In the nineties, Cranberries for the youth in South India wasn’t a fruit, it was a band. Unlike gooseberries, loads of which we consumed in our pickles, Cranberries was (and still is) pure music. Manna for the soul. The unadulterated airy yet ferocious rasp of Dolores’ voice filled every local rock festival or college festival, with many a hopeful band covering her, and the audience never failing to join in. It also followed that decade’s movement favouring women-of-rock and female leads with “unconventional” voices. It was the time for Dreams and Zombies!
It was the summer of ’92, a time when we used nostalgic devices like cassettes and tape recorders, and I made my first attempt at creating a mixtape and ended up adding this song:
“Oh my life is changing every day
In every possible way
And oh my dreams
It's never quite as it seems
Never quite as it seems....”
And with this anthem on repeat in my mind, I witnessed a generation’s love affair with the sound of the Cranberries, led by the haunting Irish voice and words of Dolores O’Riordan.
She was testimony to the possibility of combining pure testosterone and grace in one unified tenacious strain. Many attempted. Many failed.
Named after the Lady of the Seven Dolors by her mother, Dolores Mary Eileen O'Riordan was born on the 6 September 1971 and grew up in Ballybricken, a town in Limerick, Ireland. Her father, Terence O’Riordan, was a farmer who unfortunately met with a bike accident in 1968, putting the onus of the family’s responsibilities on the mother, Eileen, a local school caterer. O’Riordan was especially close to her father. Devastated after his death in November 2011, she remembered him fondly in an interview in the Independent (Ireland), 2011, saying “My father was a beautiful, kind, funny man. He was a great patient during his long, weary battle. He never complained. He was bed-ridden for the last few months... he held on to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this year on the 14th of November".
Dolores was the youngest of nine siblings, seven of whom survived. Raised as a Roman Catholic by her Devout Mother, Dolores O'Riordan considered Pope John Paul II, whom she met in Limerick, as one of her inspiration.
While Dolores began writing songs at the age of 12, it wasn’t until she met the Hogan brothers, Mike and Noel, during an audition for their band, that the Cranberries was conceived. She turned up for the audition with an earlier demo version of the song “Linger,” which simply blew the rest of the band away. Her heavily accented voice and her songwriting had an instant impact on them and they were quite surprised by the fact that she was not already in a band. Fergal Lawler, the band’s drummer, completed the quartet.
The early years of the band were spent touring Ireland and the United Kingdom before being signed on to Island Records. They soon caught the attention of British recording executives, flocking to Limerick for a glimpse of four young teenagers creating waves in the London music scene. The band's raw talent and innocent wide-eyed charm was covered by British music weeklies, showering accolades months before their first album was even recorded.
"Linger” became their first hit single. They would go on to be the most celebrated rock band from Ireland since U2. Dolores, with her iconic pixie haircut, created an identity that was unique and fresh and represented everything Ireland and its musicians. Talented, shy, and resilient, on stage she was an uncontrollable force. A ball of undefinable energy combined with an undeniable voice, she definitely was “Something Else” (an apt name for their 2017 album).
Initially released in 1992, both “Linger” and “Dreams” were re-issued as releases in the United Kingdom in February and May 1994, which shot to the top of the charts across the world. They released their debut album “Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?” in 1993. “Ode to my Family” and “Linger” showcased their strong melodies and Dolores’s melancholic lyrics transported listeners to Limerick, emphasising their struggles in Ireland and also the perseverance that led them to the top.
“Zombie,” written by Dolores in her flat, was released with the 1994 album “No need to Argue” and was No. 1 on the US Rock Charts. The song was an interpretation of her opinion on violence that had engulfed Northern Ireland, an anti-war song echoing the sentiments of the people — an anthem for the youth and for the movement. And 23 years after its release it still inspires us. Still moves us.
Dolores opened up about her mental health condition in 2017 and her bipolar diagnosis; however, that did nothing dampen her spirit to continue making music and performing on stage.
Back in India, the nineties was a funny period with everyone trying to find a voice or become one. And Dolores’ simplicity connected her to millions of followers in the subcontinent. With no false pretences, the alternative rock that Cranberries brought us was what most of us were seeking.
Dolores used to sing with her back to the audience. They said she was too shy. This, I guess, resonated with an entire generation of Indians. Unassuming talents, thinking they had mettle but the system forcing them to turn their backs while they passionately consumed what they loved. Fans who probably could not have afforded a can of cranberry juice would willingly shell out money for the next album of The Cranberries. Consuming it with gusto while downing a shared quart of Old Monk or coffee and flicking a worn-out, wet cigarette.
Dolores, the girl from Limerick, made it hard for us to separate the song from the person that she was. And with the Irish genius leaving us at 46, I think once more about that mixtape — life is changing every day, in every possible way; but amidst the change, her powerhouse vocals will remain a constant and will more than just linger on. She supposedly succumbed to back pain oriented issues. Ironic. Or prophetic perhaps because that was what most of her audience saw.