I started going to concerts without adult supervision at age 15. Big rock concerts. Van Halen, Tom Petty, Aerosmith, Metallica, Joan Jett —sometimes at an enormous amphitheater outside of town, sometimes in a sketchy old auditorium. It was at those concerts where I learned what pot smelled like, where I had someone try to burn my neck with a cigarette, where friends hid drugs in my car. A few years later, I was getting knocked around on the fringes of mosh pits, falling off folding chairs, traveling to downtown Chicago to see shows. Concerts weren’t safe places.
But they were alive.
I go to shows alone. I feel scared, anxious, and worried sometimes but being in the swell of the music surrounded by bodies is often transcendent.
Monday night, as children were leaving a concert — doing the same thing I did as a child — a fundamentalist exploded a bomb killing himself and 22 others. The explosion and violence injured another 59 people. The bomber himself was 22 years old. He should have been experiencing the transcendent joy that live music can bring. But he brought the opposite to that arena.
Music is temporal. It exists only as it plays. You cannot hang it on a wall and stare at it. It is intangible. It is complex. The seven notes of a single scale can be spun into an infinite variety of melodies, harmonies, and rhythms. It is layered. It can seem simple but beneath an easy melody can be a depth of ingenuity.
Music is a representation of life. Music is alive.
We make music for the reasons we make all art. We’re fascinated with the act of creation. We’re fascinated that we can create an expression of our life that lives itself.
We go to concerts to participate in another way: to share that life with our fellow human beings. When we experience music performed live, we bring a new creation to the music: that social high, that transcendence. It’s not an experience we can duplicate alone or even with a few friends. There is something ecstatic about experiencing music in a crowd.
Seeing music live is participating, joining in life. It is contributing to the betterment of all of humanity.
When the news started spilling across social media on Monday night, I was — like so many of us — shocked into silence. I thought of the children at the concert and didn’t have to imagine the joy, confusion, ecstasy, and love they had experienced at the concert. I’d felt the same at that age. But I couldn’t imagine the horror that ended that evening.
I hate that an event like this attack will cause parents to limit their children’s experience of large concerts. We are only a few days removed from the tragedy so I have no argument why parents shouldn’t do that. It is understandable.
There is a unique evil to an attack on children at a music concert. But there is also a fruitlessness to centering an attack on a performance of art. Music is not something humanity will ever stop creating. Neither is it something we will ever stop experiencing together. It is life-giving, life-affirming, and life itself.
Music is the opposite of death.