I Spent A Little Time On The Mountain

‘New Speedway Boogie’ is a protest song that was written by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia and it appears on the Workingman’s Dead album, which was released in early 1970.  The song is 49 years old now, so maybe it should be renamed Old Speedway Boogie.  According to Hunter, the song was written as a direct response to an article that was written by the rock critic Joel Selvin from the San Francisco Chronicle and published just after the tragedy of Altamont, criticizing it as the end of the counterculture era.  For those who never heard of  Altamont, it was a major concert event that was poorly organized and it quickly turned violent, leaving four dead and dozens more injured.  The concert was held on Saturday, December 6, 1969, and organizers chose Dick Carter’s Altamont Speedway location just two days before the show for this free concert that was scheduled to include Santana, the Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the Flying Burrito Brothers and the Grateful Dead, with the Rolling Stones headlining the show.

Sam Cutler is best known for being the former tour manager of first The Rolling Stones and later The Grateful Dead.  The Rolling Stones and Cutler made an error, by putting the Hells Angels in charge of stage security and providing them with a truck load of free beer.  This ruined what was going to be a wonderful day, so peace and love and all that stuff never happened as it turned into a nightmare.  This counter culture concert was supposed to be the West Coast equivalent of Woodstock, but this infamous concert came to be known as “Rock’s Darkest Day”.  San Francisco was the center of the rock music universe in 1969 and the Altamont Speedway was just 50 miles east of San Francisco.  Rock Scully was one of the managers of the Grateful Dead and he convinced the Stones to end their US tour at the free concert, but the Stones were in charge of this concert.

There was no food available at the site, no water, scant medical care and just 100 portable toilets for a crowd that grew to 300,000.  An 18-year-old man named Meredith Hunter pulled a handgun to defend himself against the bikers, but Meredith got stabbed five times in the back and was beat senseless by the Hells Angels dying at the scene as he was being brought for medical attention.  The slaying of the young African-American man by 21-year-old Hells Angel named Alan Passaro happened just 20 feet in front of the stage while the Stones played ‘Under My Thumb’.  Unaware of what had just occurred, the Rolling Stones completed their set without further incident, bringing an end to a tumultuous day that also saw three accidental deaths, two in a hit and run accident, one by drowning in an irrigation canal and there were also dozens of lacerations, skull fractures, broken bones and hundreds of bad drug trips.

It was dark by the time the concert’s next-to-last act, the Grateful Dead, was scheduled to appear.  The Dead had a couple of their crew members roughed up that day and they decided to leave when they learned that Marty Balin the Jefferson Airplane singer had been knocked unconscious by one of the Hells Angels in a melee during his band’s performance.  The Dead were concerned for their safety, Jerry Garcia was distraught and he went back to the bus because he and overwhelmed by the violence he had witnessed.  He knew that this was not how these shows were supposed to work, as this was dangerous chaos and everything on this day seemed to go perfectly wrong.  In the weeks and months following the concert, finger pointing and blame for the violence at Altamont was heaped on the organizers, the Rolling Stones, the Hell’s Angels, and the Grateful Dead.  Sam Cutler said the agreement was for the Angels to make sure that nobody tampered with the generators, so nothing would interrupt the music.  They were not supposed be the police force.  The deal was made between Cutler, Rock Scully, and Pete Knell, a member of the Hells Angels’ San Francisco chapter.  All the bands were supposed to share the cost for $500 worth of beer.

The Stones have said very little about the Altamont concert and Sam Cutler did at one time use a chapter of Hells Angels to provide security for a festival in England, but clearly these were different Angels over there than the ones that showed up at Altamont.  The Grateful Dead and the Hells Angels both liked to indulge in drugs, but Garcia said that when a huge number of people get together and there are no rules, that things could go good, like it did at Woodstock or go completely wrong like Altamont.  The Grateful Dead were known as being an outlaw group and they understood how important it is to keep the stage clear of audience members that could be high and try to damage stuff, but just because they agreed to play in a free concert, does not mean that they should be blamed for everything that went wrong.

Garcia said, “Nobody hires the Hells Angels for anything.  The Hells Angels aren’t for hire . . . It’s not a question of hiring or not hiring; it’s a question of who is it that’s gonna say to the Hell’s Angels, ‘Go away’?  Nobody’s gonna say that to the Hell’s Angels, man.  The people who went to see the Stones, they’re mostly just people.  So they don’t know who the hell the Hell’s Angels are, man.  They don’t know that if you stand around in the middle of a buncha Hell’s Angels, eventually you might get hit.”

Please don’t dominate the rap, Jack,
If you’ve got nothing new to say.
If you please, don’t back up the track
This train’s got to run today.

I spent a little time on the mountain,
I spent a little time on the hill,
I heard some say “Better run away”,
Others say “Better stand still”.

Now I don’t know, but I been told
It’s hard to run with the weight of gold,
Other hand I have heard it said,
It’s just as hard with the weight of lead.

Who can deny, who can deny,
It’s not just a change in style?
One step done and another begun
And I wonder how many miles.

I spent a little time on the mountain,
I spent a little time on the hill,
I heard some say “Better run away”,
Others say “Better stand still”.

Now I don’t know, but I been told
It’s hard to run with the weight of gold,
Other hand I have heard it said,
It’s just as hard with the weight of lead.

Things went down we don’t understand,
But I think in time we will.
Now, I don’t know, but I was told
In the heat of the sun a man died of cold.

Keep on coming or stand and wait,
With the sun so dark and the hour so late.
You can overlook the lack, Jack,
Of any other highway to ride.

It’s got no signs or dividing lines
And very few rules to guide.
I spent a little time on the mountain,
I spent a little time on the hill,
I heard some say “Better run away”,
Others say “Better stand still”.

Now I don’t know, but I been told
It’s hard to run with the weight of gold,
Other hand I have heard it said,
It’s just as hard with the weight of lead.
I saw things getting out of hand,
I guess they always will.

Now I don’t know, but I been told
If the horse don’t pull you got to carry the load.
I don’t know whose back’s that strong,
Maybe find out before too long.

One way or another, one way or another,
One way or another, this darkness got to give.
One way or another, one way or another,
One way or another, this darkness got to give.
One way or another, one way or another,
One way or another, this darkness got to give.

Written for 2/17/19 Helen Vahdati’s This Thing Called Life One Word at a Time Song Lyric Sunday Theme where the prompt is “Hill/Mountain”.

19 thoughts on “I Spent A Little Time On The Mountain

    1. I was going to write more about this song and explain the lyrics, like when it says, “Please don’t dominate the rap, Jack” meaning that critic Joel Selvin composed a long article that went on and on and seemed to miss the meaning that there is no way to control everything that happens at a rock concert, but the post got rather long and I decided it was best to stop where I did.

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  1. I’d heard of Altamont before on a documentary for the Stones. Sheer idiocy by whomever made the many decisions leading to death for the unfortunates and all the rest of that mess. The song is a good one to protest it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The concert was just thrown together way too quick for that many people and the stage was barely off the ground… The Dead shouldn’t be blamed. Mick’s ego didn’t help the situation in being determined to carry through with something that should have been better staged.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In 1969 the Stones were broke. They had earned $17million in the previous three years but had seen only a fraction of it due to the shady dealings of American manager Allen Klein. They were skipping out of hotels with out paying their bills. Moments after the Stones arrived by helicopter, a young man stepped into Jagger’s path and punched him in the face, knocking him down. It was poor planning that turned into chaos.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Good song. I’ve never heard it before. That concert was such a disaster. I think I remember seeing a documentary about it one time. Too bad everything went wrong, because there were some great musical acts to perform.

    Liked by 1 person

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