The smell of blood and powder

In 2010, the Eagles of Death Metal were the first band I saw live. Five years later, the Eagles of Death Metal are the last band I’ll ever see live. The last, because they’ve won. I’ll never go to a “celebration of depravity” again, in the “capital of vice and perversion” as they say. Music used to have a disproportionate place in my life, and has become incredibly trivial in the space of an evening. I met the woman of my dreams at a concert, in this very same venue, and I almost lost her here too. I knew that concert venues were targeted, but we didn’t want to believe it, until that Friday, on November 13th.

When I arrived quite late, the place was already packed and I thought I’d stay near the mixing desk, on the steps, close to the bar and the merch booth, as I often do. And then, out of habit, I went to the front, going over by the right side. As often, too, I was on my own for this gig and for once, I haven’t stopped thinking since then that this was a good thing for my loved ones. Except that while walking through the crowd before the show, I looked at the faces of the people around me, struck by the young age of all these kids. From the very first song, I joyfully rushed to the third row, close to the crash barrier. A spot I’d never leave during the next two hours or more, and which would partially seal my fate.

It had started so well. Jesse Hughes had shown us the flick-knife he’d just bought from a store facing the theater, explaining how he loved Paris so much because of these things that he couldn’t do at home. I didn’t know then that a strange irony of fate was going to hurl me into the middle of an American-style mass killing. He’d also just made one of those saucy jokes he’s famous for. As usual, the band, one of the best live acts in the world, was delivering a great show. The security guard in front of me had just returned Jesse Hughes’s greeting. A guy, a girl and I were laughing at the band’s antics. The pit was cheerfully roused by “Kiss the Devil”, it was nearly over and my favorite songs were about to play. But they never came.

Like everyone, I remember the sound of firecrackers. I remember thinking, and hoped above all, that it was a problem caused by the mixing desk behind us. But I immediately thought of the accounts of the Charlie attacks. When I turned around, I saw these silhouettes lighted only by sparks. Then, I was convinced that we were all going to die. That this time, it wasn’t a nightmare and I think I’m never going to wake-up. Some people manage to get over the barrier and escape, but others get killed. I consider following them but, paralyzed by fear and the shooting sounds, I can’t move.

I then think again about the accounts of the Charlie attacks and the survivors who pretended to be dead. In any case, we don’t really have a choice. Those who attempt to escape during the AK-47 reloadings are braver than me, and most of all, not necessarily as lucky. Thus, we make a human pile in which my body is exposed and my face hidden. I then close my eyes for two hours. I wait for death and hope it’ll be quick, or maybe wish for a miracle rescue. I think of that couple against whom I was lying, of the girl, stiff but still and panicked by the lack of air. I remember how I stopped her from moving, for my sake and for hers, for all our sakes. I remember our words: “If you move, we all die.” I remember telling them to shut up because of a single murmur; it was a matter of life and death. Today, I think they’re alive. So, if they read this, I’d like to apologize for crushing this girl for two hours and telling them to shut up. I’ve been deeply moved by their behavior. I remember not daring to move my stiff leg. I remember this guy stroking my hair to find a little comfort, coaxing a smile from me. I remember the constant vibrations of my phone, in my pocket. If I’d picked it up, I would have died.

I’ve kept my eyes shut, but I heard everything, the poor girl crying and the unfortunate guy moaning in pain in the background. I remember a person dying, unable to breathe on the other side of the barrier. Particularly when one of them, having clambered on stage, got closer. I think he shot a guy right behind me, whose howling still haunts me. The shot was so close that the hissing of the tinnitus was pure agony in my right ear. I remember every shot, hoping it’d be the last and not to be prey to the next one. An unbearable feeling of randomness. And then, the explosion. Now, I know it was the terrorist’s suicide jacket going off when he was killed on the stage by the police captain who entered the venue on his own. I think I owe him my life; thank you my hero.

When it’s time to evacuate the theater, nobody dares to get up; nobody believes the slaughter is over. When we see the men in blue, we hardly realize we’re alive. But I’ll never forget the horror’s extent when I open my eyes again during the evacuation. The kids I’d mentioned earlier on, just mowed down because they had attended a rock concert. I’d endured all evening the combined smells of blood and powder. But I hope no one will ever have to see what I saw then. Crossing the pit to reach the exit was a like a Way of the Cross for the survivors, making them understand the value of their “luck”. I even saw that same dread in the eyes of the men in blue, and they’re better prepared for it than me.

Why me? Why am I lucky to enough to write these lines, safe and sound, and not dead or wounded like hundreds of others? How can I not think of the victims, killed a few meters from me? I don’t have an answer. I’ve had incredible luck, but I can’t stop thinking of the bloodied corpses who’ll never be able to reassure their loved ones. I can’t stop thinking of a phone ringing, echoing in vain in the pit. I remember some poor girl, her face blown up by a heavy weapon, of a lifeless kid in a blue dress, her face against the ground. I think of the victims’ faces, seen a few minutes earlier in the venue. I’ve also been lucky enough to not see the executions. When I read some of the wildest accounts, I feel sick and I think about my extravagant luck again.

Everywhere, I read that we’ll go on as before, because we’re not afraid. Not me. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve won. I’m not dead, but I’m terrorized and, most of all, haunted by the guilt of being alive while others took a bullet in the head instead of me. I don’t find any logic in this little something called luck, thanks to which some are in the morgue while others are still alive.

I have a thought for Marion, a lovely photographer who took a bullet in her back; for Thomas from la Maroquinerie that I’ll never see again at the door, at every gig there. I think about the guy in charge of the merch, briefly met at the entrance, who’ll never sell t-shirts at a concert again. I think about the security guards who were the first to die at the door. And I can’t stop thinking of all those people I didn’t know at the gig, also attended by kids, retired people and pregnant women.

That night, they not only killed and wounded hundreds of innocent, defenseless people. They also killed my love for music, and this is what matters the least to me.

This story was previously published in french. I wanna thank Isabelle Chelley and Alan Holding for the translation.

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