Emma Parkinson is an Australian who was wounded in last year's terrorist attack at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris. Today she sent us this piece on learning to love live music again. It's been lightly edited for clarity.
Reviews of Tame Impala concerts usually wax lyrical about blissed-out crowds dreamily singing along as their hands lazily drift through plumes of weed smoke. This is an accurate description. In the three times I've seen them, everybody there has been more interested in arm waving than foot stomping. The ambiance is laid back and joyful, and being part of the audience is like being part of a community. Being part of a Tame Impala audience gives you the sense that everybody is your friend.
Or that's what it's normally like—but not when I saw the band on January 31. That was the first gig I've been to since the Eagles of Death Metal massacre at the Bataclan.
I moved to Paris from Germany in early November 2015 to try and get a bit more independence. I'd been working as an au pair in Germany, and it was quite socially isolating. So I was excited to be in a position where I had complete control of my own schedule. Goodbye to the small sleepy towns I'd lived in before. I was moving to a mecca of culture. Every day would mean new places to go and new people to see. I would do things like go to concerts alone and meet new people.
On the night of Friday, November 13, that's exactly what I did. I was at the Eagles of Death Metal concert when members of ISIS opened fire on the audience. I was very lucky to get out quickly—injured in the crossfire but not seriously. I was ecstatic to be alive, and I was going back to Australia to recover. Living in Paris, I never expected that I'd deal with such a horrific thing.
In the following months, I felt anxious in crowds, especially in theaters. I even had a few anxiety attacks, but I found these were relatively easy to deal with because of the professional help I was receiving. I had the right coping strategies in place, and I was prepared for anxiety. What was much harder to deal with was the lack of trust I had developed in myself and in the people around me. Harder still was an incredible feeling of isolation. I felt like nobody understood me, or what I went through. I've had a big part of my innocence ripped from me in a such a way that my friends and peers can't understand. And I don't—I wouldn't—want them to.
Fast forward a few months. I've come back to Paris. Eagles of Death Metal have re-scheduled their concert for February 16, and I plan to go. I'd bought tickets to see Tame Impala at Zénith some months back, so I decided to arrive early and see that concert too.
The contrast between my experiences as a Tame Impala audience member since the last time I saw them, at Paris's Rock en Seine festival, was stark. Instead of a sense of community, I felt completely alone. It frustrated me that so many people (over 6,000) could feel so joyously carefree while I felt so uneasy and afraid. I was jealous of their innocence.
The band opened with "Let It Happen," one of my favorite songs off its new album Currents. The song, like many others in the band's discography, deals with themes of isolation—"the notion growing inside / that all the others seem shallow / all this running around / bearing down on my shoulders."
It completely mirrored what I was feeling in that moment, but the urgency of the drums and synths was reflective of my anxiety, and it helped me to dance instead of running away like I wanted to.
A few songs into the set, I decided that being at the front of the audience was too much, so I headed to the balcony next to an exit. Walking with my back to the stage, past thousands of smiling faces, while Kevin Parker crooned the lines "try to be sane / try to pretend that none of it happened" was an incredibly intense emotional experience—probably the most connected I've felt to a piece of music in my life.
Then something happened. I was feeling so alone and broken, but my intense connection to the music, slowly and without my noticing, gave me back that sense of belonging that I'd missed so much. Standing there, watching the crowd sing along to lyrics like "I know that I'll be happier / and I know you will too / eventually," and dancing made me feel as if we were all a part of the same thing, even though I felt as if I wasn't occupying the same space as everybody else. It felt like these songs had been written for me, to help me deal with what I was going through. I spent nearly the whole night crying and dancing like a maniac—the people around me probably thought I was insane. It wasn't what most people would describe as a positive concert experience, but for me, it was incredibly cathartic and beautiful.
The overall tone of Tame Impala is joyous melancholy, knowing that things are really shit right now but also seeing that change is inevitable and that things will probably get better. This felt especially pertinent to me that night, but I think it's relevant for all people, no matter their past experiences.
Everybody in that room was connecting with those ideas, and through the music, we were all connecting with each other. That's the beautiful thing about music. It's an abstract expression of emotion, which means that everybody can connect to it emotionally. Music has been there for me when I needed it all through my life, and it's still there for me now. Music gives strength in the face of adversity, and fosters a sense of community in everybody—especially, I think, in those who need it the most.
So if I can urge anybody to do anything, it would be to get out there and support the bands you love, to go and find new bands to support and love, but most of all, to support and love each other.