You Can’t Always Get What You Want (book review)

You Can’t Always Get What You Want – My Life With the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, and Other Wonderful Reprobates – Sam Cutler (ECW Press) book review

The Altamont free concert debacle in 1969 was a huge black eye on the history of rock n’ roll.  It single-handedly put an end to the peace and love movement, and its mere mention conjures images of death and destruction.  But, so much of what surrounds that fateful day is mythologized.  What really happened? And, who was responsible?

Sam Cutler was the road manager of the Rolling Stones during that time and was directly involved in all aspects of the concert.  In You Can’t Always Get What You Want, someone who was really involved with things gets to tell his story.  He sheds light on how the Stones felt pressure to give something back to the fans in the form of a free show, yet how little care went into the organizing of said event.

Cutler claims to have been against the idea in the first place, but, because of the misguided hierarchy within the Stones’ management, he was left powerless. He was one of the few people of any authority who stayed around for the entire concert, even after several people had died and violence was everywhere in the form of wannabe Hell’s Angels (he is featured in the movie Gimme Shelter, doing stage announcements between songs).

He was also the only member of the Rolling Stones camp to stay behind in the US to help straighten out the mess.   Some of Cutler’s claims are valid: the people who suggested the concert had never planned such an event before, and the Rolling Stones were largely disinterested in the planning process.  Other times, when he suggests that the FBI were purposely spreading bad LSD to concert-goers, he borders on paranoia.

Despite being fired by the Stones, Cutler quickly took up the same responsibilities within the Grateful Dead.  Much of the second half of the book chronicles how Cutler helped the famed San Francisco band get out of debt, and become one of the biggest touring act of the seventies.  He’s also got some warm recollections of Janis Joplin, who lived just down the street from him for awhile.  During much of the book, the author is in a constant state of drug-induced euphoria, it’s downright amazing he can remember anything at all.  Upon finishing the book, you realize that Cutler is a pretty smart guy.  After all, he was involved with one of the great tragedies in all of rock, yet managed to bounce back quite nicely.  A great read for any fan of sixties rock.