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Strength and Tenderness: Thinking About Dolores

By Entertainment

Illustration by Katie Wittenberg.

I once stopped reading a book because the main character expressed intense dislike for the song “Linger” by the Cranberries. I was 200 pages in, but the minute Dolores O’Riordan’s voice was called “girlish,” I quit. There was no voice quite like O’Riordan’s — an Irish lilt that embodied what it meant to feel tender and tough at the same time, an acrobatic declaration that could so easily transform into a yowl. You could call it “girlish,” but I much prefer what the New York Times said:In the band, her voice — high and breathy, but far more determined than fragile — rode atop a rich wash of electric guitars.” When I heard that O’Riordan, lead singer of the Cranberries died in London on January 15, I was devastated.

O’Riordan taught me that there is strength to be found in moments of tenderness and vulnerability, and that there is value in allowing oneself to feel things fully. Have you ever heard a song that’s so good it seems to explain why songs were invented in the first place? For me, that song is “Linger” by the Cranberries. Those opening chords melt my heart on the harshest of days. That song sounds like how it feels when someone shyly reaches for your hand on a first date.

O’Riordan joined the band when she was just eighteen and “Linger” was the very first song that the Cranberries wrote together. In 2017, she told the Guardian about her inspiration for the track stating: “It was inspired by a night I had at a club called Madonna’s. This guy asked me to dance and I thought he was lovely. Until then, I’d always thought that putting tongues in mouths was disgusting, but when he gave me my first proper kiss, I did indeed “have to let it linger.” I couldn’t wait to see him again. But at the next disco, he walked straight past me and asked my friend to dance. I was devastated.”

If anything, this only strengthens the versatility of the song, which I am still convinced captures the entirety of the human condition. Dumped at a disco? Let it linger. Solid Tinder date? Let it linger. Use this song as an alarm? Hit snooze, and let it linger. Karaoke night? Gather ‘round everybody ‘cause we’re about to let it linger.

Critics and fans alike quickly fell in love with the Cranberries. Their 1993 debut album “Everybody Else is Doing it so Why Can’t We” sold over 4 million copies, and “Linger” spent twenty weeks at number one on the billboard charts.

However, the Cranberries weren’t the sort of band to just float along thanks to a couple of pop hits. A sense of determination and observational strength was ever-present in their music; as a lyricist, O’Riordan was unafraid to tackle the nuances of global and personal conflicts.

In 1994, She wrote the anti-war song “Zombie” in response to an incident at a city center in Warrington, Ireland wherein a bomb was planted in a public trash bin. The bomb exploded, killing 12 people including a three-year-old child. O’Riordan wrote the song while alone in her apartment between tours. The track reached number one on the US rock chart. While critics were quick to position it as a response to the influx of grunge sounds in mainstream music at the time, “Zombie” remains an example of rock ‘n’ roll harnessing the rage at societal injustice rather than scene-based apathy.

The cranberries continued to tour throughout the late nineties, eventually going on hiatus in 2003 and resuming in  2009. In 2012, they released their sixth studio album, “Roses.” This past year, The Cranberries released “Something Else” an acoustic album of some of their greatest hits including “Linger,” they were set to tour the album with a full string orchestra for much of 2017 but the tour was subsequently cancelled due to O’Riordan’s ongoing back problems.

At the announcement of her death, heartfelt tributes from musicians, actors, and fans alike are pouring in from all over the world. The President of Ireland released a statement saying, “Dolores O’Riordan and The Cranberries had an immense influence on rock and pop music in Ireland and internationally. I recall with fondness the late Limerick TD Jim Kemmy’s introduction of her and The Cranberries to me, and the pride he and so many others took in their successes.”

O’Riordan’s bandmate, Cranberries guitarist Noel Hogan, told Rolling Stone, “Dolores’ legacy will be her music … She was so passionate about it. There are songs I hear today that we wrote over 20 years ago, and I see and hear people singing along with them. There are only a few artists who get to have maybe one song they are remembered by. Dolores has so many.”

The death of an artist is always a strange emotional territory to navigate, but I find myself at a loss more so than usual with O’Riordan’s death. The Cranberries were a source of unmitigated joy for me, a surefire way to feel like I was starring in an early ‘00s rom-com, and a reminder that it’s always possible to feel tenderness. My heart is broken, but better, for all those times when I allowed myself to stop feeling self-conscious and yell some Cranberries deep-cuts. Sure, this world is a trash fire, but have you heard the opening chords of “Linger”?

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