SAM CUTLER WAS TOUR MANAGER for the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead, and his new memoir You Can't Always Get What You Want details his time with both bands. Instead of yet another tread through '60s and '70s rock clichés, however—though there are plenty of those—Cutler manages to keep his book effortlessly readable, packed with entertaining, sleazy, behind-the-scenes tales. These include Cutler's fistfight with rock impresario Bill Graham outside the Stones' dressing room door, a bizarre encounter with the Butter Queen of Dallas (think Plaster Caster, except with, well, butter), plus a riveting take on the horrors of Altamont.
That concert provides the centerpiece of Cutler's book, and he had misgivings about the event long before the disaster took place at Altamont Speedway in December 1969. He was literally front and center when a Hells Angel killed Meredith Hunter directly in front of the stage where the Rolling Stones played. After the concert, the Stones fled the States and abandoned Cutler in California to pick up the pieces.
Cutler subsequently joined the Grateful Dead "family" and stuck with them for a few acid-riddled years before departing in 1974. Since then, Cutler has been traveling and doing "as little as possible!" as he told me via email from a mobile home traveling across Australia. "I've wanted to write this book for a long time and over a period of years collected the information. I felt a decent interval should expire between the events and the book in order that the world would be ready to reassess those crazy years."
What makes Cutler's book so much fun—indeed, it's an ideal candidate for upcoming beach-reading season—is that it's devoid of the grandstanding and idolization of many rock bios, while also resistant to the lurid muckraking of other exposés. Cutler was simply there, and vividly recounts what he remembers—which, taking into account the volume of drugs around at all times throughout the narrative, is a considerable amount. "I think people are curious about the values which were expressed by youth in the '60s," Cutler explains. "Values that were revolutionary then but which to an extent have now entered the mainstream of contemporary life. Plus, I think people see the '60s as a period of fun—people want to have fun, to read about it and experience it if only vicariously. A bit of 'light relief' is always nice!"