If ISIS Has Declared War on Music, Music Will Win

A good read from Vanity Fair. It’s definitely worth your time.

A few weeks after 9/11, I took the artist and actress Anna Deavere Smith to a U2 concert at Madison Square Garden. She was not really a rock fan and did not know much about U2, but, like me, she was looking for a little communion with fellow New Yorkers. The city was still traumatized, and U2 was one of the first big bands to come to town and play a full show. That show turned out to be a barn burner—a collective catharsis and a celebration of defiance. The names of all the victims were displayed on huge video monitors. Anna called me the next morning and said, “That is the first night that I slept in weeks.” “Me, too,” I said.

I was reminded of that as I arrived in Paris on December 5—another city in the aftermath of a terrorist attack where another U2 show had been scheduled. Or, rather, rescheduled. When the ISIS attacks took place, on November 13, U2 was in the middle of rehearsing for a concert at the AccorHotels Arena for the next evening. The concert was also going to be broadcast on HBO. The French government immediately canceled the performance and the band rescheduled for December 6 and 7. U2 seems to have a talent for parachuting into situations where the healing power of music is called for. A lot of rock ’n’ roll is great when it comes to inspiring misbehavior. When the situation calls for something like spiritual uplift, nobody beats U2. (Some disclosure here: I am the Board Chair of Bono’s ONE Campaign, an anti-poverty advocacy organization.)

The 21st century has seen a cascade of attacks by various radical Islamic death cults. The one in Paris was aimed at everyday civilians out for a night enjoying this most civilized city. There was another target too: music itself. The attack at the Eagles of Death Metal concert, at the Bataclan theater, where 90 people were killed, was the first direct attack on music in the West by ISIS or any other radical Islamic group. The “congratulatory” statement issued by ISIS claimed that the “blessed battle” in Paris had targeted the Bataclan because “hundreds of apostates” had gathered for a “profligate prostitution party.” Who the hell writes this stuff?

I can tell you that there is a jagged line from the massacre at the Bataclan back to a church basement in the small town of Greeley, Colorado, in 1948. Much of the West-hating Islamist vocabulary of today came from a quiet foreign-exchange student there who was convinced he saw evil in that basement. He did not like music. He did not like a lot of things.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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