US rock band Eagles of Death Metal returned to Paris Tuesday, three months after gunmen opened fire at the Bataclan concert hall where they were playing on November 13. Some 800 of those who survived the attack returned to “finish” the concert.
As The Eagles of Death Metal (EODM) took to the stage in Paris’s Olympia concert hall, the sounds of Jacques Dutronc’s legendary “Paris s’éveille”, (Paris wakes up) rang out throughout the hall. It was 9pm and the iconic late 1960s song was the perfect way to open the concert.
Three metres above the stage, on the mezzanine, the atmosphere was more tense. It’s here that many of those who survived the November 13 attack were escorted, not far from the fire escapes.
Many hobbled over to their seats on crutches, some still had limbs in plaster, and a few sat in wheelchairs.
Some of them deliberately turned away from the journalists who hovered nearby, others stayed close to their parents, but most of the survivors looked relaxed, excited and even happy.
‘I had to see the concert to the end’
When the band started playing, the difference in mood between the two floors dissolved, both levels merging together in a kind of communion.
A standing ovation began that lasted throughout the concert. There were thousands of clapping hands and declarations of love, while the band avoided a contrived homage to the victims.
“Opening with Dutronc was perfect,” said Sophie*, watching from the mezzanine, crutches between her legs. Hit by a bullet in her upper thigh, Tuesday’s concert may provide a crucial, even therapeutic, step in rehabilitation. “I’m happy to be here,” she said. “I had to see the end of the concert.
“I stayed holed up at my place for weeks. I’ve only been out twice, and tonight is the first time I’ve been in a closed space. It will be fine. I’m sure,” she added.
In order to help reassure survivors like Sophie, the concert venue thoroughly ramped up security. In order to get inside, concertgoers had to pass through four security checkpoints. Moving around inside the venue without a ticket was impossible, and even returning from the toilet or bar meant getting checked.
“There’s no way a weapon could get in here,” Étienne, who also survived the Bataclan attack, said. “Right up till the last minute I wasn’t sure whether to come. Then I decided I would. I told my wife I loved her… She said, ‘don’t be silly.'”
‘I want to be in the mosh pit’
Étienne was not injured in the Bataclan attack that claimed the lives of 89 people. “I have a textbook example of what they call ‘survivors guilt’,” he admited. “I didn’t sleep for weeks, and often had the same nightmare. I finally started taking Xanax."
For people like Étienne, who are still nursing the emotional scars of the November 13 attack, the Olympia concert hall deployed a volunteer team of psychologists and counsellors.
“We have two psychological support groups, we also brought EMS staff and doctors,” says Sabrina Bellucci, director of the INAVEM association that works with victims of trauma.
“There are 25 of us. We take turns walking around the concert hall to see if anyone is stressed or anxious,” Bellucci said, lamenting that the EODM concert “took place so quickly”. “People need more time to heal. Three months is not enough time,” she added.
Alice and her husband Bertrand disagreed. They are the parents of two small children, and both were hit by bullets at the Bataclan. They say that as soon as they found out about the concert, they were immediately on the phone with the baby-sitter. They were sitting in the first row of the balcony when EODM took to the stage.
“I’ve been waiting for weeks to finish this concert”, Bertrand said with a huge smile. “I am stuck in the mezzanine, but I want to be in the mosh pit."
It was in the mosh pit at the Bataclan that Betrand took several bullets in the abdomen. Alice was hit in the leg. They say that their lives have returned to normal and that they do their best to avoid the support groups that are “too teary-eyed” for their liking.
Stuck in their seats for this concert, they barely took a break from snapping photos of the band and belting out their favourite tunes at the top of their lungs.
Many others like them in the mezzanine found creative ways to rock on with their music idols. One fan wielded a crutch as a surrogate electric guitar, another pumped his cane into the air.
EODM lead singer Jesse Hughes often took breaks between songs to share tender words with his captive audience. “I fucking love you motherfuckers” or “Fuck, I love you sons of bitches” were two of his favourite declarations.
The survivors didn't want to be anything other than ordinary fans tonight, reveling in every guitar riff. For an hour-and-a-half they wanted to put aside their scars. For an hour-and-a-half these Bataclan survivors and concert-goers radiated reckless abandon.
* Names have been changed
Date created : 2016-02-17