When I think of rock n roll music I tend to think of a collective exhale. The act of breathing out from whatever was holding you in. Rocking the eff out is a basic human right. It doesn’t even have to be related to music. Feeling stressed? Rock the eff out to your favorite tune. Long day at work? Rock the eff out and throw off those work clothes as soon as you step in the door. Little Philly break your heart? Rock the eff out and take down a quart of ice crea…
Whoa. Sorry, I had to cut myself off there because I just suffered rock whiplash and have found myself eating mint chocolate chip, in boxers, with “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” blasting out of the Pandora that plays through my Roku that plays through my TV and if Kellyanne Conway is to be believe my microwave is filming all of this.
What I mean to say is that rock and roll music has its foundations built on ultimate expression. It is loud and often times unfettered, it brings people together and builds friendships, it is a pure exaltation of love. And when that collective exhale is cut short the world takes notice.
On Friday November 13, 2015, an attempt was made to cut our breath short. What unfolded was a crazy series of events through the city of Paris that resulted in the death of 130 innocent individuals. 89 of those individuals were rocking the eff out to a rag-tag group of musicians hailing all the way from Palm Springs, California. Just like that a band vaulted into the mainstream to be forever marked by this event and become the unlikely torchbearers of rock and roll expression. Through Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis director Colin Hanks expertly takes the viewer into the heart of the band and the night’s events.
Before explaining my thoughts on the film I want to take a moment to remove myself from the narrative and say that my heart goes out to each and every person who lost their lives that night. Not only in the Bataclan Theatre, but around the city. I struggled on how to approach this obvious aspect of the story and decided to face it upfront. These people are not to be forgotten. The awful individuals who carried out these acts had two objectives. One was to kill and one was to threaten the idea of rock n roll and the freedoms expressed through it. They succeeded in one aspect of their mission, but this film proves that they completely failed at the other.
When I finished watching this movie I was struck with the idea of love that unexpectedly repeated itself over and over. In a small act of rock and roll I am going to forgo literary structure and detail my findings:
1: Love of Friendship
Hanks starts the story with the genesis of the friendship of Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme who would go on to form The Eagles of Death Metal. The two grew up together in the strange oasis that is Palm Springs. Through interviews a love between friends quickly reveals itself. From Homme Pulling Hughes out of the pool as a teenager to Hughes embracing his friend the night they return to Paris, it’s a friendship that is more rock n roll than anything I have ever seen. As the story of the band unfolds it becomes clear that their quirkiness and laid back style is straight from the mind of Hughes. Overtime the band grows and shapeshifts, but at its core you always have Hughes smoking a cigarette and wearing a cape.
2: A Love for Humanity
In the defining act of the documentary we hear the retelling of the night’s awful events through the words of band members, fans, and loved ones. It is truly chilling, and as a person who constantly finds themselves in concert venues exactly like this one it was hard to watch. What rises through the terror is incredible acts of compassion and a love. Anecdotes of total strangers helping translate so the band can rush off to safety. People giving their lives to protect the ones they love. Police responding with bravery. Homme calling Hughes to let him know everything that his son is being cared for. The stories that are told in these mere minutes provide a lifetime of examples of the care and compassion many people are eagerly waiting to dole out every single day
3: Love for Music and Community
Music and community is what brought each and every member of that show together. The Eagles of Death Metal community is why it was so important for Hughes and crew to return and complete the show that they started. Hanks does a wonderful job in showing that the love of music and the sense of community it inspires is the reason everyone has been able to process and grow from the experience. Hughes understands what his band means to others, and as difficult as it was, he returns to the city to strength the community and embrace the music that allows him to do the only thing he was truly meant to do.
To those unfamiliar with their music it is important to know that it is as carefree and wild as it gets. Albums titled Zipper Down and Heart On tell you all you need to know. An event like this completely flipped the script on the meanings of this band and their songs. Little did anyone know that these carefree songs would be the ones that got a community to move on. It is a powerful example of the meaning and importance music can play in all aspects of life. When something comes along and threatens that we must all get together to do everything we can to make damned sure it doesn’t happen again. So keep making loving friendships, expressing compassion, and building your communities. Nothing is more rock and roll than that.
May all your favorite bands stay together,
You can catch Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends) on HBO Now and HBO Go.