It’s not often that I find one (or five) musician’s tribute to another this moving.
The iconic 90s song “Zombie” about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, by Irish band The Cranberries, is both dirge and protest song. Dolores O’Riordan seems about to revive the fine old tradition of keening for the Dead with her haunting vocals.
On January 15, 2018, O’Riordan was set to go into the studio and reprise those vocals for a cover of the song by the band Bad Wolves. Instead, she was found dead. Bad Wolves released their version without her, in her memory, giving all proceeds to her children. And they made this video.
While five men sing and play the famous song, dressed in black and in the only illuminated area in a sea of darkness, we see closeups of parts of a thin woman’s body as gold paint runs over it. As the passion and volume mount, we draw back to see her on her knees in a puddle of the paint, wearing a beaded Cleopatra wig, clearly echoing Dolores’ costume in the original video, and meant to stand in for her here. Then she’s on her feet, pacing slowly as a pop culture zombie, towards the band. But there is a pane of glass between them. She is literally on the other side, separated from the people who wanted her to sing again. She is silent, like the Dead she sang of. She and singer Tommy Vext put their hands on the pane of glass between them, as if trying to touch. One hand leaves a print in gold paint. As the song continues, the Dolores figure uses the paint she’s covered in to begin to cover the pane of glass, separating her still further from the band, as her spirit draws further and further away. She marks Dolores O’Riordan’s date of death in the paint, then wipes it out again. And finally, with the band blocked from her view, she turns away, to begin her long journey into the dark.
The Troubles are not over, but on pause, and that pause may end before very long, as extremist politicians in England and Northern Ireland seek to end the Good Friday Agreement. But while the bombs are quiet now in Belfast, elsewhere they still ring out loud, as we find more and more ways to kill. Clearly, Dolores O’Riordan agreed with the applicability of her song beyond its initial inspiration. The song grieves deaths by violence in many places and times.
But the video grieves for Dolores O’Riordan. And it’s a kind of grieving I wish more people were able to express clearly.
The Cranberries “Zombie” video: