One Year Later: The Attack on the Bataclan Theater in Paris
For the last year, the Bataclan theater has stood silent. There have been no concerts hosted by the Parisian music venue, which had become famous for big shows by legendary artists – Metallica, the Police, Jeff Buckley and members of the Velvet Underground, among so many others. But now it is better-known for tragedy, as a site of one of the most horrific terrorist attacks in history.
It was on Nov. 13, 2015, that terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (also known as ISIL) perpetrated a coordinated assault in multiple locations of the French capital. It was the deadliest attack in the European country since World War II. Of the 130 people who died at the hands of suicide bombers and machine-gun wielding assailants, 89 of them perished in the attack on the Bataclan, where three gunmen stormed a concert being performed by the Eagles of Death Metal. Those who were injured numbered in the hundreds.
Wearing dark clothing and suicide vests while toting automatic weapons, the three terrorists arrived at the concert venue midway through Eagles of Death Metal’s set, opening fire from the mezzanine on the crowd of approximately 1,500. Chaos ensued, as fans rushed out through emergency exits, ran to the building’s roof or tried to hide in dressing rooms and restrooms. The attackers stalked victims inside the Bataclan and took hostages. When French police got word that the terrorists started killing hostages, they infiltrated the venue. Two of the assailants triggered their suicide vests, while another was shot by authorities, prompting his vest to ignite.
With the violent event over, the entire building was awash in carnage. France, the free world and the music community were in shock.
It soon was revealed that all performing members of Eagles of Death Metal had made it safely out of the Bataclan. But some associates of the rock band weren’t as lucky. Nick Alexander, a veteran of the touring industry, was working the group’s merchandise table when he was killed. Record company employees Thomas Ayad, Marie Mosser and Manu Perez also were among the victims. Eagles of Death Metal paid special tribute to those four people in a statement issued five days after the attacks.
“Although bonded in grief with the victims, the fans, the families, the citizens of Paris, and all those affected by terrorism, we are proud to stand together, with our new family, now united by a common goal of love and compassion,” the band wrote.
Dan Auerbach also shared his sadness for “merch guy” Alexander, who had also worked with the Black Keys on the blues-rock band’s European tours for the past decade. Auerbach was actually in Paris on that dreadful night, playing with his other band the Arcs at a venue only a few miles from the Bataclan. He expressed his survivor’s guilt.
“The Black Keys played the Bataclan almost five years ago to the day. … It’s a place I’ve been to a lot,” Auerbach said. “It just really hit home. I know people that were there last night. …Why the hell did it happen there and not where we were playing? I’m just so brokenhearted about all those people.”
There was an outpouring of support from around the world, especially among the musicians who had performed at the Bataclan since the early ’70s, when it began to host rock shows. Meanwhile, bands cancelled concerts scheduled in Paris in the days after the attacks, out of respect for the lives lost.
Motörhead postponed its upcoming Paris show (which would never happen, after the December death of frontman Lemmy Kilmister). Foo Fighters cancelled the last four days of their European tour. Deftones, who had been scheduled to play at the Bataclan the night after Eagles of Death Metal, also cancelled their shows, while revealing that some band members had left the venue shortly before the attacks began.
U2 had been set to play a pair of big concerts in Paris the weekend of the events, including one show that was to be telecast on HBO. The Irish band postponed the gigs, instead arriving at the Bataclan to pay respects to the victims of this vicious event.
Bono and U2 continued to make their feelings known when they performed their rescheduled Paris concerts in December, bringing out the Eagles of Death Metal at the second of two shows at the Accorhotels Arena.
“They were robbed of their stage three weeks ago, we’d like to offer them ours tonight,” the U2 frontman said, before the two bands teamed up for a cover of Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power.” U2’s special guests then closed the show with their own “I Love You All the Time.”
Watch the Eagles of Death Metal and U2 Sing “People Have the Power”
Eagles of Death Metal singer/guitarist Jesse Hughes became a media fixture after the Paris attacks, initially as a witness to the violence and then as a spokesman for the power of music over terror. As the months progressed, Hughes’s comments took an angrier turn. When his band returned to Paris for a February concert specifically for the survivors of the Bataclan attacks, Hughes went on French TV and declared his support for more guns on the street.
“Did your French gun control stop a single f—ing person from dying at the Bataclan?” he asked rhetorically on iTele. “I think the only thing that stopped it was some of the bravest men I’ve ever seen in my life charging head-first into the face of death with their firearms.”
Hughes began delving into conspiracy theories, suggesting in another interview that a lack of security guards not only was to blame for the attack, but that he suspected that those guards were in league with the terrorist attackers. After the Bataclan owners called Hughes’s comments “grave and defamatory,” the singer apologized for his words.
“My suggestions that anyone affiliated with the Bataclan played a role in the events of 13 November are unfounded and baseless – and I take full responsibility for them,” he said. “I’ve been dealing with non-stop nightmares and struggling through therapy to make sense of this tragedy and insanity. I haven’t been myself since 13 November.”
Still, controversy continued to follow Hughes. After he claimed that he saw “Muslims celebrating in the street during the attack” and that citizens knew about the terrorists’ plans, a pair of French festivals cancelled summer appearances by Eagles of Death Metal. Actor/director Colin Hanks has been making a documentary about the band’s struggle in the aftermath of the attacks. Hanks has said his movie, which will air in February 2017 on HBO, will tackle some of Hughes’s contentious opinions.
While Eagles of Death Metal tried to move on from the massacre – and France suffered more ISIL attacks – other musicians sought to do what they could to support the European country and its victims of terror. For instance, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age (and EODM co-founder, although he wasn’t on tour with the band in Paris) began a charity drive for the victims. Metallica issued a 2003 concert recorded at the Bataclan for April’s Record Store Day, with proceeds going to Give to France. Many other artists donated funds from concerts to charities for victims and their families.
Listen to Metallica’s 2003 Concert at the Bataclan
Perhaps the most high-profile contribution comes nearly one year after the Paris attacks. In the lead-up to the one-year anniversary, Sting announced that he would play the first concert at the reopened Bataclan theater on November 12, with all earnings going to a pair of victims’ charities. The bassist/singer had previously appeared at the venue as a member of the Police.
“In reopening the Bataclan, we have two important tasks to reconcile,” Sting wrote. “First, to remember and honor those who lost their lives in the attack a year ago, and second, to celebrate the life and the music that this historic theater represents. In doing so, we hope to respect the memory as well as the life-affirming spirit of those who fell. We shall not forget them.”
For most of the year in between the attack and Sting’s performance, the Bataclan was covered in barricades and protective material as it underwent an enormous restoration project, funded in part by a government grant. In addition to the refurbishment, Bataclan security was given a boost with cameras posted inside and outside of the theater. Extra security forces will be present for the venue’s reopening.
Sting’s show, which sold out in minutes, will be followed by the dedication of a memorial plaque outside the music hall on November 13 (allegedly to be attended by Eagles of Death Metal), as well as concerts on subsequent days by Pete Doherty and Youssou N’Dour.
After a year of staying closed and quiet, the Bataclan will come alive once more, in an attempt to return to its former glory. It will not just begin hosting musical performances, but resume being a site known for beauty and artistry and fun and joy. In refusing to stand silent, the Bataclan will stand defiant against those who wish to terrorize the free world.
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