I’ve been a little numb the last few days and wondered if I should even say something about events, if there could be anything I can even add in something so seemingly self centred as a blog especially as it wanders into the more personal than music / books but…
In the wake of Chris Cornell’s shocking departure my wife sent me over an article – some years old, I should add, rather than one of those disgustingly inappropriate “wrap Eddie in bubble wrap” statements of late – on “How Eddie Vedder survived“. It’s a good article – more about how he lost the tortured element and found a sort of coping mechanism rather than getting lost. But it touched on something my wife knew nothing of: the Roskilde tragedy in 2000 when nine Pearl Jam fans were killed, crushed to death as the crowd rushed forward.
As I tried to explain the events I still found recalling them upsetting. I remember when the news broke, how I – and I’m sure all fans – felt so horrified. I’d seen the band exactly one month previous and to know that fellow fans had lost their lives in an environment in which you always felt welcome and relaxed- lost in music with fellow fans – seemed so impossible. The idea that nine people who had gone out to watch their favourite band wouldn’t be going home, that there would be nine empty beds, nine families lost beneath the tidal wave of grief… it seemed so impossible.
A horrible accident. A tragedy that shook the music loving world and nearly ended the band*. Then, a little under two years ago in Paris, a city that for a year or so was like my second home, 89 people were murdered at an Eagles of Death Metal Concert. No accident, part of a series of terrorist attacks in the city in which another 41 people would be killed.
Just a day or two after talking about Roskilde with my wife, on Tuesday morning I woke up and, like, most other mornings, checked the news while waiting for the kettle to boil. I’ve never been to Manchester. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an Ariana Grande song but this… this shouldn’t be happening. The idea that you could go out to a music concert and not be safe, not come home…. it should be unspeakable.
Now, I’m struggling to write this because we’re now at the point where it’s gone from being 22 dead to learning the names of those people killed. Learning that an eight year old girl was taken from her family. That parents waiting in the lobby for their excited children to come out of the concert were killed. That teenagers, still children, filled with joy and love for music and the experience of seeing their favourite musician live, many experiencing a concert for the first time, were killed. It absolutely breaks my heart.
I grew up at a time when the IRA were very much active and civilians were being killed by their bombs. I remember my father trying to explain what and why these things were happening, the senselessness of it. The media wasn’t so full throttle / constant exposure as it is now but I do remember the real threat of it – they bombed Manchester, too, in ’96, the biggest bomb the UK had seen since WWII but their phone warnings ahead had meant that 75,000 were evacuated and nobody died. I remember a lack of public waste bins when the International Railway station in my hometown was opened for fear of IRA bombs being planted ( I think Prince Charles was due to open it and, since Lord Mountbatten had been killed by the IRA he was a conceivable target).
When the news broke on Tuesday morning my own young son was fast asleep and I – like I’m sure countless others – worry about the world he’s growing up in. I worry about what, when he gets just a little older, he’ll see in the news now that it’s so all pervasive and how I’ll struggle to explain the senselessness of it all. I do hope that I won’t have to but I’m not naive enough to believe that.
What I do hope, though, is that when I explain these things to him – be it as historical or, as I dread, current – that I’m able to point to how people react and respond as (aside from the usual stupid suspects) they are doing so now, and did then, in the face of terror; not with anger and violence but with a sense of coming together in support and strength. Not giving in and living in fear, shying from what we love, but in holding hands and standing up.
With such thinking I’m impressed and heartened that – just as in Paris in 2015 – in the days following, bands and artists continue to take the stage and audiences and music lovers continue to come together and experience live music. It’s a hard thing to do. The natural instinct being to hide, I suppose. I imagine every parent who’s bidding their children a “safe and fun night” as they head out to a show will do so being that little bit more anxious for a while to come. Just as Pearl Jam still routinely call a halt to proceedings if they think it’s getting too aggressive in the ‘pit’ and implore the crowd to take a step back and make sure everyone is safe, concert goers will be more vigilante of their surroundings but it must carry on. Music and the love for it creates a community – as this and so many other blogs illustrate – and that’s never as clear or better experienced than at a concert. Long may it continue.
As Sgt Esterhaus would say, “Hey, let’s be careful out there.”
*The band had made many a plea for the crowd to take a step back and, realising something was wrong, stopped playing. It was too late. Nine fans had been killed in the crush and bodies were being passed over the barricades. The remainder of the band’s European tour was cancelled and, for a while, they considered retiring. They couldn’t conceive how to go on after something so tragic had happened. The Danish Police even tried put the blame on the band for “encouraging the rush”. Vedder would ‘disappear’ for a year following the completion of the US leg of the tour but he and other band members would – and still do – reach out to the family members of those lost. When the band regrouped, the (not all as bad as it’s remembered) Riot Act album would feature two songs about Roskilde – ‘I Am Mine’ and ‘Love Boat Captain’ – as well as ‘Arc’ which features only Eddie’s voice, nine layers of it, as a lament for those lost.