Tuesday 16 January 2018

Ode to Dolores

Dolores is dead.

Somewhere in the dusty corners of the Slacker’s home is an audio cassette of The Cranberriesdebut album, Everybody Else is doing it, So why can’t we? Also present there is the audio cassette of their sophomore album No Need to Argue and their fourth, Bury the Hatchet. In a much less dusty part of the house – in fact at my elbow as I type, is a CD of Stars – The Best of 1992-2002, to which I listened last week.

In terms of album possession then, this puts The Cranberries just behind Pink Floyd in my collection, though one might struggle to find any other commonality between the psychedelic and later, concept-rock of the 1970’s that Floyd embodies and the alternative-folk sound of Dolores O’Riordan and her merry men.

But there is a topicality to music, regardless of genre, and in the songs of The Cranberries there is a sadness and a sense of longing that made them relatable precisely in the manner of Floyd. In the strange days that were the nineties, The Cranberries represented a way for a Mumbai schoolboy to make sense of violence and ache, to deal with love and loss, an escape from social awkwardness.

Dreams was where I could forget reality for its four-minute-odd duration, as she sang
Oh my dreams, it’s never quite as it seems,
Never quite as it seems’.

Ode to my Family helped me make sense of the daily oppression of urban life as she sang, 
Unhappiness, where’s when I was young and didn’t give a damn’.

Zombie was an outlet for the rage within me, a way to make sense of the violence as she screamed,
‘In your head, in your head,
they are fighting,
with their bombs and their guns,
In your head, in your head,
 they are crying’.

Salvation scared me, despite the plaintive cry of
‘Salvation, Salvation, Salvation is free’.

Animal Instinct, felt like a ray of much-needed hope, a plea to,
So take my hands and we will pray
They won't take you away
They will never make me cry, no
They will never make me die

I can’t be with you embodied a sense of inevitable losses to come,

And now it's just farewell
Put your hands in my hand
We'll find another end

and Linger…ah, Linger…perhaps the song I related to only much later, when it became an accusation directed, quite rightly, at me.

You know I'm such a fool for you
You've got me wrapped around your finger
Do you have to let it linger?
Do you have to, do you have to, do you have to let it linger?

Running through all these songs, and more, was Dolores’ voice, an ethereal chant, an expression of womanhood, vulnerable and strong, coming from the beauty of the Irish country and the strife of its history; it was the tragedy of the occupation and the famine, the smile of Irish eyes and the merriment of their art, it was unique – it was enough.

Dolores O’Riordan was not a frontwoman in the mould of the ice-cool beauty of Debbie Harry or the quintessential rocker chic of Joan Jett, she did not own the stage with the raw sexual charisma of Shirley Manson or the idiosyncratic glamour of Stevie Nicks. She drew, perhaps, most from the free spirit of Janis Joplin, and like her, has left us too soon.

The 21st century has not been kind to music-lovers, I often think, and music-lovers have not been kind to music. The commercialisation of the industry and the predominance of auto-tune has made it difficult for a raw act like The Cranberries to achieve the sort of mainstream success that they were able to in the early nineties. The album and the music video itself is on something of a decline as streaming takes over from digital purchases just as digital purchases took over from those poor CD’s and cassettes that I still hold on to. We have given far too little love to the artistes we do love either – the children of the 80’s and 90’s like me grew up to get involved in other things, to get degrees and jobs, to start families and businesses, and if we listened to music at all, it was more likely to re-hash those old records than to buy new ones, even when they were brought out by those we had loved so much. It did not help that the very mass media – Radio and Television – which had first introduced us to these musicians gleefully abdicated their responsibility in pursuit of reality shows and competing with General Entertainment Channels.

And so Wake up and Smell the Coffee (2001) went largely unnoticed, as did Roses (2009) and so did Dolores’ solo albums, Are You Listening (2007) and No Baggage (2009). But then that was what happened to the albums released by such icons as Prince, David Bowie, Motorhead, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Glen Campbell, the Allman Brothers and Chuck Berry (and that’s just naming a few of those who passed away in 2016-17).

And now it is Dolores who is dead, and as we did for those before her, we will have an awakening, remember who she was, and the band she fronted, and wonder where they were for the last twenty years, shed a silent tear, write a glowing tribute, pirate their albums and play them for a day or two. If we are a little more principled, we might buy or stream their work. And as it was for Bowie and Prince and Petty, it will be a tad too late, for there will be no new music to listen to.

So cherish what you love, put your money where your mouth is, and do not let all that remains of your love for music a vague memory of a cassette in a Walkman, of songs heard sitting alone in your bedroom as an angst-ridden teen. Your idols grew older, they made music they loved and put into words and voiced the concerns and travails of a different time and place from that you first loved, perhaps, and the charts may not reflect their names any more, but the art never went away.

Let us mourn Dolores, for indeed a part of our memories – mine, surely – go with her, to remain only in the power of her voice, but let us also remember to appreciate and love those we have, and most of all, to express the love, in words, and through our wallets.

That dusty corner of a home where your voice is encoded on magnetic tape and plastic, a technology long since obsolete, may one day be cleaned, and the cassette-tape thrown away, but in a dusty corner of a crusty, cynical man’s heart, Dolores, your memory will always linger. 

He will always be a fool for you.