I heard about the Vegas mass shooting this morning. As I lay in bed, having hit the snooze button, fighting to drag myself to full consciousness and willing my eyes to remain open, my daughter Caitlin knocked on my door asking whether I had heard about the shooter at the Jason Aldean concert during the Route 91 Harvest Festival, a three-day country music event in Las Vegas. Her quick recitation of the tragic toll exacted by the lone gunman - more than 50 dead and more than 500 injured - instantly brought me fully awake, my heart pounding. And now, although I’ve stayed mostly away from the relentless, repetitive news reports, I’ve thought about it all morning.
I have since learned that the death toll, currently confirmed at 58 as I write this Monday afternoon, makes this the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. I have learned that it is likely that the weapon used was a submachine gun. I could dwell on how I think there must be a way of imposing reasonable restraints on the availability of such weapons without infringing on anyone’s ability to hunt or defend one’s person or home, but that is not where my thoughts go today. Instead, I just keep thinking how much it sucks that these lunatics choose music venues in which to carry out terrorist acts, revenge fantasies or whatever other vendetta consume their individual and collectively unbalanced minds.
I keep thinking about the Paris concert attack at the Bataclan back in November 2015 and the wave of memories that attack loosed in me of a much smaller but still very tragic event in a small Boston club decades earlier. One thing I and many others who have observed gun violence up close and personal know is that a shooting does not have to be a mass shooting to be tragic. Here’s my memories of that event of July 30, 1987, as recalled back on November 15, 2015 following the Bataclan attack:
It wasn’t until Sunday morning that I first caught a glimpse of the footage of the shootings at the rock concert in Paris on Friday night. My immediate thought was that’s exactly how it happens. I registered the familiarity of the scene, an unsettling sense of déjà vu, but did not dwell on it. I was in the middle of doing something and did not want to get sucked into the 24/7 news coverage or my distant memories. So I kept walking and moved on with my task at hand.
But then, last night, I was reading the New Yorker online. After two articles focused on the ISIS attacks, I was tapped out on tragedy. I scrolled down through all the stories until a picture of a young Tom Petty caught my eye. My sister and I have shared a love of Tom Petty going back to the late 1970s so I immediately opened the related article focused on how Warren Zanes of the 1980s Boston rock band the Del Fuegos came to write Petty’s life story.
The Del Fuegos opened for Tom Petty during his tour for his 1987 album, “Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)”. I was attending Boston University at the time and had managed to see the Del Fuegos live at The Rathskeller (known as The Rat and where you had to brave cat-sized rats to make your way in the door), a dive of a music venue right on Commonwealth Avenue in Kenmore Square near the heart of BU’s campus.
In the summer of 1987, between my junior and senior years, I lived with my BU roommate, Lisa, and a music student, Dave, we found from the Berklee School of Music to split the rent and take the tiny extra bedroom off the kitchen in our apartment in the student slum of Allston. Dave brought a fantastic cast of musical characters into our world – the perfect diversion as Lisa studied to take the MCAT and I prepped for the LSAT.
A number of Dave’s friends were bouncers and bartenders at Bunratty’s, a bar and music venue on Harvard Avenue right around the corner from our apartment, and Lisa and I would go over to hang out and catch some bands.
On the night of Friday, July 31, 1987, Bunratty’s was packed and outrageously loud. At some point late in the night, one of the guys came up to tell me and Lisa that they’d had to throw out a customer who’d been harassing and blocking the way of the band as it tried to set up. But then that was forgotten as the band started playing and Lisa and I pushed our way up close to the stage.
What happened next in the early morning hours of August 1st is hazy and surrealistic and literally has always played out in my memory (those few times I let it) in slow motion. At some point, I became aware of a commotion behind us, then of multiple loud pops and hot air swooshing past. I remember Lisa pulling me to the ground, yelling it’s shooting, bullets. But I’m really hazy on the events after that. I still don’t know exactly how we made our way out of there, at what point I realized our friend Abel Harris, a bouncer, had been shot, and when I learned the further details that Abel had been shot in the head at close range after he jumped over the bar and, with his hands held up in a surrender fashion, attempted to “talk down” the crazed gunman who had returned to the bar some two hours after he was first thrown out.
Abel died nine days later while hospitalized. That week, there were a series of benefit concerts for him at Bunratty’s and Metro. We were there for the two shows at Bunratty’s and were pressed up against the stage for the closing act, the Del Fuegos.
I guess it’s not surprising that the footage of the Paris rock concert attack could unloose this flood of memories from 30 years ago. It’s certainly brought the events in France into even starker focus for me and my heart goes out not only to the victims and their families but also to the survivors who will have that night live in the recesses of their memories forever.
And now there's Las Vegas to add to this list: so much music, so many memories, too many shootings.