You Can’t Always Get What You Want
by Sam Cutler
I’ve learned to take the rock and roll “tell all” with a large grain of salt. I’m sure the author was where he claims, but between time, aggressive self-medication, and the need to either complain or suck up for reasons we may never grasp, these books run more toward “E!” than “The History Channel.”
So who’s this Cutler dude, anyway? He was one of those crucial people who never gets the spotlight, but makes sure the band appears on time, the equipment gets hooked up, the drugs keep flowing, and the guest list is honored, even if only in the breach. Cutler had the privilege of working directly for the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead, and writes with a breezy style that keeps the action flowing as he makes and documents Rock and Roll History.
We begin with his childhood in post-war England. His parents were activists in the communist and labor movements, and he spent his childhood at rallies, passing out leaflets and attending Socialist Sunday School. Hanging out in the early ’60s London rock scene, he met the greats and hooked up with the Stones around the time of Brian Jones’ death. Mega-concerts in the park were the big deal, and with typical British stoicism, they mostly went off with few problems. Cutler began working his way up the Stones organization. He loved music even if he couldn’t play, but he had an organizational knack that musicians lacked, and did the grunt work for the Stones’ 1969 US tour. Despite Cutler’s reports of Jagger’s disinterest in money, their ticket prices set a new record ($15 a seat, scalped to $40 on the street). A backlash developed, and while in San Francisco, the Stones agreed to do a free concert. By this time, numerous unsavory characters had insinuated themselves with the band, and despite the near universal consensus that a free show was a terrible idea, it soon became too big to kill, and the resulting disaster was a low point in rock history.
Cutler provides a fascinating cook’s tour of the poor planning and generally shambolic arrangements that lead to four deaths and countless injuries. He offers some very interesting theories as to why all this happened, but plausible as they sound, there’s no way to validate them. As the Stone’s set ended, he put them on a helicopter, and they immediately headed back to England leaving Cutler a wanted man with no cash, resources, or friends.
That’s where the Dead picked him up; they were deeply in debt and considerably less organized than the Stones. More pages of rock history flow by, and as he describes his successful efforts to make Garcia and company solvent, the stories get even stranger. Cutler traveled with a dropper bottle of LSD for the benefit of the band, himself, and anyone who might be hassling them, including the local police. He even claims the ability to count money accurately while tripping, a side effect of lysergic acid I’ve never heard reported. After many years, the Dead decided his 10% cut was too much, and they ditched him for a low-cost agent. And that’s where the story ends, with Cutler alone and unemployed. I just hope he invested his cut while he was sober.
Books on these two bands would fill a few library shelves, and I can’t say I’ve read many, but Cutler seems to have known everyone, making the mundane happen so the sublime could entertain us. It’s far too late for him to leave a good-looking corpse, but I think he had more than his fair share of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And if you’ve got that, who needs a second mortgage?
ECW Press: www.ecwpress.com