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Rebel Rebel

New books celebrate two of the Bay Area’s most politically charged rock shows.


Johnny Cash arriving at Folsom State Prison before his January 1968 concert.

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Last summer, San Francisco practically ODed on celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. This summer, the painful withdrawal begins—courtesy of two new books that document the turbulent end of the hippie era.

The 1969 Altamont Festival has long been the focus of considerable scholarship. Now, with Just a Shot Away: Peace, Love, and Tragedy with the Rolling Stones at Altamont (July 10, St. Martin’s Press), rock writer Saul Austerlitz has his turn with the infamous concert, which ended in the stabbing death of Meredith Hunter, a black 18-year-old art student from Berkeley. Rather than focus on Altamont as a figurative bookend for the Summer of Love, Austerlitz deconstructs the events leading up to Hunter’s death—the concert’s shamefully slipshod planning, the laissez-faire hippie faith that all would go right, the racial tensions in the air—making this more the anatomy of a rock show gone off the rails than a retrospective on an era-defining moment.

Meanwhile, across the bay, another concert was taking place in 1969 that would reverberate in the political and popular culture: Johnny Cash, fresh off the success of his 1968 show inside Folsom State Prison, visited San Quentin State Prison for the second time—both figuratively and, per Jim Marshall’s famous photograph, literally raising an enraged middle finger to the establishment. In Johnny Cash at Folsom and San Quentin (July, Reel Art Press), Marshall’s iconic images of that show create a definitive record of the concert that gave the world the songs “San Quentin” and “A Boy Named Sue” and helped Cash break into the mainstream and move country music away from its conservative, good-old-boy heritage.


Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco 

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