If you've had it with '60s anniversary nostalgia, hang in there.
Just a few more months, and the magic 20-year dial on the Wayback Machine (now there's one for you Boomers) will be pointing to the who-cares 1970s (we'll wake you for the significant Vietnam stuff and Watergate reminiscences. Otherwise, anniversary nostalgia buffs, you can snooze right through to the next century--unless, that is, you want to stay awake for all the World War II 50-years-later remembrances about to come our way).
Right now, though, there is one more major pop cultural event of the 1960s to be recalled, and that is Altamont, the free festival that took place at a raceway near San Francisco on Dec. 6, 1969.
If Woodstock marked the dizzy zenith of the '60s ideals of love, community and good vibes through rock, Altamont, which attracted about 300,000 people, was a rude awakening followed by a nasty hangover.
Carlos Santana, who plays Sunday at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, performed at both Woodstock and Altamont.
"Everybody played incredibly. The music was fantastic," Santana said over the phone from his Bay Area office this week. "Except that somebody got killed."
Santana, who opened the show at Altamont, said he was long gone by the time the headlining Rolling Stones went on.
"The Hells Angels drove in and they were kind of rude," Santana said, and that was enough to make him leave early during a single-day program that also featured the Jefferson Airplane, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The Hells Angels, the motorcycle gang that had been recruited to provide security, proved to be worse than rude. Gang members brutalized the audience through most of the day and, as the Stones played, a Hells Angel stabbed a man to death in a chilling scene captured in the film documentary "Gimme Shelter."
Altamont was a sobering comedown less than four months after Woodstock. But 20 years later, Santana believes that Woodstock values were not eclipsed by the bummer ending to '60s rock.
"I see (Woodstock) as a positive light," said Santana, 42, who went on the Nightline TV show during the Woodstock anniversary to defend what he sees as the festival's enduring legacy of idealism. Making his first appearance on a national public affairs show, Santana debated with two panelists who saw Woodstock either as a harmless party or a harbinger of social ills to come.
Santana doesn't think that all the media attention paid to a rock festival 20 years past was an excessive wallow in nostalgia. "We need information (about Woodstock) for the youngsters, to let them know such a thing did happen," he said. "All those people getting together to have fun and music and complement each other. We did it once, and we can do it again."
Santana--the band named after its lead guitarist--was one of the toasts of Woodstock. It went on during the afternoon of the festival's second day as an unknown, as yet unrecorded band from San Francisco that owed its spot on the bill to Bill Graham, who promoted Santana's hometown shows. The band's innovative, combustive mixture of blues, rock and Latin rhythm exploded on the festival stage, launching a career that has generated more than a dozen platinum or gold albums over the past 20 years.
Before he could make the music explode at Woodstock, Santana had to get some control over the images that were exploding in his head from the hallucinogens he had taken earlier in the day.
"I had been experimenting for about two years before that," said Santana, who was hardly unique among psychedelic era rockers in believing that hallucinogenic drugs could help a musician tap into new creative possibilities. Santana said his custom was to take mind-altering drugs 10 or 12 hours before a concert, so that most of the effect would have worn off by show time. "It used to work for me," he said. After the psychedelic trip, "you would have a different perspective on sound and music."
At Woodstock, which didn't exactly run by a timetable, Santana was rushed on stage hours before he expected to perform. "I was peaking. It was amoeba colors," Santana recalled. "I just prayed to the Lord to help me stay in time and in tune. Maybe if I were overly straight, I would have been scared."
Santana said it has been two or three years since he took any psychedelic drugs, but he disagrees with the blanket indictment of drugs that has been leveled in the late '80s. Some distinctions need to be made, he said.
"There is self-expansion and self-deception," he said. "Cocaine is a self-deception. Smack is a self-deception. Grass and peyote I wouldn't call a self-deception. Through over-indulgence of cocaine and smack, I have lost a lot of my friends. I haven't lost anybody I know of because of grass and psychedelics. For me, sometimes it's nice once in a while to visit yourself through meditation or prayer or to take something that kind of propels you like a turtle out of a shell. Then you come back to yourself."