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17 Jan 2017

Believe in Rock 'n' Roll: A New HBO Documentary Shows the Eagles of Death Metal Returning to the Road Following a Terrorist Attack

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Jesse Hughes, Josh Homme and Tom Hanks. Jesse Hughes, Josh Homme and Tom Hanks.

When I interviewed local music legend Jesse Hughes in August 2015, he was in good spirits and quite excited about the then-soon-to-be released Eagles of Death Metal album, Zipper Down.

“This album is like John Holmes, only with a bigger dick,” Hughes told me. “I’ve never been one of those dudes who has tried to change or do something different. I pretty much want to make Little Richard proud, and I feel that this album has gotten me closer to that goal than any other record.”

Sure enough, the Eagles of Death Metal made waves with the release of Zipper Down—the band’s first new release in seven years. In fact, the Palm Desert-born band was enjoying the most critical acclaim it had ever received.

This high would not last: On Nov. 13, 2015, during an EODM concert in Paris at the world-famous Bataclan, the venue was attacked by terrorists. While the band escaped physically unharmed, 89 people lost their lives.

A new documentary directed by Colin Hanks, Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends), was screened at the Palm Springs International Film Festival on Saturday night, Jan. 14, at the Annenberg Theater. Both Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme attended the screening, as did Colin Hanks, who introduced the film and took questions afterward.

The film will air on HBO starting Monday, Feb. 13.

The documentary starts with Jesse Hughes at home in Los Angeles, about three months after the attack, on the day he and the rest of the band were slated to return to Europe to resume the tour. Gone is Hughes’ jovial, comedic attitude that he so often displayed while off-stage: He appears nervous as he packs his luggage and his manager hands him the boarding passes for the band and crew. He emotionally explains that the rock ’n’ roll music for which he’s always been known is now a huge question mark—because the tragedy in Paris will always be what comes up when people talk about the band.

The film covers the backstory of the band. Hughes and Homme talk about the first time they met each other, as kids in Palm Desert—and include an anecdote about Homme rescuing Hughes from bullies who had thrown him in a pool and wouldn't let him out. Homme describes Hughes as a guy who loves to talk about himself—although that talk is so amusing that you want him to keep talking.

Homme, who can't always tour with Eagles of Death Metal, was not with the band at the Bataclan. He describes being in a recording studio when he started receiving alarming text messages from the band at the time of the attack.

The band members each describe the attacks and their aftermath. While most of the members have already told these stories to VICE, Dave Catching—the band's guitarist and owner of the Rancho de la Luna studio in Joshua Tree—tells his story for the first time: He describes spending two terrorizing hours in a dressing room, hiding in the shower with the door barricaded. He said terrorists tried at various points to get into the dressing room—and that one of the terrorists eventually blew himself up nearby.

The final portion of the film shows the moment when the band finally plays again in Paris. Homme and Hughes are filmed greeting many of the survivors of the attack, shaking their hands and hugging. One man tells Hughes he saw the terrorists enter the Bataclan—and feels sorry because he didn't do anything to stop them. Hughes emotionally tells the man that he’s not at fault.

Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friend) is a heartrending look at Hughes, a rock ’n’ roller who lived through an event that would change him and his band forever. The film pays tribute to the victims in a beautiful way, and affirms that the terrorists in no way won anything as a result of the attack.

While the Eagles of Death Metal EODM will be associated with tragedy forever, the members confirm: They still believe in rock ’n’ roll.

Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis (Our Friends) premieres Monday, Feb. 13, on HBO.

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