After Manchester: Music That Heals

I didn’t linger too long in front of the theater. A sign posted by the front door warned that the street was under surveillance, and I didn’t want to arouse suspicion. But I stayed long enough to take in the beauty and whimsy and power of it all: The hulking size of the building. The bright colors of the exterior, evoking a Moulin Rouge-esque festivity. The letters doing a merry jig above the front door: BATACLAN.

It was early April and I was on a 13-hour stopover in Paris while on an overseas trip back to Los Angeles. For all of its romance and history, the French capital has never been one of my bucket-list travel destinations. But now that I had a chance, the first place I wanted to see (aside from the Eiffel Tower) was the 1,500-capacity Bataclan theater, site of the 2015 terrorist attack where ISIS gunmen killed 89 people during an Eagles of Death Metal concert.

In front of the building, I thought back to the day when it all went down. I remembered driving my car around sunny Los Angeles, listening with growing panic and horror as news of the coordinated Paris attacks unfolded in real-time on NPR. Terrified reporters and witnesses were giving reports while barricaded inside restaurants as shooting went on mere blocks away. French president François Hollande was broadcast live giving a statement calling the attacks an act of war.

Terrorism is a heavily symbolic gesture—it’s a spectacle meant to spill blood and cause carnage, but also to generate waves of confusion and panic, to undercut our sense of safety, elevate our sense of doubt, and make us feel ill at ease wherever we are. Now, in recent years, as a music journalist and longtime music lover, I’ve felt more and more so that my own community has become a target. There was the attack on the Bataclan. There were the jihadis aligned with Al-Qaeda who violently banned music in northern Mali in 2012—a region that has long enjoyed a rich overlap between religion and song. There was the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando last year, and the New Year’s Eve attack at a club on the Bosphorus in Istanbul.

And then there was the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester on May 22. The bombing killed 22 people, including an eight year old girl, and I struggle to imagine how far gone a militant must be, how many atrocities they’ve already committed, how deep they’ve sunk into their own numb and dead-eyed worldview, to be capable of carefully plotting out an attack like this: Targeting the fans of an artist whose songs are so expertly crafted that they always have a way of hitting right on the pleasure centers of your nervous system, an artist whose very name—“Grande”—speaks to the enormity of her personality and the power of her voice in conveying joy and release and love.

The point of these attacks, of course, is to destroy lives and destroy what we love. To make us think twice about going to our next show. To make us look for the emergency exit signs every time we walk into a venue, instead of focusing on the great music unfolding onstage. But music is one of the most resilient human expressions, and this playlist—featuring Ariana Grande and Eagles of Death Metal, Mali’s Khaira Arby and Vieux Farka Touré, a release off Turkish label Drug Boulevard, as well as some classic Manchester bands—stands as a testament to the way music keeps us coming together even in the face of hatred.