to face at last with the death-dealers, whether at Altamont or in the White House, what do you do?
The revolution will not be televised.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers on the instant replay …
What the hell were the Angels doing there? We all know the answer to that: they were hired, in a bizarre showbiz stunt, as bodyguards for the Stones. But it isn’t just Jagger’s fault, or the Stones’. Altamont wasn’t an accident. The rock culture’s long-standing flirtation with the Angels is just another facet of the we-are-one myth, the secular monism which preaches that everyone who is outside straight culture is the same. If Gimme Shelter demonstrates anything it is that at Altamont there were two different and explosively opposed cultures—a fact which is dramatised in those climactic sequences in which Jagger, the ass-wiggling unisexual hero of new-found liberation, prances around the stage with his little tailfeathers quivering in cockerel-invitation (‘I think Mick’s a joke, with all that fag dancing, I always did’: John Lennon) while a few inches away Hells Angels in insignia-splattered leather jackets and Herakle lionskins stare at him with disgust and contempt. The Angels are outsiders, sure, but their alienation is the only thing they have in common with the ‘peace creeps’ who trod on their precious bikes (‘Something which is your whole life,’ says Sonny Barger) or with the brave new wave of sexual freedmen whom Flash Mick represents. Jagger’s right to do his thing: every gain in liberty, personal or social, is precious. But the Angels belong to a more brutal and repressive culture, one which has yet to be liberated, in which violence is the central motif: it is the only thing which gives their lives (working class ‘proles’, no future, a worse past, the discarded offal of the technocratic society) any meaning. Violence and hogs provide the power which a merciless System has stripped from them: and in their brutal reaction they enact, vicari- ously, the violent rebellion which the Woodstock Nation has so resolutely turned its back against. And so the Angels, like Jagger, become yet another surrogate …
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb or
Francis Scott Key nor sung by Glen Campbell,
Tom Jones, Johnny Cash or Engelbert Humperdinck.
The revolution will not be televised …
There is no counter-culture: there are many. There is no Hero: everyone must be his own. There is no One: there are only ones, and it is only our differences which make the command ‘come together’ meaningful. We must beware of surrogates. We must beware of surrogate heroes like Jagger, whom we idolise because we have more sense than to idolize ourselves and not enough guts to make ourselves worthy of idolatry; we must beware of surrogate violence, because then those whom we vest it in will turn it, Angelically, against our- selves; we must beware of surrogate prophets and doomsayers, who lose heart and blow it secondhand to fulfil their own Jeremiads. Above all, we must beware of surrogate Revolutions, the portable apocalypse of the rock festival and the mass freak-out—because what America, and the world, needs right now is the real thing.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight germs that may cause bad breath. The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.
The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run.
The revolution will be live.