Dr. Toon: Two Films, Two Concerts
If this movement had an animated equivalent, it was doubtless the Beatles film Yellow Submarine. The movie, which premiered in America on November 13, 1968, constructed a whimsical mythology around the themes of Sgt. Pepper and featured many of the band's most psychedelic numbers. The animation design, under the direction of Heinz Edelman, reflected the mind-bending designs of mod artists such as Peter Max. Director George Dunning presided over a vivid romp that ended with Pepperland restored, the evil Blue Meanies redeemed, and love triumphant. Yellow Submarine was more than just a notable film; it was wish-fulfillment for the Woodstock generation, the fantasy that if everyone, empowered by music and love, could strive All Together Now, the world could still be turned to good. War might be abolished. Evil, like the Chief Blue Meanie, could finally admit that its cousin was the Bluebird of Happiness. The acid-laced beauty of Woodstock Nation was too perfect to last. And it didn't.
And there was Altamont.
In retrospect, it is amazing to realize that the free concert at California’s Altamont Speedway took place on December 6, 1969, only four months after Woodstock. The hippie counterculture went from perhaps its apex to its media-proclaimed death in less time than it took for Hair to finish its Broadway run. If Woodstock was love, peace, and music, Altamont was bad drugs, bad vibes, violence, and murder. The poorly planned concert featured some of the same bands that headlined Woodstock – Jefferson Airplane played both – but the stars of the show were to be the Rolling Stones, a group often held up as the dark side of the Beatles (a reputation the Stones were happy to exploit). Both bands were composed of the same working-class ilk, but the Stones were raw, sexual, satanic, and (musically) more anarchic.
Security for the concert consisted of the legendary motorcycle outlaws known as the Hell's Angels, and it is part of the Altamont legend that their fee was $500 in free beer. The drugs were bad. The crowd was surly, harrying both the musicians and, more foolishly, the Angels, who were not the type to shrink from a fight. As the bad vibes amplified, Jefferson Airplane front man Paul Kantner attempted to calm the waters and was knocked unconscious by an angry Angel for his efforts.. The disaster reached its climax when a stoned young African-American youth named Meredith "Murdock" Hunter confronted a Hell's Angel; moments later, as the Stones played "Under My Thumb", his lifeless, 18-year old body fell before the stage, stab wounds peppering his upper back. A dream died with him.
Woodstock Nation was already withering before the social and political events that would doom it. A demonic hippie cult leader led his "family" on a killing spree, and the Tate – LaBianca murders horrified a nation. Richard Nixon, once re-elected, showed his promises to end the Vietnam War to be a deception. By 1970, when Nixon expanded the war into Cambodia, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were dead. So were four student protesters at Kent State University. Jim Morrison was not far behind, passing the next year. A renegade official in the Department of Defense named Daniel Ellsburg leaked the infamous Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, and America discovered that it had been systematically lied to about the Vietnam War. Some members of the counterculture, both black and white, became radicalized, advocating violence and revolution. Altamont, too, had its animated equivalent, also birthed in 1969.