The Paris Attacks: When Loving Music Becomes a Radical Act
I've been reviewing concerts since I first thought I could be a journalist. It was way back in the now more-popular-than-ever '90s, when I was a staff reporter for my high school newspaper, the George Washington Surveyor. I took notes on punk shows and relayed my experience to my fellow students, who probably didn't even crack open the school paper unless they were required to. Regardless, I loved writing about music because music was how I was — and still am — able to better understand the world.
In the time since high school, I've written a lot, but have also taken many breaks from being writer. It wasn't until about 2008 that I began to work hard at being a reporter again; since then, I've filled dozens of notebooks with play-by-plays of hundreds of shows. I've found that through taking in minor details of a concert and regurgitating it all into a readable form, I've learned how to more accurately cover actual news events. But more than anything, I review shows because I just love music.
The first headlines I read about the attacks in Paris last week came to me via Twitter, the modern day newswire that I love because it is accessible to every person and level of journalist virtually everywhere. News breaks on Twitter; as a reporter and a prodigious consumer of news since I learned to read at age four, it is the one space on the Internet I can count on for real-time information about the world. But this time, it brought me news that as a music journalist, I couldn't believe I was seeing.
"Terrorists Take 100 Hostages at Eagles of Death Metal Concert." In the hard sarcasm of these Internet times, I thought the headline was a joke. A hostage situation at a show? Why? How? Similar headlines kept rolling in, verifying that what I was reading was true. People — regular concert-goers like me — were in danger. Soon, those headlines would morph from the declaration of a hostage situation to the sharing of numbers of a rising death toll inside the venue. My mind started scrolling through all of the friends I have who work in venues — my friends who work box offices and sound booths, my friends who tend bar and take tickets, my fellow music critics, my friends on touring road crews, my friends in bands, my friends who manage bands, my friends who sell merch for bands. All of these people I love work in venues like the Bataclan every night of their lives. How could something so abhorrent happen in a space devoted to the mutual enjoyment and adoration of art made by humans for other humans?
In acts of terrorism and expanding moments of war, no space is sacred. Whether it's a venue, a school, a hospital, a church, library, a home or a shopping mall makes no difference to those who enter with the intent to harm or kill others. Hatred does not discriminate and the events that these lovers of music, makers of music and facilitators of music endured inside the Bataclan could have happened anywhere. But when you can picture a scene so clearly because you've experienced something similar a thousand times before, it strikes deeper. I ran through all of the times I had been packed into a venue with hundreds of sweaty strangers, taking in the music of an artist we mutually loved. I thought of all of the moments when a singular show had changed my life for the better. To know that my fellow adorers of this art form were murdered while having one of those moments made me sick with sadness.
I read that Nick Alexander, Eagles of Death Metal's merch manager — the person in charge of the organization, ordering and selling of a band's merchandise on a tour — was one of the first people to be murdered. Merch stands and tables are generally positioned near the front doors of a venue; merch people are often the first part of a concert experience you come in contact with as a fan. I know many people who are just like Nick, perched inside a venue's entrance, waiting to greet eager fans. They are often the communicators between bands and fans. They are a crucial part of the live music experience. They matter.
I am not at all trying to undermine the multitude of other humanitarian crises happening across the globe right now. What happened in Paris was horrific, just as what happened in Beirut, what just happened in Nigeria and what has been happening in Syria are all equally devastating situations worthy of empathy and news coverage. I use the Internet space I have to write about the things I see and experience in the hopes that others will not feel alone in what they are experiencing. Seeing a music venue — a place where I often find my work, my social life and my refuge — becoming the site of a massacre was heartbreaking.
I started writing about music as a teenager because it was the thing in culture that connected me to my friends. Music was the way I learned about the world through other people's experiences. Music allowed for my own feelings to be communicated through someone else's art. When I started going to shows at thirteen, I had no idea how much it would shape what my future looked like. I had always been a writer, but through combining my own words with my love of the live music experience, I was able to do something more — find kinship with others who felt the same way by writing about what I saw and heard and felt at concerts. A show has always been my go-to place to be inspired, to socialize, to learn something new and to share my love of music with like-minded people.
I have never thought about being a war correspondent or a reporter who has to risk her life to do her job. I don't have the courage it takes to pen stories of devastation, loss and inhumanity like so many incredible writers are able to do. But I think about all of the music critics like me who could have been in the Bataclan that night and I know that they too were just doing their jobs. Enjoying music with strangers in a room made for doing just that. Going to a concert now might be considered a radical act. I hope the people who make music, love music and help make music happen never stop pursuing this radical act. I know that I won't stop.