Sunday , December 10 2023
The Sixties, The Stones, The Dead, And Altamont

Book Review: You Can’t Always Get What You Want: My Life With The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead And Other Wonderful Reprobates by Sam Cutler

There have been scores of books written about the Rolling Stones over the years, and nearly as many of them about the disastrous 1969 free concert at Altamont Raceway near San Francisco. But very few of them have come from the same bird's-eye view as Sam Cutler's You Can't Always Get What You Want.

Cutler was the de facto tour manager for the Stones during their 1969 American tour — he even came up with the "greatest rock and roll band in the world" announcement which preceded the Stones taking the stage each and every night.

As such, Cutler is one of the select few people alive uniquely qualified to report first-hand on all of the music and the madness surrounding the events of that historic tour, including those which occurred at the infamous free concert at Altamont. Not surprisingly, the Altamont story takes up a very significant chunk of this book, and we'll get to that in a minute…

Bookending the Altamont story though, are Cutler's recollections of the early days of the sixties rock scene in London, and the period immediately following his tenure by fire with the Stones, after which he ended up going to work for the Grateful Dead. Although these details pale by comparison to the Altamont story, there is some juicy stuff to be found here as well.

For example, Cutler recalls the way Mickey Hart's father — who was a purported Christian minister no less — essentially robbed the Dead blind during his stint as the band's manager. The book is also laced with accounts of swinging sixties London and all of its key players including Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, and of course the Stones themselves. Cutler also goes on record here as the latest of many voices to raise rumors of murder and conspiracy in the suspicious death of Brian Jones.

But it is the events of Altamont that form the undisputed centerpiece of this book. Cutler's version involves all of the usually cited players in the disaster — including the Grateful Dead, the Hells Angels, San Francisco uber-lawyer Mel Belli, and of course the Stones themselves. But it also offers up a few interestingly conspiratorial new twists.

At different points in the book, Cutler's account seems to suggest a type of bizarre conspiracy involving everyone from shadowy Mafia figures like the mysterious John Jaymes — a central figure in the concert whose actual point of origin seems to be a mystery — to FBI officials who, it is suggested here, may have been running a political black-ops operation directed towards the youth counter-culture. It is even suggested that Altamont murder victim Meredith Hunter may have been a "Manchurian Candidate" type assassin under some type of outside control.

By Cutler's own account, grade-A Peruvian cocaine was being consumed by the truckload then by all parties concerned, which may contribute to some of the more wildly paranoid conspiracy theories being floated about here. Still, we do know today that the FBI in particular was engaged in covert activities directed towards everyone from Martin Luther King to John Lennon during the sixties.

Either way, Cutler's account makes for a very fascinating read. However, it also has the perhaps unintended side-effect of peeling away much of the flower-power, peace and love fallacies of both the period and especially of some of its heroes. Cutler does his best to paint a favorable picture of both the Stones and The Dead, but likewise does himself no favors by revealing things like the time he vengefully spiked John Jaymes drink with LSD.

And even if Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are painted here in somewhat more human shades than some of the other more Satanic accounts out there, they still come off as self-absorbed hedonistic egomaniacs more often than not. But we already knew that, right?

Sam Cutler's You Can't Always Get What You Want is a fascinating historical snapshot not only on the life and heady times of the Stones, the Dead and Altamont, but of the Sixties themselves. As such, it is not to be missed.

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.

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