As Nick Soulsby noted on these pages recently, going to a rock concert is not without its attendant risks. Put large numbers of people in a space, throw in testosterone, alcohol and bad drugs and sometimes small tragedies emerge. Very occasionally, as at Altamont, the death of a concert goer fuels absurdist myths rather than highlighting mundane human failings and frailties.
But there will be no mythologizing the events of Friday night.
If, on what little evidence yet to emerge suggests, the attack on Le Bataclan was well-planned, the concert hall was singled out weeks, perhaps months in advance. Let there be no doubt that the event was specifically targeted: the perpetrators chose a rock concert, not a cinema, not a theatre, not the opera. As they scanned event listings for targets, Le Bataclan – “(a) profligate prostitution party” – with its large, enclosed crowd and minimal security became the ultimate soft target. The venue may have been reconnaissanced, vantage points identified, escape routes noted. The carnage was deliberate, its victims unfortunate casualties of an inhuman, incomprehensible mindset.
Rock music has always had its critics. Making and playing music has, depending on the time and place, been a sometimes dangerous pursuit. Restrictions, bans, arrests, imprisonment, sometimes even death – but never has the hatred of music’s capacity for comradeship and shared joy been so explicit. This is a philosophy that hates, and the attack on Le Bataclan a demonstrable example of such hate. It’s hard to imagine things will ever be quite the same again.
In the television coverage of the attack, there was a strange reticence to name the band whose fans were the evening’s main victims. Neither BBC nor Sky presenters seemed able to let the words “Eagles of Death Metal” cross their lips, preferring instead to make continued reference to a “rock band.” As hours passed, and more details of the evening emerged, this absence became more obvious – and strange. Was the reference to ‘Death’ too raw? Does mainstream media still view rock music as faintly puerile, and EoDM’s deliberately absurdist nomenclature the proof (and thus the justification of the deliberate oversight)? No matter, rolling news did the band – and their fans – a disservice, perhaps even hampering families and friends who knew that loved ones were attending a gig, but not where or necessarily when. Many Brits regularly travel to gigs in Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin: with cheap flights and well-priced (compared to the UK) tickets, it’s an increasingly popular option. It was always likely that some attendees – and possibly victims – would be British. The TV channels failed in their responsibilities to viewers and proved their continued inability to place music at the heart of serious conversation.
This absence highlighted how little access popular music has to mainstream media. While Sky Sports devoted air time to the implications for forthcoming international football matches, and even security issues at next year’s European Football Championships in France, music industry commentary seemed entirely absent from rolling news coverage. Where were the industry figures and commentators? Why wasn’t the safety and security of music venues a topic of immediate conversation? Again, it’s proof that pop and rock music, for all its monetary export value and central stage in the cultural life of most people, barely registers on the radar of the media elite. Had the attack been on Théâtre de l’Athénée or Théâtre du Châtelet the coverage would have been quite, quite different. The talking heads would have been queuing up to talk about ‘the attack on our cultural life’ or ‘how [insert ‘worthy’ art here] is symbolic of our freedom and that’s why they hate it.’ The horror at Le Bataclan was an attack on rock music, an attack on rock music fans, and the mainstream media are unable, or unwilling, to debate that fact.
There will be calls to ‘carry on as normal’ and not to ‘let them win.’ But if a hesitancy emerges, if parents seem less keen to let their sons and daughters go to shows or festivals for fear of what might happen, who can blame them? Let politicians decide if we are at war or not, but the concert venue – and by implication rock music itself – is now very much on the frontline. Raise a middle finger, turn the volume up but try not to forget. Never forget.