In the new autobiography You Can’t Always Get What You Want (ECW Press), Sam Cutler (tour manager for the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead in their raucous heydays) seems pretty coy about the path his life took after splitting with the Dead about 35 years ago, but it’s obvious that a lengthy hangover must’ve ensued. From smoking DMT behind Keith Richards’ amp and snorting cocaine with Janis Joplin to dropping acid with Jimi Hendrix and chugging Southern Comfort with the Dead’s Ron “Pigpen” McKernan at the back of the “Festival Express,” Cutler spent his time as “rock n’ roll nanny” in the company of some seriously out-of-control stars, nearly matching their risky behavior and living to tell the tale.
According to Cutler, while the Stones were ruled by egotism, cocaine, and at one point even the mafia, the Dead consisted of “unfailingly cheerful fuck-ups” ruled by anarchy and LSD. In each case, Cutler says, the sum was “just a bunch of self-centered ingrates who only cared about their own trip,” although the music was great.
You Can’t Always Get What You Want is a quick and tantalizing read that’s worth your time if only for Cutler’s first-hand description of the ugliness of Altamont, the Rolling Stones’ 1969 free concert that turned into Lord of the Flies-esque mayhem. That weekend in a crummy field east of San Francisco, Cutler saw “people with madness in their eyes dancing around” countless fires; faux-Hell’s Angels knocking out fans and musicians with pool cues and in one case knifing a man to death; and thousands of little yellow LSD pills – about 20 times the normal dose, and cut with poison – that he claims the U.S. government circulated at Altamont to put the kibosh on the Peace and Love generation.
Government conspiracy or not, is anyone surprised that a band with lyrics like “I’ll stick my knife right down your throat, baby, and it hurts” didn’t fit with the idyllic 60’s San Francisco scene or care enough to hire security for a free festival where 500,000 people were expected?
Regardless, Cutler made it out alive and pretty enlightened. Though he’s still haunted by the deaths of Pigpen, Jerry Garcia, and others, Cutler maintains satisfaction in having watched the back of many a troubled rock-star. “We crossed paths, we lived together, we got high together,” he writes with pride, although after the early 70’s none of the “ingrates” ever cared to contact him again, save for an invite to a Stones show in 2003. Anyway, what might be more interesting is the prospect of Cutler finally hearing from the on-duty police officers he secretly dosed with LSD at early Grateful Dead shows.