‘Altamont Augie’ and the War for a Generation’s Soul

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Altamont Augie
by Richard Barager
Interloper Press, 300 pgs.

“If you can remember the sixties,” quipped Timothy Leary, “you weren’t there.” Well, for those who can’t remember, or weren’t ever there, Richard Barager’s new novel Altamont Augie thrusts the reader into the torrent of that tumultuous era more successfully, and from a more unique perspective, than any I’ve read.

The book’s quirky title holds twofold significance. For anyone who does remember the sixties, “Altamont” is somber shorthand for the Altamont Speedway Free Festival, a rock concert in late 1969 attended by hundreds of thousands and featuring powerhouse bands of the day like the Jefferson Airplane and the Rolling Stones, who headlined the show. The concert is most notorious for its degeneration into increasing crowd violence, culminating in the stabbing death of a drug-fueled, gun-wielding concertgoer by a member of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang, whom the Stones had hired for security – all captured on film for the documentary Gimme Shelter. Long forgotten is another death at that concert – a man was found drowned in an irrigation canal. The victim’s name remains unknown, and the mystery of his identity lies at the heart of this novel.

“Augie” is a nod to the Saul Bellow classic of American literature, The Adventures of Augie March, featuring a character who, in the words of critic Norman Podhoretz, “stands for the American dream of the inviolable individual who has the courage to resist his culture.” Author Barager’s Augie is David Noble, a young man so repulsed by his generation’s descent into a violent, irrational anti-Americanism that he impulsively enlists in the Marines to do his patriotic part to ensure American victory in the Vietnam War. Little does he realize what a trial-by-fire boot camp will be, and that he will find himself in a vision of hell to rival the nightmarish work of Hieronymus Bosch, at the 1968 battle of Khe Sanh.

After his stint in Vietnam, David returns to his girlfriend Jackie, who runs with the radical anti-war crowd, the Marxist-inspired members of the Students for a Democratic Society. The SDS strove to tear down America’s democratic institutions and support her defeat on the battlefields of Vietnam. David Noble now finds himself fighting a war at home as well:

SDS had to be confronted – even if it meant pissing Jackie off. Vietnam was being lost not on the battlefield, where the NVA had yet to win a major engagement, but at home, on college campuses. Nixon may have won the election, but the New Left was winning the fight for public opinion, the drumbeat for peace at the expense of victory growing louder by the day. What good was peace born from a self-inflicted loss harming national honor? These things matter

Indeed they do. Just as they still matter now, forty years later, when the progressive Left, after waging a similar anti-war crusade against former President George W. Bush and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, has succeeded in putting a fellow Alinskyite in the White House.

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  • Chezwick_mac

    I came of age in the 70s, but in the throes of the 60s culture.

    We were COMPLETELY subsumed in the drug culture…smoking herb every morning as we walked to school…and 3 or 4 more times throughout the day, everyday. We'd do cocktails of drugs and alcohol on Friday and Saturday nights. Via car-wreck or overdose, more than a couple never made it to 20. We were TOTAL hedonists.

    I feel nothing but shame for my youth. I was as self-centered as could be. I never gave my parents a second thought except via the repercussions of getting in trouble…NEVER cared one iota about how I was disappointing them. Their concerns weren't even on my radar.

    And though we thought of ourselves as rebels, within the counter-culture that defined us, we were near-total conformists. We judged each other by how "cool" or "straight" we were and virtually no other criteria.

    Occasionally, I listen to some of the rock-anthems that I worshiped back then and now consider adolescent tripe,…but I'm still not willing to repudiate entirely the music of the age. The Beatles, the Stones, Hendrix, the Byrds, Dylan, Led Zep, CSN&Y, etc., are all artistically viable 40 years later….at least IMHO.

    Still, the music is the ONLY thing remotely worthy that came from the 60s. The lasting abominations that it spawned, interminable adolescence, infertility and abortion, the destruction of the family, cultural relativism, the intellectual corruption of the universities and newsrooms,…all continue to plague us as and sap our vitality as we are confronted with the challenges of a new age.

    • Mario

      Amen Chezwick_mac, I could have written the identical post, except we lost more than a couple in high school, a very small school at that, and then even lost some in the Army via drugs. I disagree on the music since, though nostalgic, it promotes the destruction of our once great culture. I prefer gospel and southern gospel now because now I understand the words of that music we listened to in the sixties and seventies.

      • Jim_C

        Destructive? Really? How so? The lifestyle, for sure, but the music, itself?

        Because when I hear, for example, the Beatles, I don't hear much different from what Jesus preached–a message of love and taking care of one another.

        Some other stuff, maybe: but what incredible music.

        • GKC

          I'll have to admit that IMO the music sometimes had a good message. It cd. be uplifting and still relevant today when not saddled with the drug culture/free love baggage. But I have to redefine the word love when listening to a lot of it. A couple of for instances: Hendrix-Angel. Hendrix was self-destructive yet revealed in more than one song a thoughtful, sensitive individual. I understand that particular cut was written about his Mom who died early in his life. The musical setting was somber but realy rather lovely and fitting (IMO) to the subject at hand. There are 2 versions of this BTW and the acoustic one has more verses and it is more apparent that it is a child- mother relationship he is writing about. I love his Dylan cover All Along the Watchtower. When Hendrix does it I can see the 2 riders approaching, and can hear the wind begin to howl. I'm also a Moody Blues fan(early stuff). They were heavily into Eastern religion. I am 180 philosophically yet I can appreciate their thoughtfulness and the Beauty of their music as well as their search for the Trancendent.

    • mlcblog

      "And though we thought of ourselves as rebels, within the counter-culture that defined us, we were near-total conformists."

      This is the part that gets me!! So true. It was pitiful in that way.

    • GKC

      Geez, you cd.'ve been writing my story.

  • Tim Heekin

    I'm an ex-Marine combat vet of Vietnam and the last work of fiction I've read was something called "The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin". It was a good book but I can't remember who wrote it. I read that about 15 years ago and it had been another 20 years earlier since I had read another work of fiction. I think I may actually get this book. Thanks for the review.

    • http://marktapson.blogspot.com MarkTapson

      I hope you like it, Tim. And thanks for your service.

    • Rogue Rose

      Welcome home Patriot. Thank you for your service.

  • tagalog

    The Sixties are now nearly 3 generations behind us. Let it go, please. Think about writing a Civil War memoir in 1911 just for comparison's sake. And the Civil War had things that actually HAPPENED, for Heaven's sake.

    • dan

      Hey, no offense, but your post definitely sounds like it was from someone who was not there. There indeed was a Cold War and a Cold Civil War (like now) at home. Just an observation.

      • tagalog

        NYU, 1968. Lived in New York City, 1966 to 1971
        Present at the Pentagon with the Armies of the Night, October, 1967
        Present at Grant Park and Michigan and Balboa, August 1968
        You probably never heard of the Spring Equinox Riot at Grand Central Station in 1968. I was there, too, running desperately away from the TAC Cops that night.
        Draft counseling at Boston Draft Resisters' Guild, 1969

        There are people on YouTube showing videos that celebrate the Summer of Love in 1968; duh-uh, dudes.

        Not that my credentials are going to make any difference, but I am a bit more authentic than most of the old fogies trying to preserve their post-adolescence into old age.

    • Jim_C

      At times, I think that given the volume of WWII stuff, do we really need any more? And then comes a "Band of Brothers" or something that makes me think, yes, we do.

      The 1960s were an incredibly convulsive time. Really big changes took place; some for better, some for much worse. Nobody interprets these things quite the same, especially politically. So it's worth looking at–even if Boomer nostalgia is tiresome.

      • GKC

        The 1960s were an incredibly convulsive time. Really big changes took place; some for better, some for much worse. Nobody interprets these things quite the same, especially politically. So it's worth looking at–even if Boomer nostalgia is tiresome.


    • http://marktapson.blogspot.com MarkTapson

      tagalog, if I read you right, you're saying people shouldn't write historical novels because that's "behind us"? And that nothing happened in the sixties?

      • tagalog

        No, I'm saying that the Sixties have been pretty much done to death, and the so-called "counterculture" was overblown to begin with, and doesn't deserve much nostalgia, so please give it a rest; the nostalgia has been going on for a tiresomely long time, and what's being done these days is nearly totally false and is more reminiscent of the 1970s than the 1960s when it's close to getting real, which it nearly never does.

        Although I DID like the movie A Small Circle of Friends. But the movie If captured the mood better.

        • http://marktapson.blogspot.com MarkTapson

          This novel's not about 60's nostalgia, and certainly not nostalgia for the counterculture. That's one thing that makes this take on a 60's novel different.

          • tagalog

            You mean a novel set in the tumult of the 1960s, where a person rejects freakdom and joins the armed forces and goes to Vietnam or otherwise chooses a more sensible life, is a new idea? Right.

            Read Go Tell The Spartans, what was that TV movie with Jan Michael Vincent as the surfer hippie who joins the USMC (the DI was played by Darren McGaven), Tribes, that's it, the movie Hamburger Hill, etc., etc., and on and on, ad infinitum. Oh yeah, I forgot the book and movie Forrest Gump. Full Metal Jacket. The novel Gardens of Stone, which actually was good. The TV movie 1968. Robert Stone's Dog Soldiers, James Webb's Fields of Fire, lots of others. Pat Conroy's Lords of Discipline. Pre-dating the 1960s but capturing the essence of the time was the novel The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham.

            Like I said, it's been done to death.

          • http://marktapson.blogspot.com MarkTapson

            This book is not like those, and the ones you listed aren't even all like each other. In any case, is Dog Soldiers less worthy of reading just because Gardens of Stone exists?

            You keep changing your tack just for the sake of argument. First you implied that books written a few decades after the fact have no more relevance (you brought up the Civil War example, so you weren't just talking about the 60's) and that, unlike the Civil War, nothing happened in the 60's. When I asked you to clarify that, you said what you meant was that 60's counterculture nostalgia had been done to death, When I said this book isn't about that, you just looked up a list of books/movies that are about the 60's that have soldiers in them. If you don't want to read this book, don't, but I don't have time to keep chasing your ever-changing excuses not to.

          • tagalog

            Just for your information: I'll probably read the book, like all the other books I mentioned above, which I've also read, hoping (probably in vain) that it will capture the 60s I lived through and remember. But I expect it will be a library loan and not a purchase.

            If you consider that taking another tack, so be it.

          • mlcblog

            Not authentically, though. Only by enterprisers who want to cash in. They were there in the 1960s, too, looking to make a buck off that culture.

    • SJD

      Sorry but 40 years is not 3 generations, and worse, these same "brain-deads" are in the white house. Same junk, same people, 40 plus years later.

      • tagalog

        Forty years ago was 1971. The Sixties were definitely over by then. And I said "nearly" 3 generations. The year 1969 was 42 years ago, so maybe I'm stretching the 3 generations thing a bit. But not by a hell of a lot.

        So OK, 2 generations-plus ago; does that make any difference?

        • mlcblog

          Depends if you want to learn from history.

  • http://home.comcast.net/~enjolras/site/?/home/ Underzog

    They should make this book into a movie. Also, they should start doing movies opposing Muslim terrorism instead of smearing the patriot who fight against terrorism as "bigots and islamophobes."

    Incidentally, I have the excuse of extreme youth for falling for this antiwar bull sugar; however, the more I learned about Communism and my dislike at the thought of America losing anything, the more I turned against the pro Communist/anti American milieu of my pre teenage days.

  • Questions

    Actually, most of the crowd at Altamont on that day of 12/6/69 was well-behaved. The violence generally was directed at them, not by them. Hell's Angels "security" teams were the purveyors of violence. I saw the documentary film "Gimme Shelter" a few years after its release. The footage made clear: It was those thugs with motorcycles who posed the real threat to security.

    • Chezwick_mac

      Important to remember…the concert organizers attempted to co-opt the violence of the Angels by putting them in charge of security…a perfect example of 'the fox guarding the hen-house', 'the lunatics running the asylum', etc.,….and a showcase for how naive the 60s generation is in solving actual problems.

      • tagalog

        Absolutely right-on about the naivete of the "counterculture" of the 1960s (remember that the huge majority of the under-25 segment of voters cast their vote for Richard Nixon in 1968 – they may have been naive too, but not in the same way); one minor cavil, really a reflection rather than an attempt at correction (because you're not wrong); the Hell's Angels were chosen to be the security at Altamont for two reasons: (1) counterculturists hated the people who actually were capable of providing security – they were members of the Pig Culture, and (2) the Hell's Angels' real activities and proclivities were ignored in favor of the fantasy involving motorcycle hoodlums, drug dealers, and contract killers as romantic icons, representing a viable alternative to Straight Society.

        When I watched Gimme Shelter back when it was first released, I felt so sorry for the folks who were shown in the Maysles' movie, who were just trying to enjoy the Airplane and the Stones, dancing in the dirt and maybe smoking some pot. I've been sympathetic to the attitude and thoughts of the person who commented that Woodstock Nation lasted from August 1969 until Altamont three months later. He had it right.

  • Ghostwriter

    I was born in 1974,so I missed the 1960's. But my mother was there and she was by her own account sympathetic to the counterculture. She still hangs on to many of the beliefs she had back then.

  • nunyainct

    This is a good review of the book, and I think for those who enjoy fiction, it will give some important insight to the 60's which has been a veritable grenade on society. It seems to be the fictional equivalent of another outstanding book, The Long March, by Roger Kimball. The 60's were important because it ushered in the sexual revolution, and real Liberal Leftist ideology that is the antithesis of Conservatism. I would go so far to say the 60's embodies Leftist Liberalism because it's all about never growing up and accepting responsibility for your life. It's indulgent and child like in so much as there is always this ideal, nirvana, how society should be from the Leftist Liberal view which is equal outcome without equal effort.. We see this social petri dish disaster with the massive social programs that have decimated poor minorities because it made two parent homes irrelevant. Shame was effectively wiped out of the dictionary and all lifestyle choices/cultures became equal. The 60's also gave birth to the notion of control on everything by Leftist Socialist elitists except for parameters on sex or drugs. This review puts Altamont Augie on my reading list, especially with the line, "there is no white skin discount" .

  • carol

    I married an American airman in 1969 and came to America from England in 1970. I was stunned to find so many America hating American spoiled dopey Useful Idiots. I was raised to look up to and be grateful to Americans who fought to save my country. I grew up with the awareness of "The American Cemetaries" row upon row of men who gave their lives so I could live mine.
    I am a child of the sixties and I am ashamed of my generation. Spoiled brats who do not have a clue what they have and are hell bent on tearing down the greatest country ever. I will do everything in my power to stop them and try to wake them up everyday. I fear they are just too deaf and dumb to hear.

  • Amused

    Your " book review " Mark , is nothing more than tossing blood in the water for the sharks to go into a frenzy . It works well with this crowd , for they salivate for anything fed them . Who was "augie " , and what do you or the author truly know about him ? NOTHING .So the book is FICTION with intent .Just another attempt at blaming todays present situation on the 60's generation . If you really knew anything about the 60's you'd know that most of the kids were a-political , they were simply against the war .A small percentage were radical like David Horowitz and an even smaller number were violent radicals . Todays trouble are a result of the preceeding Democrat AND Republican Administration going back to Reagan and Carter.
    Something the dimbulbs on this thread dont wanna look at . But you keep feeding'em Mark .

  • UCSPanther

    The sixties were one screwed up decade. Thankfully though, it is gradually fading.

  • mlcblog

    Looks pretty authentic to me.

  • mlcblog

    You weren't even there, were you?

    The country went from the whistle-clean Eisenhower years to Flower Children and dancing (etc.) in the streets in less than 2 years. Overnight.

    It was phenomenal and changed everything.

  • Amused

    Yea mlcblog , unlike most of the detractors and know nothings here , I was there ,with a 14 month stint in Vietnam Dec.'68 to March '70. Other than trying to blame everything going on today on the 60's [by dimbulbs who've only read about ] and use it for their "conservative blame game mantra" . And Eisenhower ? He rejected a second term , and left with a warning , for the term "military industrial complex " was coined by Eisenhower .Vietnam proved him right .As a soldier we all knew Westmoreland was lying , the CIA was lying , The gulf of Tonkin incident was contrived , Nixon as well as Johnson dithered , until after 50,000 lives were lost and almost 1 1/2 million casualties , we finally got out .What "scewed up " the sixties was Vietnam , and Republicans as well as Democrats were Responsible .
    Do your homework . You're all wet behind the ears .

    • ajnn

      i thought eisenhauer in fact served two terms. you say he "rejected a second term".ing

      in context, this does not read as a typo. not amused.

      • Martel64

        It was LBJ that rejected a 2nd term.

    • tagalog

      Yes, Eisenhower was elected in 1952, and re-elected over Adlai Stevenson in 1956. He served two full terms and John F. Kennedy replaced him in 1960.

      I always thought Westmoreland was lying, too, until I took a little closer look and discovered that he told the truth but was ignored.

      I also always thought the Tonkin Gulf Incident was contrived, but later study strongly suggests that the North Vietnamese patrol-boat attacks on the Maddox and Turner Joy were provoked by U.S.-advised South Vietnamese SEAL incursions into North Vietnam. That doesn't make the Tonkin Gulf Resolution any less phony, but it does provide some perspective on it. The Vietnam War, in its advisor phase, can be laid at the door of the Republicans, but the escalation was all Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, with Nixon trying ineffectually to replace U.S. troops with bombers. That didn't work out very well with the Lefties, who raised hell about the horrors of bombing.

  • Amused

    McNamara himself ADMITTED that the Gulf of Tonkin "incident " was a contrived casus-belli , too bad he waited until his octogenarian years . Kennedy was about to end the U.S. involvement , go study your history .

    • Prang!

      Says the guy who didn't know (or to be charitable, remember?) that Eisenhower had served two terms as President. Whatever, dude. Keep stepping on the rake.

    • tagalog

      You might want to do a liittle reading up on that "Kennedy was going to end U.S. involvement" thing on your own part. It's not true.

      And looking to McNamara as a trustworthy source for information on the Vietnam War is a truly lost cause, no matter when he was opining. As Mary McCarthy said about Lillian Hellman, everything he said about Vietnam was a lie, including the words "and" and "the."

  • tanstaafl

    Oh, a storm is threat'ning
    My very life today
    If I don't get some shelter
    Oh yeah, I'm gonna fade away

    War, children, it's just a shot away
    It's just a shot away
    War, children, it's just a shot away
    It's just a shot away

    Ooh, see the fire is sweepin'
    Our very street today
    Burns like a red coal carpet
    Mad bull lost its way

    • tagalog

      Let me tell you a story 'bout a soldier named Dan,
      Went off to fight the good fight in South Vietnam
      Went off to fight for freedom, liberty and all
      Went off to fight for equality,
      Oh, let's go!

      And the war drags on,
      And the war drags on…

  • Amused

    No , I was wrong on Eisenhower 's term but not on his warning , and yes you are correct about Johnson rejecting a second term . But you are dead wrong on the Gulf of Tonkin , it was contrived , and Westmoreland lied as well as the CIA. Ellsberg proved that .

  • Amused

    And Carol , if you are ashamed , then you must have done things that violated your own conscience and moral code . So if you want to hang your head in shame …you go girl , just dont attempt to transfer your guilt on anyone else ….except maybe Chezwick_mac who also seems to be ashamed of past despicable acts ….hey maybe you two could get a room …and share your shame . And I got news for you both , if you didn't have your act together in the late teens , you probably still dont now .Both Catholics and Jews consider their children responsible for their own actions at age 13 ….think about it .

    • Chezwick_mac

      What a joke, you passing judgment over others.

      You yourself come off every day here as a perpetual adolescent…indulging in name-calling, so cocky, seemingly incapable of any real honest introspection like that which I displayed above.

      And what a fountain of wisdom you are….the flaming liberal whose cognitive abilities are so impaired that he refuses to acknowledge his own liberalism.

  • Jim

    The 1930s was the mother of the 1960s. Remember in 1968 Nixon was elected. Was he a hippie? When a kangaroo court drove Nixon from office the Democrat Carter after him lasted only one term. Then it was 12 years of Republicans not sixties radicals . Clinton had to fake Republicanism .
    What put Obama in the Office wasn't the spirit of the 60s. It was George Bush's economic stupidity and refusal to defend our country and jobs while he fouled up Iraq and Afghanistan

  • Amused

    The numbers dont lie , and now , Republican/Conservatives /Teabaggers , looking back , are even making remarks that Reagan was really a Liberal . Anyone who dosn't fit the "new mold " was /is a liberal , a hippie from the 60's ,or a socialist who hates America and is out to destroy America . Blaming the 60's for …uh …Everything , seems to be the new parroted mantra , complete with Republican /Conservative CHANGELINGS , and their "confessional testimonies" .

  • Amused

    You're ther BIGGEST HYPOCRITE on this thread Chezwick_mac , you pass judgement every damn post you put up . No wonder you're ashamed of what you did in the 60's , you were probably the biggest dickhead in the neighborhood ,and you still are . And BTW , I didn't pass judgement God does that . I expose utter hypocrites and phonies like Carol and yourself , when they spout the type of B.S. like yours . And your accusation [atleast in your warped mind ] of Liberalism , is typically ignorant of you , just exposing another defect in your thinking .But you are neither right nor left nor conservative , you're just a plain ole ' arsehole .Ya know like the teabaggers . Go kick yourself to sleep tonite .

  • GKC

    Good discussion, by and large, with a few exceptions here and there.