When I was 11 years old and a resident of Livermore, the Hells Angels blew through town. They were headed to the Altamont Speedway in the hills east of Livermore. They were going there because a miracle was about to happen.
The Rolling Stones were coming.
It took days for the all of the Hells Angels to arrive, and I sometimes saw them cruising down Main Street, two or three or four abreast, like a herd of powerful, hairy beasts — dangerous and confident in their physical superiority.
I had only a slight authentic interest in the Stones in those days — having recently forsaken the Monkees for the Archies, my taste in music was aligned with such classics as “Sugar, Sugar,” and “Bang-Shang-a-Lang.” But I had a sister who was 16 then, and so I was acquainted with the Stones, and Mick Jagger was, after all, pretty cute.
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I really wanted to go to the Stones concert, even though I realized the Hells Angels would be there, and they scared me more than a little. I tried to wheedle my parents’ permission by reminding them that the concert would be FREE and that my older sister could take me, whereupon she told my parents that she did not really want to take me and that, in any case, she could not guarantee my safety.
So I missed a landmark concert, thank God. Four people died at Altamont Speedway that weekend, one knifed to death by a Hells Angel who was later found to be acting in self-defense. I don’t believe my sister ever got into the venue, and in any case, if she did get into the concert, she probably did not stay long.
The Altamont concert has often been referred to as the most violent concert in history. It will hold that distinction no longer.
Twenty-two kids died at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester on Monday, May 22. Fifty-nine more were injured, but I am writing this column two days after the attack, and as we know now from long, grim experience, media coverage is often inaccurate after chaotic terrorist mass murders. Maybe fewer were injured, maybe more. They will not find more dead, surely, and yet one cannot help but worry about the fate of the wounded.
Ariana Grande’s core audience is pre-teen girls. She is 23 years old and known for her ponytail hairstyle, cat-ear headbands, and support of bullying victims and LGBTQ communities. Anyone attending an Ariana Grande concert, or anyone in the vicinity of such a concert, knows that a lot of squealing, jumping, cat-loving little girls are going to be around. Anyone who sets off a bomb near an Ariana Grande concert is aware that his victims will include children.
In fact, as we know now, one of the terrorist’s victims was an 8-year-old girl named Saffie Rose Roussos. She had bangs, large brown eyes, and in the picture published in the press after she was identified, she is wearing a jumper with a heart-shaped zipper pull.
Most parents will one day find themselves in the position of having to decide whether their children can attend a concert. Sometimes — for example, when parents can see that Hells Angels will be present in droves — it is easy to say no. Sometimes — for example, when the main act is a young woman who wears a ponytail and who was once a Nickelodeon star — it easy to say yes.
In this newest version of senseless violence, which traffics in mass murder at bakeries and concerts, it is impossible to predict the places and events that might hold danger for our children.
I remember when we were facing the turn of the century and pundits were predicting what the 2000s might hold for humanity. During that time, I read an interview in which the answer to this question was that we could expect a lot more terrorism.
By then, the world was not unacquainted with terrorist acts.
We had already experienced the Munich Massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics in which eleven Israeli athletes and one policeman were killed. We had reacted with horror and then new security protocols to the Lockerbie bombing in 1988 in which 270 innocents were killed, including passengers, crew, and people on the ground. And we had read about and decried other acts of terrorism. But when I read that interview 18 years ago, I could not really envision what “a lot more terrorism” meant. It would be one of our greatest challenges, the article continued, and I could not imagine how terrorism might eclipse climate change or war on the world’s list of concerns.
The sane among us, and that is most humans on this planet, hope and pray that we will overcome the terrorism challenge, and in some ways we do this every time a crazy fanatic stands in the middle of a crowd and pushes a murderous button.
In Manchester, people opened their homes to strangers, a Sikh taxi driver went into overtime mode to transport concert-goers to safe locations for free, hotels became refuges, and bystanders of all kinds rushed to help in every way they could. Some were touting this as the spirit of Manchester, and certainly these actions are testimony to a strong community, but they are also evidence of a universal human spirit.
For every terrorist, there are millions of people who want to see terrorism defeated. This doesn’t make any terrorist act less tragic, but maybe we can look to our basic human decency for hope that in this century we will meet the challenge of terrorism and finally obliterate it.
Brigitte Bowers is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced.