To most observers, the violence and indifference
of the crowd at Altamont spelled the end of the sixties cultural revolution,
as author Todd Gitlin, in his book The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days
of Rage (and himself an eyewitness to the concert), cogently describes:
…the effect was to burst the bubble of youth culture's illusions
about itself. The Rolling Stones were scarcely the first countercultural
heroes to grant cachet to the Hell's Angels. We had witnessed the famous
collectivity of a generation cracking into thousands of shards. Center
stage turned out to be another drug. The suburban fans who blithely
blocked one another's views and turned their backs on the bad-trippers
were no cultural revolutionaries. Who could any longer harbor the illusion
that these hundreds of thousands of spoiled star-hungry children of
the Lonely Crowd were the harbingers of a good society?
I saw Satan laughing with delight
The day the music died.
So Mick Jagger, symbolizing the indifference and self-centeredness
of the crowd, is the focal point of the evening's proceedings, and for
the narrator bears responsibility for not preventing—and perhaps
even provoking—what occurred there. He also epitomizes a threatening,
aggresive rebellion inherent in their music, and of how far removed we
were from the more benign, harmonious America of the 1950s. He is the
song's Antichrist, completing the apocalyptic work of tearing down the
older, peaceful world that the other musical players of the sixties had
figuratively already started. And he is one more blow—the final
blow—against the innocence of another era.
The verse that follows finds the narrator walking through the aftermath
of the 1960s cultural revolution.