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    Keith Richards, 1969

    Category: Interviews

    KEITH RICHARDS ( Evening Standard, December 1969)


    There were four births and four deaths during the Rolling Stones free concert at Altamont, California, last week. Even the Stones were shocked, said Keith Richards, as he reflected on the events at his Cheyne Walk, Chelsea home yesterday.

    ‘I thought the show would have been stopped, but hardly anybody seemed to want to take any notice. Oh yes, there were the people selling acid. That’s the way it is at those free concerts.

    ‘There are so many people there that the police just stay away, you know. They just try to keep the traffic moving ten miles away. In a way those concerts are a complete experiment in social order – everybody has to work out a completely new plan of how to get along.’

    The crowds between three hundred thousand and five hundred thousand were policed by Hell’s Angels, the Californian motorcycle gangs, and according to Press reports it was they who were responsible for much of the violence. One boy was stabbed to death by a group of them when he produced a gun.

    ‘The violence just in front of the stage was incredible. Looking back I don’t think it was a good idea to have Hell’s Angels there, but we had them at the suggestion of the Grateful Dead who’ve organised these shows before, and they thought they were the best people to organise the concert.

    ‘The trouble is it’s a problem for us either way. If you don’t have them to work for you as stewards, they come anyway and cause trouble. Last week was my first experience of American Hell’s Angels. I believe the alternative would have been the Pink Panthers. I wouldn’t like to say whether they would have been any more vicious.

    ‘But to be fair, out of the whole three hundred Angels working as stewards, the vast majority did what they were supposed to do, which was to regulate the crowds as much as possible without causing any trouble. But there were about ten or twenty who were completely out of their minds – trying to drive their motorcycles through the middle of the crowds.

    ‘Really the difference between the open air show we held here in Hyde Park and the one there is amazing. I think it illustrates the difference between the two countries. In Hyde Park everybody had a good time, and there was no trouble. You can put half a million young English people together and they won’t start killing each other. That’s the difference.’

    He moved into his Chelsea mansion in August. It cost £50,000 freehold (‘I drive a hard bargain’) and had previously been the home of Anthony Nutting, MP. There’s a blue plaque on the house next door which says that George Eliot lived there, and just a few houses down the road Mick Jagger owns a similar-styled house. I wonder whether there will ever be blue plaques on the homes of Jagger and Richard.

    It’s the first house Keith has owned in London and he lives there with his girlfriend, Italian film actress Anita Pallenberg and their four-month old baby Marlon.

    He met Anita through Brian Jones. ‘I think she turned up in Munich or something like that,’ he says vaguely. Or did he bump into her in the Scotch (of St James’s) when all the disco scenes were raving. Anyway it was quite a while ago, he thinks. About 1965.

    ‘Anita was with Brian and then there was a whole scene in Morocco when Anita and I left Brian behind – which didn’t really help matters. It happens to everybody at some time during their lives. I had a chick run off with Jimi Hendrix once. I think he’s a nice cat actually.

    ‘I have no guilt feelings about Brian. He was completely responsible for himself as we all are. There are some people who you just know aren’t going to get old. There was this friend of ours called Tara Browne who died about three years ago and, at the time, Brian and I agreed that he, Brian, wouldn’t live very long either. I remember saying “you’ll never make thirty, man” and he said “I know”.’

    The tour of America has excited him enormously. The generation gap has, he feels, accelerated and polarised enormously quickly in the few years since the Rolling Stones were last there.

    ‘Sometimes,’ he says, ‘we had to travel on ordinary commercial airlines to get from one town to the next and we’d have middle-aged fellows coming up to us saying “what’s wrong with my son who keeps locking himself in the bathroom and turning on?”

    ‘But even though I was foolish enough to get caught, and in doing so advertise the fact that I smoked pot, I feel no responsibility for what anybody else may do with their bodies, or what they may put into it.

    ‘We were down in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to cut a few tracks last week and you couldn’t even get a can of beer. It’s a dry county. And people there are going through the same thing for a beer that people everywhere else are going through for pot or grass or acid or whatever. And they’re driving about hiding six-packs of beer under their seats. Getting caught with a bottle of whisky is like being caught with a needle in your arm.’

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