I remember the first time I heard The Cranberries. I was 14, young, and angsty. My family, while not separated, seemed to be steadily drifting apart. My brother had earned himself a well-deserved scholarship to study overseas. But my parents were essentially estranged. I felt like I was the one link tying the family together. And I was angry at my brother for what I felt was his abandonment and escapism. It’s the sort of background story that would suit a Virginia Woolf or Sylvia Plath novel. You might say I was an ’emo kid’, but it was more like verging on depression.

I was at the now-defunct HMV in Singapore when The Cranberries came on. It wasn’t ‘Dreams‘ or ‘Linger‘ or ‘Ode to My Family‘, however. It was ‘How‘, which remains embedded in my mind. I remember sitting in the corner and reading when it aired and running to a shop assistant immediately after it ended to ask who performed that last song. I stood at the listening spot hearing half the album and debating if I ought to give up half my weeks’ pocket money for one CD that I could only play in school. (I didn’t have a CD Walkman until much later.)

When I woke up this morning to news that Ms O’Riordan had passed away in London while in the city for a recording session, I remembered that day when I first encountered her voice and hopeful sorrow. Even as she struggled to combat her personal demons, she held out dreams of a better tomorrow, a brighter future. It was the story of the human condition, perfectly described by Ivan Morris: “The world and the human condition are not essentially benign.” But that can change.

Not just an ’emo’ moment
It wasn’t just her incredibly wistful and heart-tearing vocals which made Ms O’Riordan and The Cranberries such a significant band for my generation. Whatever moniker you want to call us by – Xennials, Millennials, late Gen-Xers – the band’s lyrics often spoke deep truths and values about what was happening all around us. The ’90s were a period of severe conflict across the world and in Ireland, the Troubles were still ongoing. The song ‘Zombie‘ made a specific reference to 1916 and the Easter Rising. But their words: “Another mother’s breaking/ Heart is taking over/ When the violence causes silence/ We must be mistaken” resonated across the world’s conflicts.

Salvation‘, a lamentation to the drug crisis that overtook Ireland during the ’90s, was the musical equivalent of Trainspotting. It’s even sadder that today, 20 years after The Cranberries released that song, it still remains relevant. It spoke to us ’80s kids, a generation that has been in constant flux and change since our early days. From how we learnt to how we work, we’ve gone through heaps of rapid-fire ground-breaking moments.

Every one of those moments demanded change, promises and vows. Many of those were forgotten, broken or left people behind in the rash of rapid evolution. The Cranberries were more than just another popular band. They spoke truth in the only way they knew how – through music on a stage. At a time when we didn’t have the tools we do now to hold people accountable, when institutions evolved only when they wanted, The Cranberries reminded us that artists and artistes were a moral imperative. Sadly, the words of ‘Promises‘ still remain valid.

Even today, I still listen to The Cranberries. The albums may have been lost during various transitions in my life, but they still reside on my first iPod, my phone, my Spotify account. I hear their words when I’m delighted, when I’m in mourning, when I’m infuriated. Ms O’Riordan’s hopeful sorrow (or sorrowful hope, whichever you prefer) will remain a permanent part of my generation. Hope can prevail. Change can occur. But only when we remember what we had to give up to make it happen.

 

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