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Cranberries Singer Dolores O’Riordan Dies At Age 46

It is a serendipitous fact that O’Riordan is named Dolores, which means pain, because she put art into making suffering humane.


Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries has died at the age of 46, suddenly and as yet unexplained.

She was a counter-cultural voice in 1990s rock, trying to channel sentimentality to a defense of humanity. “Salvation” was her song against drugs, “The Icicle Melts” the one against abortion, and “Ode to My family” and “Animal Instinct” were her family songs. Of course there’s also “Dreams,” unmatched in that decade for simple confidence in love.

She wore her hair short, as rebellious young women did then. She wore boots (Doc Martens), as rebellious kids did. She sometimes called herself the rebel of the rebel scene, because she seems to have been intensely Catholic. Her songs were often simple pop, but her voice is remembered for its ability to convey anguish and longing. She sung about defeat, but not regret. She attempted to convey innocence instead of honesty or authenticity or self-expression in pop music.

Linger” was her song about love faltering, betrayed, unable to face an ugly truth. She impersonates a wounded lover who addresses someone she can no longer trust, but cannot bring herself to abandon. The address is in the second person, thus speaking both to a treacherous, indifferent lover and the song’s audience. Is not this her attempt to speak, perhaps, for other women in the same situation?

The Troubles in Ireland, and Our Own

The song that made her fame was “Zombie,” a hit that made it more obvious than any other that decade how vapid audiences of popular music were becoming, how unaware of the moral and political urgency songwriters sometimes intended. Perhaps popular music’s capacity to function as the self-understanding of the middle classes simply failed because audiences couldn’t be bothered with politics.

It is a song about the troubles in Ireland, written four years before the Good Friday Accords that brought a peace to the civil strife and ended the century of violence started by the Easter Rising of 1916, which the song mentions. The message of the song is that violence lives on because people cannot forget the atrocities of the past and therefore cannot reconcile themselves to their suffering. This living in the past rejects nature, as children die and mothers are brought to grief. (W.B. Yeats’s poem about the event guides the intentions of the song.)

This was the ‘90s answer to the ‘80s Irish song of anguish, U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” In this song, however, the second person address O’Riordan used for such effect in other cases fails. There is no relationship between the song’s popularity and any awareness of the Irish’s suffering. This may be a case where taking the song beyond Ireland made it ineffective. Perhaps good intentions don’t always work.

Dolores O’Riordan and W.B. Yeats

O’Riordan seems to have loved Yeats, and quoted at length from one of his poems in her song about his grave. We should end with this poem, “No Second Troy.” It describes well the intransigence of the music, and I do not mean that as criticism.

O’Riordan did not sing happy songs most of the time, and her sadness could not leave us indifferent. Our vulnerability to her suffering was part of our own innocence. It is a serendipitous fact that her name is Dolores, which means pain, because she put art into making suffering humane.

Why should I blame her that she filled my days
with misery, or that she would of late
have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
or hurled the little streets upon the great,
had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
that nobleness made simple as a fire,
with beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
that is not natural in an age like this,
being high & solitary & most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?