Many recurring themes and images litter Colin Hanks’ raw and intimate HBO documentary Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis. The most prominent is the idea of a place where two extremes meet. Eagles drummer Josh Homme uses the Coachella Valley to explain, describing where the snow-capped mountains and pine trees meet the desert. It’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.
When he first says it, there’s a new-age cheesiness to the philosophy. Then we get to Paris.
On Nov. 13, 2015, Eagles of Death Metal played a show at the Bataclan in Paris, bringing their fun, winking brand of bar rock across the pond. It was supposed to be a night of people putting aside their differences to share in a communal experience, a group toast to rock and roll. Then came unimaginable horror and unspeakable violence, as the show was interrupting by terrorists who murdered 89 people. Nos Amis is about the night where love and music met hate and death.
Hanks interviewed the band members (frontman Jesse Hughes, and touring members guitarist Dave Catching, drummer Julian Dorio, guitarist Eden Galindo, and bassist Matt McJunkins) who were there that night, as well as co-founder Josh Homme, who had been unable to play on the European tour and was in the U.S. on the night of the attack. Hughes gets the most screen time, and the interviews capture a man on the edge of a complete breakdown. He’s a rock lifer, and to see him grappling with the desecration of his sacred place is wrenching.
The members of the band each explain what they went through that night. It is unnerving, with each describing moments of clarity amid the chaos that helped save their lives—such as the realization that they needed to wait for the gunmen to reload before they could run—and moments where they thought they were going to die.
Some of the concert goers are also featured, and they provide insight into the attack. When Arthur, a Frenchman, describes escaping the venue and helping band members into a taxi and giving them money to get out, it’s a moment of grace.
But Nos Amis is also the story of best friends. Early on Hughes and Homme both explain at length their childhoods and how they came to be friends, with a teenage Homme standing up for Hughes against bullies at a party. Hughes recalls the shame of not doing anything to defend himself, looking away from the camera as he says it. Lifting Hughes out of a pool, Homme told him to “stick up for yourself. That’ll at least make you worth defending.”
That sentiment comes flooding in during the post-attack memories, with Homme doing everything he can from half a world away to get help get to his best friend and their band home. Three months later, the band returned to Paris to finish their show, with Homme along for support both onstage and off.
Seeing Hughes take the stage and command the crowd belies the ball of nerves we just saw backstage. He’s standing up for himself, and for everyone who was in the Bataclan.