Friday, March 16, 2007

Gimme Shelter

When she performed at CBGB's on its last night before closing this past October, Patti Smith pointedly chose to sing The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter." More recently at her Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, she sang it again. Given today's global setting, it's not hard to ponder why.

I've always thought "Gimme Shelter" has had staying power partly because of its grinding haunted sound and partly because of its colorful lyrics.

Ooh, see the fire is sweepin'
Our very street today
Burns like a red coal carpet
Mad bull lost its way

War, children, it's just a shot away
It's just a shot away
War, children, it's just a shot away
It's just a shot away

Rape, murder!
It's just a shot away
It's just a shot away

Even the uplift -- "Love, sister, it's just a kiss a way" -- sounds ominous these days.

The Stones are great because they've always viewed the world through the primal scrim of the blues, and no matter how successful or rich they've become, they still seem to see it that way.

Gimme Shelter, a rough and tumble documentary about their 1969 tour culminating at Altamont, California, provides a grim counterpoint to Woodstock hippie utopianism. The Maysles brothers (Albert and David) with Charlotte Zwerin released the film in December 1970.

Between the time of the free concert at Altamont and the film's debut, US President Nixon had ordered an American military incursion into Cambodia, protesting American students had been gunned down by "authorities" at Kent State and Jackson State, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix died from drug-related deaths, and The Beatles distintegrated from internal bickering. "All You Need Is Love," indeed.

Today's Rune: Protection.

From the Detroit Bunker: Not Fade Way!


JR's Thumbprints said...

Wow! Very fluid, connected post. Perhap Neil Young could've been worked in there too. Then again, I ask too much.

Johnny Yen said...

It's amazing how that song captures the zeitgeist of that time perfectly.

The History Channel just had a thing on Kent State a few days ago. They had one of the National Guardsmen, one who hadn't actually fired on the students, explaining how some bad tactical errors on the part of the Guard commander had left a bunch of Guardsmen in a position in which they were surrounded by rock-throwing students and damned scared. After all the finger-pointing over the years, I've gone from anger at the guardsmen to anger over the people who put them there, and anger over the people who were continuing the Vietnam War

Charles Gramlich said...

I was always a much bigger fan of the Stones than the Beetles, largely because of that edge of darkness there. Altamont really did reveal the shadowed underside of the love generation.