What happened in Paris last night makes me want to cry. Not just at the hatred and nihilism that resulted in the deaths of more than 125 people in terrorist attacks around the city, which is horrifying enough, but also that at least 80 of the dead were massacred at a rock show, in the Bataclan theater, while the Eagles of Death Metal were performing. I can scarcely comprehend the profanity of it.
There’s been a lot said lately about safe spaces. Rock ‘n’ roll has been my safe space for 25 years, since I was a teen who found solace in music, along with inspiration, and community. I’ve attended probably 1,000 concerts in my life, in basements, bars, clubs, theaters, arenas, stadiums and open fields, and they have always felt like sanctuaries. I saw the Eagles of Death Metal in New Haven in 2006. After a fire killed 100 and gutted the Station nightclub in Providence, R.I., during a Great White show in 2003, I began marking exits at venues, especially for obviously oversold shows. But never once did I consider the possibility that religious fanatics with assault weapons could burst in on a mission of destruction.
I have now, of course. All the same, I went to a concert last night. John Moreland was playing at the Parlor Room in Northampton. He’s a singer from Oklahoma with a weary, lived-in voice, and he writes bracing songs about heartache and hard life lessons. The room was packed, and he held the audience rapt on songs from his latest, “High on Tulsa Heat,” and tunes from his earlier albums. Neither Moreland nor opener Mikey Sweet mentioned the Paris attacks, and I didn’t hear anyone in the audience discussing it, either. Yet the show felt like something of a salve, though of course one man with an acoustic guitar playing to 50 people in a little town in western Massachusetts can’t hope to heal the wounds of a world capital — and a world — that savagery has laid bare.
All the same, when Moreland sent a current rippling through the room with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” to finish his set, it felt at the very least like an act of defiance, of refusing in some small way to capitulate to the barbarous ideology of indiscriminate slaughter. Rock ‘n’ roll has always symbolized a spirit of rebellion. Rebelling against the kind of mentality that could countenance such butchery is both necessary, and right.