Deleted Scenes: Burning Down The House

At press time, reports are still coming in about the fire in the Kiss club in Santa Maria, Brazil. The death toll is over 230 people, mostly students aged 16-20. According to the press down that way, one of the universities was having a freshman ball, and then someone did something incredibly stupid and the place burned down.

First of all, 230 is an unfathomable number when it comes to lost lives. Go ahead and try to picture 230 people and then try to picture them all dying at once. Even if you’ve seen something like that happen in your life—if you were there—your experience of it is going to be limited to the 15 or 20 around you, so really, it’s beyond human capacity to understand. It reads like a statistic and we treat it as one, coldly comparing it to The Station in Rhode Island, where a decade ago, 100 people were killed in a club fire at a Great White show.

People—kids, really—died in the bathroom trying to find the exit in the smoke-filled Kiss club. They were trampled as they tried to escape, or they died of asphyxiation, or both. Or they burned. Really at that point what matters is they’re dead, and why.

About that: There’s one lesson to be taken away from this and the several other incidents like it that have happened over the course of the last 10 years in places like Thailand, Russia and Argentina as well as the aforementioned Rhode Island. It’s don’t bring fireworks to a nightclub.

Seems like some pretty entry-level stuff, doesn’t it? Like maybe the kind of lesson 230 people shouldn’t need to die to teach somebody? Well apparently it’s harder to sink in than one might think, because this certainly isn’t the first time it’s happened and it probably won’t be the last. Don’t bring fireworks to a nightclub. On the list of things you should already know, it’s up there with don’t play in traffic and no grenade toss at field day.

And yet there’s always some asshole. That’s the human condition, isn’t it? The “it won’t happen to me” impulse? And yeah, maybe 555 out of the 556 times you do the pyrotechnics, it goes off without a hitch, but isn’t it worth that one other time not burning people alive to go buy some dry ice and laser lights instead? Maybe a projector screen? That’s more interesting to look at anyway. It’s not like you’re performing a set for cavemen who are going to be wowed by fire. They’ve probably seen it before, and they’d probably prefer to live to see something after.

But so it goes. You can’t stop stupid. Not now, not ever. Stupid will be with us for as long as we’re a species, and as pointless as a tragedy like the sudden loss of this much life and so many shattered families is, it’s just a reminder of that fact. Stupid is right there, wherever we go. Don’t bring fireworks to a nightclub.

As someone who regularly attends shows in small venues and has periodically smelled the burning fuses of an amplifier, seen smoke and wondered if something might happen to catch, my heart goes out to the unimaginable grief the entire nation of Brazil must be feeling. It’s a terrible thing and a result far out of balance for what seems like such a basic act of stupidity, much less potentially harmful than any number committed on a given day. It was just the wrong act in the wrong place on the wrong day.

Stay safe and know your exits.

JJ Koczan