A Message For All Nations 

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Altamont, 1969

J. N. Runner

There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.”

In retelling the events that happened in December, 1969, I recall my friend Richard and I were at a house on Hedges St. in Fresno where we shared a ‘pad’ downstairs in the garage. Some how we received the news of a big rock concert that was to take place up in the bay area some where the next day. The Rolling Stones were supposed to be there.

Without much fore planning, as was usually the way we did things, we started hitchhiking up to the bay area. The familiar route that I had hitchhiked many times before, up Hwy 99 to Highway 152 through Los Banos, then through Pacheco Pass, Gilroy, then up Hwy 101 into San Francisco.

Some how, this time we ended up in Berkeley, in the East Bay. It was night time when we arrived. We asked around if anyone knew of the rock concert; everyone seemed to know something about it, but it was all so vague… there were conflicting reports as to where it was going to be.

We finally met some people who said they knew where it was, had a car, and were headed there. They offered us a ride. I remember the car vaguely: a sort of beat up sedan with big fins, the gas hog type, that was missing some of the windows, and didn’t have tail lights. I remember going over a toll bridge, because as we came to the toll gate the throttle got stuck and the driver had to step on the brakes very sharply to keep from ramming into the toll booth.

Some time after we passed the tollbooth, we were pulled over by the police. They asked us for identification while they shined two-foot long flashlights into our faces. I was sitting next to the window in the front seat; Richard was sitting next to me in the middle. After a few minutes, the police came over to the car and asked to see Richard. In order for him to get out, I had to open my door and get out first. When I did, I was surprised when all of a sudden the police grabbed me and before I knew it, hand cuffs had cinched around my wrists so tightly I thought they were going to break. Telling me I was under arrest, I was placed against the police car and frisked, and then put in the back of the police car.

It all happened so quickly, one minute I was riding to who knows where with my friend and the people who had picked us up, the next minute I was separated from them, on my way to jail. The Contra Costa County jail in Martinez was where I was taken and booked. I swallowed my pride, and called the only person I could think of to call- my dad- and told him where I was, and that I had been picked up for outstanding warrants for my arrest for traffic reasons (hitchhiking on the Freeway, etc.), and that the bail or bond was about $150.00. I do not know if he really planned a trip up to see his mother in San Francisco or not, or just used this circumstance to go and see her, but he told me that he was coming up the next day.

That night I spent in a holding cell with scores of others, which we called the drunk tank (what a miserable place it was) and the next morning, my dad showed up and posted the required bond for me to be set free. I guess it must really have been painful for him- especially after coming to let me out of jail, and then driving me to the nearest freeway on ramp and letting me out. I don’t know how I could have done that to him. I was a scoundrel…. but there was nothing wrong with my conscience; it hurt like ever.

I stood there on the on ramp just a few minutes when a guy on a motorcycle stopped and offered to give me a ride. This is where the pieces of the puzzle began to be too visual for coincidence- he was headed to the Rock festival, he said it was outside of Livermore, at Altamont Pass.

It didn’t take us 30 minutes to reach the place where you could tell something big was happening. Cars were parked along the side of the freeway (the new one that was under construction) for miles and miles; people were walking, it was impossible to drive a car closer. We had the perfect advantage: on a motorcycle we wove in between the parked cars and the hundreds of people walking, and as if by magic we were there! It was estimated that over 500,000 people were there; I don’t doubt it at all.

The next events happened as if it was a dream; but I know too much that it was real life- I began to see some things that would change my life.

As I walked through the crowd of people. Beauty was there, but so was the Beast. I saw a display of everything happening in the open. Hypodermic needles, marijuana everywhere, wine bottles passed around, empty ones being thrown pell-mell into the crowd, and couples having sex openly. It was an orgy of 500,000 people.

There was noticeably the absence of any police figure. The only order or authority in the whole place was close to the stage where the rock groups were performing; and that authority was the hell’s angels- as I had learned, that had been hired to keep order, and for doing so, they would be given all the beer they could drink. They kept order all right, with pool cues they were on the stage ready to bash the teeth in of anyone who got too close. I watched as they rode their motorcycles through the crowd- if someone was in the way, it was just too bad.

Almost everyone was constantly trying to move up to et a better view of the stage that was set up where the bands were playing one after the other. I was no different, and in my attempt to get a better spot, I got jostled in the crowd. I had never been in a crowd that thick before. Several times I got knocked down as I was pressed between the sway of the crowd; I remember seeing children crying that had been knocked down also. The press of the crowd is simply unexplainable. If you can visualize thousands of people pressed against each other so close and from time to time the throng is pushed to one side or the other and you are sandwiched in between. Some of my memory is very hazy. I have no recollection of what bands were playing, or even if or when the Rolling Stones were performing.

During this whole time, I recall how my attention was drawn to an individual that was in the crowd; a black man with a light green suit and black hat cocked to one side. I remember how I would stare at this man, then I would involve myself with all the other things there were to see, only to single this man out once again for some odd reason. This happened over and over again; I don’t really remember if at the time I thought there was something strange about my attention being drawn to this man over and over again, but the last time this happened, I saw that he was squared off with a hell’s angel, the stance taken by the two of them was obvious that there was going to be a fight. Then I saw the hell’s angel shove the black man. The wave of the crowd pushed me down and I felt I was going to be crushed. I was about 30 feet from where the fight was taking place. Suddenly as if all together, the crowd let out a shriek as several exclaimed, “He’s got a gun!” Everyone about me seemed to take cover, in a panic; and what we feared to happened happened next: the gun went off. A moment passed, evidently the shot was in the air, but the crowd began to stir after several exclaimed, “He got him! He stabbed him!” From what I was able to gather, the black man pulled a gun, fired it into the air, and then the hell’s angel wrestled it away from him and stabbed him to death.

Almost immediately, the crowd seemed to return to normal, as if it had no interest in the life and death struggle of the stabbed man, turning their attention to the stage, where the Rolling Stones were playing. I looked up to the stage, where for the first time I really had a clear view. The Rolling Stones began the beat of a song that had made them famous, “Sympathy for the Devil. ” I do not know why I never realized the meaning of the song before: but this time, the lyrics shocked me: in the light of what had just occurred, it seemed so Satanic. Then, as Mick Jagger sang the words of the song:

“….I was there when Jesus hung on the cross;

Pleased to meet you; hope you guess my name,

My name is Lucifer, hope you guess my name…..”

He was wearing some cape or thin coat that he waived seductively above his head as he sang the song. After viewing all of this, I felt like my eyes had shed scales, and I could see things I never was able to see before. I was shocked. In a daze, I turned jostled my way out of the crowd and walked toward the highway. I had seen enough. I wanted to leave. I wanted to go back to quiet little garage in Fresno where at least I could sit down and think about it all.

It was the end of an era; the decade of the ’60′s was about to expire. I was an eyewitness to the rape of the flower-child.

A few days later, in my misery, searching for answers, I wrote:


What do I see before me

As I look into the flame?

Of hunger, thirst and loneliness

I somehow hear my name:

Ignore it I cannot,

Yet I must seek it by myself:

I must not kill the spark

Which is lit inside my Heart….

….The day is past yet I remain…

Where do I turn to keep from shame?

- J.N Runner 1969