It always starts with the email alert. Deftones/Pearl Jam/Tool are playing in London/Paris. The pulse quickens, the calendar is checked, finances consulted, and a reminder set on the phone for the opening morning of ticket sales. If it's a small venue, the morning is usually taken off work cause the tickets will disappear fast! The run-up to the ticket scramble—normally three to four weeks—is passed checking out what the band have been doing on the road recently, usually in the USA. Are they playing any new stuff? Is there an album coming out? Who will the support act be? Texts and tweets are sent to other fans and the build-up has already begun.
Ticket day is part-excitement, part-terror. The first few attempts are a futile scramble from one open server window to another to see what's available. There is fist pumping for success and facepalming for failure. It's like the thrill of gambling, it could go either way.
Now that the ticket is pinned to the kitchen notice board, it's time for the wait. It seems forever away until it's one week out, then the featured band starts to get heavy rotation on the iPod. They are like old friends coming to town for a visit.
Concert day is a day like few others. There's a seeming weightlessness to the stride that is normally reserved for the day a child is born or a marriage is blessed. Worries are put on the back burner because, hey, they'll still be there tomorrow. Outside the venue, a familiar nod is exchanged between people in the queue. Each one has a different background story, but all are here for the same reasons. A good rock show is a communal experience. It brings people together who, under normal circumstances, would never cross paths. People of all ages, sizes, colors, religions, and tastes are welcomed into the room. And when everyone is sardined in and the house lights dim, an inexplicable magic happens and lives are forever changed.
I went to my first rock show when I was 16 years old. It was a weekend festival and involved camping away from home for three nights. My mother could have tried to stop me, but she knew the futility of such an exercise. Rock 'n roll is in my blood, always has been, always will be. That weekend was a coming-of-age experience for me. I grew up knowing that I was different. Everyone in my town was into football and generally behaved like sheep going to the slaughter. The festival showed me a whole other world of like-minded misfits who had finally found a place of belonging. Whatever happened at the festival, I knew that my mom needn't have worried. I had a new family now who would pick me up if I fell, and they did. Rage Against The Machine were the biggest draw for me at the festival and in the mosh-pit, fallen people were constantly being pulled to their feet by their neighbor. It felt like home after years in the adolescent wilderness of insecurity and rejection. After that weekend, life was never the same.
Me and my best bud, Trev, have been to hundreds of concerts over the years with many, many highlights. I remember when our beloved Pearl Jam came to Ireland and we had tickets to see them at two shows, one in Cork, one in Dublin. The first show was probably the most nervous I have been in my life to this day. I couldn't eat or even finish a beer beforehand, such was the knot in my stomach. At one point during the show Trev turned around to see me with tears streaming down my face as the band played my favorite song, Corduroy.
I have seen shows in eighty-thousand capacity venues and witnessed gigs in settings as intimate as my living room. There have been a few that stole my heart over the years. The Olympia in Dublin, Brixton Academy in London, and Le Bataclan in my home city of Paris are the ones that have the fondest memories. I know the floor and balconies of each one like I know a friend's apartment. They are by no means pristine in any way but are steeped in history and feel like sitting in an old armchair which, even though it's a little frayed around the edges, is snug to sit in.
Since moving to Paris eight years ago I have been very fortunate to see many bands here. I've seen Alice In Chains, Biff Clyro, Deftones (at least twice), and Gojira all at Le Bataclan alone. I even got to know the people who worked the bar!
This coming Monday, November 16th, I had tickets to see Deftones at Le Bataclan. My plans had been made long in advance. I had taken a day off work to spend some time with my son in the afternoon before going out for the evening. It would have been a day of giddyness with me kissing my family goodbye and telling them I would see them all in the morning.
Last night was just another Friday night for us. We had dinner with our group of four families as we do every Friday night. We gather to appreciate the community we have and to share our burdens knowing that we want to live our lives helping each other. Dinner was awesome as usual and we went home tired. This morning my wife woke me at 7 am to news that I will probably never grasp.
This year has been a tough one to live here. The shootings at Charlie Hebdo rocked us and we watched in real time as the armed forces took out the terrorists. The country went on high alert in the months that followed and people were afraid. Heading into winter and the beginning of a new year, it seemed like it was all behind us. Suspicion ebbed and the tension disappeared from peoples shoulders. Now we are worse off than we have been since World War II.
When I jolted out of my bed and turned my phone on it buzzed and pinged for a solid twenty minutes. My head spun trying to process it all. Were Deftones there last night? No, they're tonight, Sunday and Monday night. Who was playing last night? Eagles of Death Metal? Crap! I know those guys! Are they dead? I need to prioritize and respond to my messages. Family, Trev, USA peeps. Ok, what next? Turn on BBC, watch the full scale of it overwhelm me. Cry.
As I sat there trying explaining it to my son (I still barely understand it myself hours later), I broke down. He could not understand why his father was weeping like a family member had been lost. It was not because of a family member, it was for family members. When terrorism hits, we feel it. We have a connection to it via someone we know. Like the Twin Towers, the London Bombings, and Charlie Hebdo, we mourn deeply and as the media plays it out we pray and hurt, but we don't fully get it. When it hits as close to home as a venue and a community that you love, it makes it tangible and unfathomable. I now truly know how Boston and its people felt!
Our leaders preach retribution and war, their voices of condemnation ring hollow in my ears because it is all lip service that I have heard before and will again. My overwhelming feeling is of sorrow. Sorrow for the moms and dads, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters who went out to a venue or cafe/bar that got attacked last night and said to a loved one, “See you in the morning.” I feel sorrow for the young bombers who were most likely lost souls to begin with and were brain- washed with the promises of paradise by manipulative men too cowardly to strap a bomb on themselves. The leaders of these terrorist cells are not the ones on the front lines. No, they are manipulators bent on trying to end the world, hiding behind hatred and their own brokenness while calling it religion.
I cannot hate them because that would mean they have won. I control my own feelings and no amount of bombs or automatic weapons will ever change that. It is easier to hate. Love and tolerance take effort and patience, it is what I choose to let live in my heart. In order for us to move forward we must love until it is almost unbearable to do so, and then we must love some more. Whether we live in Paris or Kabul, New York or Tel Aviv, Cairo or Kuwait, we are a world that, in our deepest sorrow, must rise above the violence that threatens to take our very soul.
Given my deep faith, some may say, “Well how can you believe in God at a time like this?” It is at times like this, witnessing an overwhelming global outpouring of grief and compassion, that I believe in Him most. May He have mercy on us all.