Come Together: Music and Massacre

By Sophie Richardson ‘21

On music as a shared ritual, violence, and togetherness from an avid music lover.

Artwork by Emma Ogden-Wolgemuth '21

Artwork by Emma Ogden-Wolgemuth '21

Last year, around the time of my younger sister’s birthday, she and her friends had spent the day at our house, anxious to spend the remainder of the afternoon wandering The Grove shopping center and possibly catching a movie. When one of her friends decided to leave before the excursion, my mom and I were confused. We asked my sister why she didn’t want to join her friends.

My sister answered quite plainly, “She’s afraid there will be a bombing.”

When my grandma was growing up she was afraid of the film Night of the Living Dead, and my own mother was terrified that she would be struck by lightning, and here is a twelve-year-old girl who has become so accustomed to murder and terror through the media that she fears the quotidian aspects of everyday life. I wonder which one is more rational?

October 1st, the United States experienced the deadliest mass shooting in its modern history to date, shaking a nation paralyzed with a fear of mundane outings in the twenty first century.

The Route 91 Harvest Festival is a highly anticipated music gathering for country music lovers since its inception five years earlier. The event attracts big names such as Luke Bryan, Toby Keith, Eric Church, and Jason Altman. This year saw a turnout of over 22,000 concertgoers.  The website’s banner read “Sold Out.”

In the wake of this national tragedy, reports imply that Steven Paddock, the gunman behind the Las Vegas shooting, initially had bigger plans for after the festival,  but ultimately took his own life on October 1st.

Paddock had reserved hotel rooms facing the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago and the Life is Beautiful festival in Las Vegas. The festivals hosted artists such as Muse, Lorde, Blink-182, the Killers, Cage the Elephant, Alt-J, and many more. No evidence shows that Paddock ever made it to Chicago, although records indicate that Paddock checked into a condo overlooking the Life is Beautiful festival only one weekend before Route 91.

The pain and sadness brought about by one act of brutality against innocence resonates with a nation long after the gunshots ring out. It is enough to evoke confusion and ask ourselves “How could this happen? Who would do something so evil?” These are the questions that we shout out into the void, the ones that eat at our thoughts until we feel as though we can never be happy again. But when a trend starts to take shape, when innocent slaying becomes routinely broadcasted on the airwaves and our televisions sets, these questions carry less weight, and the need for answers becomes less necessary to carry on.

“This is just the way it is.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way, does it?

In November, it will be two years since the Paris attacks and six months since the Manchester attacks. We have seen the score of men, women, children, lawyers, police officers, teachers, nurses, pipefitters, drivers, mothers, father, grandmothers, sons, and daughters who have danced, laughed, and loved to music in their final moments, and those who selflessly put themselves between the barrel and a stranger. For all we know it could have been you, it could have been me, it could have been your biology teacher, your mailman, your librarian.

And in the lists and descriptions of all of the victims of these attacks, you will find one string interlacing their lives together in ways other than in passing:

"Eilidh was vivacious and full of fun. She loved all music whether it was listening to Ariana or playing the bagpipes with her pipe band."

"Elaine just loved life, and had a major love of music. Despite what has happened to her, she would want us all to carry on regardless and not be frightened by fear tactics; instead, she regularly urged us all to rise up against it.”

“Megan was a lovely, quiet, sensitive person, who absolutely loved her music”

And so on.

The people who died in these instances were not all picked from a hat in order to fulfill some mystical purpose; anyone who tries to prove so deserves no attention, nothing to suggest their argument holds any kind of significance. Perhaps, there is less use in trying to delve into the mind of the perpetrator, to figure out an answer for why he picked who he attacked. The victims were ordinary people bound together by culture, and congregated together to celebrate art. They were the living proof that our differences can be bridged by a shared ritual, a creative commons.

Nevertheless, it is undeniably heart-wrenching when those with the means to impose harm use music venues as a way to target select or marginalized groups. In the midst of an outpouring of love and support for victims and their families following the Las Vegas attack, some Internet users used social media platforms to insert their opinions about the social class of the person they found most appropriate to hurt in such an event, expressing thoughts such as, “If only the Las Vegas shooting was at a rap concert.” Although these comments were met with considerable repulsion from numerous users, it still remains a sad realization that music, in all its binding qualities, could be used to target those based on a distinct race, political preference, even religious association.

While most people understand that certain groups gravitate towards certain genres of music, this doesn't mean in the slightest that music is exclusive to certain people. Music is constantly being pulled and influenced by multiple communities, places and events from all over the world. Music, like all things, can never be one thing or another, black or white. It is grey, constantly evolving at the same speed as the world around it, molding an ever comprehensive age of reconstruction of social normalities.

Of course, togetherness in music doesn't overlook generational or taste differences. It’s in the way we youngsters poke fun at the CDs and vinyl our parents kept around from their glory days and it’s in the mocking tone that they use to refer to the music we like to play in the car. “I hate that Rock N Roll Rubbish!” they would say, which would only instigate us to turn the volume up to full blast. The cultural affirmatives and place marks from one time period to the next is never meant to be cohesive. Once in awhile an artist comes along who completely changes the name of the game, like a ripple in a still but flowing body of water, which makes the vicinity between one generation and the next even larger. But even in this disconnect between age groups, at the core of it all, there is a willingness to hold onto the music we hopelessly adored once before. It’s a form of reminiscence to a time and place from an old book; it’s the people we met and the memories we share that we long to keep forever.

Throughout time, music has validated its power in turning a group of people into a community, whether through ritual, protest, or just plain old everyday enjoyment among friends and family. There are songs that can bring every room to a standstill and inspire a collective assembly of wandering souls to break out in harmonious celebration, culminating just one moment out of many in which plurality signifies beauty. It isn’t exclusive to age or geography; it’s just a song that everyone knows some way or another. Most musicians can easily identify the popularity of a song and will even invite their fans to finish off the final chorus when performing for an audience. We see covers and collaborations at every turn throughout cultural history. Music is all about inclusivity, it is an ever constant truth that we all recognize.

When one person with an automatic weapon and a plain shot takes advantage of this, we cannot succumb to sorrow and flight. And yet we mustn’t fight either. If I may I will draw your attention to the writings of a man we are surely all quite familiar with.

“So he paused. And the Grinch put his hand to his ear.

And he did hear a sound rising over the snow.

It started in low. Then it started to grow.

But the sound wasn't sad! Why, this sound sounded merry!

It couldn't be so! But it WAS merry! VERY!

He stared down at Whoville! The Grinch popped his eyes!

Then he shook! What he saw was a shocking surprise!

Every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small,

Was singing! Without any presents at all!

He HADN'T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME! Somehow or other, it came just the same!”

We may never know why Steven Paddock decided to book a room overlooking Route 91. The closest guess we can draw is to kill as many people from a distance as possible. But we shall not be confused by this violence. We shall remind ourselves of why Sandra Casey, Pati Mestas, and Denise Cohen were all where they were when their lives were taken. In happiness and in mourning, we are not our differences, we are not two divided shards of a broken society.

Two weeks after the Manchester suicide bombing, a benefit concert was held entitled “One Love Manchester.” At the beginning of the event Ms. Grande’s manager, Scooter Braun, made a remark that can epitomize why I am writing this opinion piece today:

“Last night this nation was challenged, and all of you were challenged, and you had a decision to make if you were going to come out here tonight [...] And this is so beautiful. You guys made that decision. You looked fear right in the face and you said, ‘No, we are Manchester, and the world is watching.’”

We laugh, we cry, we sing, we love music together, and the collapse of every living certainty cannot convince us of the invalidity of this one truth.

We are one and the world is watching.