What were then fuzzy reports of independent but coincident acts of violence around the city yesterday culminated in a hostage situation at Le Bataclan, a historic concert venue named after Jacques Offenbach’s operetta of the same name. American band Eagles of Death Metal was playing to a capacity crowd—some 1,500 people—when gunmen stormed the venue. They held nearly 100 concertgoers hostage, including a music journalist and tour staff members.
Minutes after a misleading report from AP implying that the hostages were rescued, I got the staggering news that all those remaining in the Bataclan were killed. By some bizarre twist of fate, I was listening to live music myself at the time, at a jazz club in New Orleans.
It made me feel physicaly ill. Listening to music, performing music . . . These are quasi-sacred rituals in my life. Whenever I go to the concert hall, I leave my anxieties and insecurities about everyday life at the door. The concertgoing experience is, in my mind, womb-like in its suspension of time; there’s a spiritual safety in it, with a guarantee of physical safety being assumed.
Perhaps that’s why this particular act of terror hit particularly hard. But that’s what acts of terror do and have done, after all. Target the ordinary. Stain our most treasured routines with blood. Remind us that life is fragile, at a time when it has never seemed so fragile, in a world which is all but hardened to horrific headlines like these.
My thoughts are with the people of France, but they’re also with the people of Lebanon, of Iraq, and with all those whose daily rites have been ravaged by senseless violence. For many, bloodshed like this has simply become woven into the ever-fraying tapestry of their daily lives.
How can that be? Ensconced thousands of miles away behind my laptop, safe with my family, I know I cannot fathom it. In fact, if I did not see headlines to the contrary and hear of the mass exodus of millions of people because of such violence, I would refuse to fathom it.
When I was thinking of music that could accompany this post, after drawing an initial, silent blank, my mind flitted to Gossec’s one-act opera Le triomphe de la république. Written just after the French Revolution, it’s brazenly martial, nationalistic stuff, but the opera’s final chorus and dance (“What of the intrepid fervour…”) seems oddly appropriate here. In it, representatives of peoples of all nations—English, Swiss, Poles, Africans, Spaniards, clergymen, villagers, and more—are united in song alongside French soldiers. They sing, in part:
“What of the intrepid fervour
Of these hardened conquerors
Who, in their rapid advance,
Would have breached the walls of Paris?
France has made bow down before her
The tyrants with their foolish pride [. . .]
Her brave defenders far and wide
Have defeated the kings of terror.
The Republic is triumphant,
Sing, dance, sing, dance,
Our brothers are victorious!”
That chorus is embeded below.