Surviving the Bataclan Terrorist Attack: Drummer Julian Dorio Reflects on Life One Year Later

Eagles of Death Metal Julian Dorio - Getty - H 2016
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"I'll never forget how loud and powerful it was. It dwarfed us," writes Dorio, who was filling in on the drums on a six-week European tour with Eagles of Death Metal when the Paris attack occurred.

A drummer for The Whigs, Julian Dorio got a call a little more than a year ago to fill in on drums during a six-week European tour with Eagles of Death Metal. He had never played with the Los Angeles-based band, but two weeks into the tour, on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, he was onstage at The Bataclan in Paris when terrorists stormed the theater 40 minutes into the show, killing 90 (130 died as a result of attacks at multiple locations). Dorio, 34, escaped with his fellow bandmembers, but merchandise manager Nick Alexander died in the massacre. A year later, Dorio, who lives in Nashville with his wife and is expecting their first child in November, shares with Billboard his memories of that night and a year spent healing.

There’s before Paris and after Paris.

The hours before it happened were so ordinary. My wife, Emily, and I had honeymooned there that summer, but she wasn’t with me on this trip. For dinner, I went to this charming restaurant we had eaten at near The Bataclan. The bartender remembered me and knew Eagles of Death Metal, so I offered to put him on the guest list. He said he would love to go but his shift went too late. Thank god he couldn’t make it.

I went to the venue close to showtime. It was packed. The shooting occurred out of nowhere. I’ll never forget how loud and powerful it was. It dwarfed us. I hit the deck, and the gunpowder just hit my nose. I also smelled iron, which I realized soon after was from all the blood. Within minutes, I managed to find an exit door. In the billionth of a second before I pushed it open, I thought, “There’s going to be a shooter on the other side.” But what are you going to do? You can’t go back. I opened the door. There were people running everywhere. I took a right and ran.

I got a cab a couple of blocks away with two bandmembers and a bandmember’s girlfriend. As I’m about to get in, I realize I have no phone or wallet. This fellow survivor who was running next to me, he pulled out a €50 bill and said, “Take this.”

We had the cab take us to a police station, which is where I borrowed a phone to call Emily. A TV was on, and in French it said, “18 dead.” And I thought, “The place where I was just performing has 18 dead people.” Then it went from 18 to 30 to 34. I realized there was a death toll.

In the weeks after, people asked how I was doing. I remember feeling so many contradictory emotions at once. I was so sad, and grieving the people who were lost. And yet I was so grateful to come home to my family and friends, grateful that I was unharmed. I can walk, I can still play the drums. You feel guilt, helplessness, watching people get hurt and killed and not being able to reach out and help them. That’s a very powerless feeling and does not go away quickly.

Around that time, U2 called and invited us to join the band in Paris for its rescheduled show and to play Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power.” Emily was understandably reluctant to let me go so soon after the attacks, but going back to Paris, I was able to retrieve what had been taken from me. I hadn’t touched a drumstick since that night in November, and the next time I did was behind Larry Mullen Jr.’s kit with U2. It was incredibly cathartic. People were crying.

I went back again in February with Eagles of Death Metal to do our rescheduled shows. We were determined to get back and play. It was like, “We’re f—ing playing. F— those people who make us feel like we’re not going to do what we love.”

The trauma specialist I see thought it would be good for me and Emily to create new memories in Paris, so Emily met me there for that show. When I got home a few weeks later, she told me she was pregnant and we knew instantly this baby was conceived in Paris. This was our redemption.

A few months after that trip, six months to the day of the attack, on Friday, May 13, I got the drum kit I played that night. Most of the band’s instruments were incinerated during the cleanup. Somehow, the drum kit was spared. It was returned to the maker, C&C Custom Drums, in Missouri. The owner called and asked if I wanted it. I said yes, so he cleaned and fixed it, and he even had it blessed by a priest. He believed, as I do, that it was important to make it an instrument again for people to come together to sing and dance. I use that drum kit every day.

You’re taught in trauma counseling not to dwell on ifs. You’re not going to get answers. But you still wonder, “How did my life take me to this place, and why?” Maybe this baby is why. What else does one hold on to?

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