Even by rock star standards, Jesse Hughes has always been something of an anomaly. As a former Republican Party speechwriter and ordained pastor – albeit one in the non-denominational Universal Life Church who, for $50 let just about anyone be confirmed as a minister – his curriculum vitae has always suggested a far from conventional underdog.
The way he tells it, he was the geek being bullied by the big guys at the pool party until a beefy young gentleman named Joshua Homme stepped in and offered – literally – a hand of friendship, that would in time lead him into the inner circle of Queens Of The Stone Age and then fronting his own band Eagles Of Death Metal.
Hughes is also someone who has never shied away from espousing conservative political beliefs nor reflecting on the Christian faith that has so clearly shaped his worldview. But he is also funny, playful, charming and articulate, and in possession of a rapid fire wit and an energy that is perhaps a residual effect of past dalliances with Class A drugs. When heard in the context of his music – an ersatz, knowing raised eyebrow melding of groinal rock, disco and funk (general vibe: “Let’s get sexy”), Hughes’ opinions were always fairly laughable. In fact, in a world of beer-swilling, ‘anything goes’ apolitical bro’s, Hughes’ imaginative logic has always been an interviewer’s dream subject. That he looks like an extra from Breaking Bad doesn’t harm things either. In short, he is as American as cheap melted cheese on everything; the acceptable face of a side of the country that the rest of the world is only exposed to by Fox News and crank talk-show hosts.
Clearly there was no correlation between Hughes’ beliefs and the shootings in The Bataclan Club in Paris that killed eighty-nine people during an Eagles Of Death Metal gig, on a night that saw a wider series of orchestrated attacks by Islamic State terrorists. Band, crew, fans and venue staff were attacked simply because they were there. Caught in the crosshairs of a flawed ideology shared by an indoctrinated minority, it was a case of wrong place, wrong time.
In the aftermath of The Bataclan, a great deal of goodwill was directed towards band and their leader; France offered nationwide solidarity to the musicians. The music world had taken a hit and when the Eagles Of Death Metal frontman was comforted by band member Josh Homme (not present in Paris) in his first interview following the attacks, the trauma was plain to see. The tears real. Few could imagine what he was feeling.
In the intervening six months, Hughes has very publicly tried to make sense of the senseless in a series of interviews, each of which seems to have dug deeper into absurd theories about the venue staff somehow being complicit in the attack. He has also suggested the world needs more guns, not less. Such ideas, shared at time when President Obama has being taking tentative steps towards greater gun control in the US and worldwide Islamophobia is on the increase, have lead to Eagles Of Death Metal being dropped from festival bills in the France. The goodwill towards them is slowly withdrawing like a receding tide. Hughes’ views – and conversely the banning of his band – all plays into the hands of the terrorists, whose main aim is disorder, disruption and division in the West, by any means.
A recent interview that the Eagles Of Death Metal frontman did with website Taki’s Magazine was perhaps the most difficult to read yet. In it he is goaded by journalist Gavin McInnes via several statements into saying things which are unequivocally anti-Arabic and anti-Islamic. When McInnes states that “You never see bad guys in movies who are Arab terrorists. It’s always Germans or French…” he’s just plain wrong, but Hughes takes the bait and embarks upon another clumsy conspiracy. By reacting this way he is in danger of appeasing the crackpots and appearing as detached from reality as the fundamentalists he quite rightly despises.
Yet it’s hard to be too critical of Hughes either. Like a soldier back from a warzone he has suffered a trauma that most of us could never relate too. Do other survivors of the Bataclan attacks – or other comparable incidents – share the same views? Clearly not. Everyone reacts differently to such situations, but one common response to something of this magnitude is to replay it again and again and again. Rumination can be destructive but it can also be a way of coping. Hughes’ response is a human one: outrage and anger. It’s not winning him any fans in Europe, yet banning his band just feel pointlessly censorious too.
It just so happens that in the aftermath, his conservative core beliefs have been sent haywire, and off into the realm of the absurd. Such emotional complexities can only ever be handled with tact, compassion, tolerance and education.