One night near the end of 2015, I was in Eau Claire, Wisconsin for a Jason Isbell concert. After driving two hours to the gig, I stopped in at the bar next to the theater for a pre-show drink and heard that about 90 fans had just been murdered during an Eagles Of Death Metal concert at La Bataclan theatre in Paris. For most of my life, I’ve been a regular concert-goer, heading out to see live music about once per week. I’ve come to regard clubs, theaters, and even arenas as sacred places. I stopped attending church years ago, but I still go to shows because there’s something profoundly moving about standing in a room with strangers and feeling a shared spiritual connection. I get that feeling from live music, not religion.
The Paris attacks felt like a violation of a hallowed ritual. The news rattled me. It felt personal. But I was grateful that I had a show to see that that night. I needed to see a show that night. When Isbell played “Elephant,” I shed a few more tears than usual.
I had a similar experience at a concert last November. My beautiful daughter Rosemary had been born just nine days prior. Donald Trump had been elected president just three days prior. I felt exhausted from several sleepless nights — mostly caused by the baby, though Trump certainly wasn’t helping things. Trump had somehow turned the birth of my daughter — one of the happiest occasions of my life — into another source of anxiety. The election made me think all of the usual paternal thoughts, starting with, “How will I explain to my daughter that our country just elected an orange misogynist? Will she even believe me? It sounds like an episode of Shitty Sesame Street.” I was depressed, scared, angry, and utterly clueless about what the future had in store. These are not sensations you can afford to have when you’re a father — you’re supposed to be the stable one. But I was unnerved.
The first several numbers that night went by in a haze. The band was good — real good, in fact — but I couldn’t connect. Then the lead singer stepped up to the microphone and spoke about the late Leonard Cohen. (Did I mention that Leonard Cohen died just four days before this concert? It was a heavy week.) Then she cued the band and started playing this song.