Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Review by JD: You Can’t Always Get What You Want by Sam Cutler


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The inside story on the craziness of a major rock and roll tour, and specifically the Rolling Stones.

John’s Thoughts:   The book’s subtitle, “my life with the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead and other wonderful reprobates”, pretty much says it all. This is an account of Cutler’s time working as the tour manager for two of the greatest bands of the 1960s and 1970s. The book’s centerpiece is the fateful Altamont concert – often cited as the event that epitomized the death of the peace and love movement.

After a few pages devoted to Cutler’s childhood and adolescence, the book quickly moves on to him becoming ever more involved in music and the music scene, in and around London in the 1960s. He ends up helping to arrange the Hyde Park free concert for the Rolling Stones in 1969 and after a successful event he is invited to be tour manager for their 1969 tour of America.

You get the inside story on the craziness of a major rock and roll tour, and specifically the Rolling Stones. It’s an interesting mix of organization and chaos, attention to detail and freewheeling, as the Stones gather an ever-growing crowd of hangers-on. Into this mix is thrown some hippie idealism and naivety, and one result of all that chaos was the Altamont free concert in California’s Bay Area. “Organized” by a loose cabal of people, most of whom didn’t know what they were doing, this was the event where the idealism of the 1960s came crashing to earth. Held just four months after Woodstock, this nightmare event couldn’t have been any more different. While supposedly a celebration of the best the 1960s had to offer, it was instead fraught, edgy and extremely violent. It culminated in someone being killed by a Hells Angel right in front of the stage as the Stones were playing. Three other people died at the event, and hundreds were injured. Hundreds more suffered from the effects of bad LSD.

It is totally fascinating to get Cutler’s take on all of this. In many ways he was in the eye of the storm; in theory he should have been able to ensure the event was well organized, but in practice so many things were totally out of his control. Many of the key characters involved were either scary, greedy, repugnant, amateurish, naïve, or just totally out of their depth.  

In the aftermath of Altamont Cutler stays in America, and quickly becomes involved with the Grateful Dead. After a few twists and turns he becomes their tour manager and remains heavily involved with them for four years. The group couldn’t be more different than the Stones. The Grateful Dead “family” is so easy-going and haphazard it drives Cutler to distraction, but a strong bond forms and he mostly loves working with them.

I’m a music nut, so a book like this is manna from heaven for me. It was a fascinating period in music with many interesting characters, and Cutler met or was somehow involved with many of them. Apart from the Stones and the Dead you get to read about Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Pink Floyd, Alexis Korner, Buddy Guy, the Band and many more. Equally interesting were the insights into many of the people working for or around the groups – including managers, agents, equipment guys, drug dealers, security and the Hells Angels.

This was a very easy read for me. Cutler is a good story teller and he has a nice light style. At times it feels like he is dong some ferocious name-dropping, but he was there and has earned that right. With a tragic event like Altamont, you know that there are people out there with different views on what happened, but he was heavily involved and what he says has the ring of authenticity about it. It’s very interesting and I’d highly recommend this to any music lovers or to anyone who likes to read about the 1960s. I’d rate this book 3.5 stars.

  • You Can’t Always Get What You Want
  • by Sam Cutler
  • ISBN: 978-1-55022-932-5
  • Pages 323: paperback
  • ECW Press, 2010

For more information on this book and the author - link to the preview page for You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

For Amazon purchasing links in US/UK/Canada.

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Have a great Tuesday! 

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