What Gimme Shelter portrays is a lost decade, with lost ideals, where the next stage to follow is attitude and hunger for money, as we see in Spinal Tap.
This atmosphere of chaos and desire for a radical change is evident in Gimme Shelter. We see the creation of a counterculture spreading throughout American society. Young people rejected the values of their parents. They let their hair and their beards grow uncontrollably. They changed the way they dressed and explored their sexuality. They used drugs more regularly and got involved in politics. We see white people raising funds to aid the Black Panthers fight against the government. We see people walking around naked during concerts, freely expressing their affection to each other. We see everybody acting like brothers and sisters and sharing common interests in music and social behavior. “The times they are a-changing,” said Bob Dylan.
The whole counterculture movement reached its peak in August of 1969 at the Woodstock concert, where more that 500, 000 people were in attendance. That was also the era that Rolling Stones gave a free concert in San Francisco at Altamont; an event captured in Gimme Shelter. The film documents with precision the mood and truth of the 60s. Surprisingly, Mick Jagger and Keith Richard did not convey any ego problems. Between concerts the band was recording songs and critiquing them in the sound studio. The film reveals the band as hard working professionals. Even the concert in Altamont was free, their gift to 300, 000 people, to enjoy. Neither the band, nor the manager of the group were worried about money or selling tickets. But…
What happened next is considered the end of the revolutionary era of the 1960’s.
Not more that 20 feet away from the stage, a Hell’s Angels gang member killed a man; Meredith Hunter, an 18-year-old black kid was stabbed to death several times.
This whole era seemed to end with a murder, or a few murders – four people died at that concert. Different values began to creep into the shell of popular culture, including the music.
While the 60’s were an era of social activism and justice for all, society and the people in the 70’s were more self-centered and narcissistic. The Watergate scandal and the Nixon presidential crisis played out on TV and the Vietnam War was still fresh in people’s minds. The country experienced an Oil Crisis in 1973, and at the same time 54 Americans were held hostage in Iran. During this time of crisis, the consumer industry grew in leaps and bounds. New technologies were introduced and young people were exposed and influenced by the new products. In music the singer-songwriter movement was gaining power and individualism was the new trend. Where the 60’s ended with “the flower power generation”, the 70’s were consumed with rock and roll, fashion and mass production. The 70s could be summed up as the “Me Decade”, as the writer Tom Wolfe coined.
Spinal Tap, represents the rock musical era of the 1970’s as a documentary film. Even though the film is a fictional rockumentary, it shows the absence of great ideals and purpose in that era. Both bands, the Rolling Stones and Spinal Tap, are foreign-born bands. The British invasion of The Beatles, Rolling Stones and other bands invaded the continent and brought rock mania to the US. In Spinal Tap, the band finds out that the almighty dollar dictates the direction of artistic ideas and originality. Throughout most of the film the band struggles to sell their album. Many distributors refuse to market their music because it's not sellable. As the Fran Dresher character says: “Money Talks’, which is the exact attitude of the whole 1970’s era. The high ideals of the 1960’s are pushed to the background and money is the only thing that matters. Spinal Tap attempts numerous changes to figure out other ways to sell their music, which is basically a “shit sandwich.” The band members changed their wardrobe on every show; they even discussed using animal costumes for their stage performances. Mick Jagger did exactly the opposite during his American tour portrayed in Gimme Shelter. He dressed in the exact same outfit for every concert. They compensated their lack of costume variations with creativity and new songs. Creativity - something that is completely missing with the Tap. Their stage performances relied heavily on ridiculous props for a better effect, or rather, to distract the audience from their bad music. There is only one good melody heard throughout the entire film - when Nigel is playing piano for the documentary filmmaker. But the beautiful feeling is short lived when Nigel names the song “Lick my love pump.”
During the film, Spinal Tap band members discuss their "music", and their “art.”, but it is their lack of creativity that contributes to the in-fighting and disagreements over the interpretation of the music they compose and play. But we have nothing to worry about, as the limo driver says: “It is all going to pass.”
Thirty years later we are still living in a corporate driven society where the word "money" gets things moving.
The question is when will another word take its place?
Director: Albert Maysles, David Maysles
Staring: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, The Rolling Stone
This is Spinal Tap
Director: Rob Reiner
Staring: Rob Reiner, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest