Analogue Music | A Place Created: A Tribute to Dolores O'Riordan

A Place Created: A Tribute to Dolores O'Riordan

By Anna-Lynne Williams

The Cranberries were a major turning point for me.

I loved singing from a young age. It was Kate Bush and Madonna and The Eurythmics who first had me dancing around the house, singing in the pool. It was The Sound of Music and Annie soundtracks that I taught the kids in elementary school so that we could perform at recess. As I grew up, I became more serious, studying the piano (and the movie The Piano), withdrawing from my imaginings of being a pop star. U2 was the first band I became obsessed with, but their music didn't speak to me as something that I wanted to do myself, I was just a fan, crying if I didn’t get concert tickets, saving up for a record player just so that I could buy their vinyl bootlegs. 

The first concert that I ever went to was, in fact, a U2 concert that my big brother kindly took me to even though he had made it clear that I should be putting my fandom elsewhere. My second live music experience was the WOMAD Festival put on by Peter Gabriel, once again escorted by my brother, my little sister and I both in tow, set up on a blanket by the main stage to watch the likes of Crowded House, Sinead O'Connor, Peter Gabriel, Inner Circle, Stereo MCs, Ziggy Marley—a real introduction to an array of music. And yet the most significant musical discovery of the day happened for me at the concession stand. We were in line for tortellini and there was a song playing on the vendor’s radio. I immediately recognized that it must be The Cranberries, who I had just read about in Rolling Stone but had not heard yet—the description apt enough that when I heard “Linger” through a cheap radio, I knew exactly what it must be. 

As an aspiring writer and young girl, it was like I'd been waiting for a band just like this. There were plenty of solo female artists and girl bands with whom I had grown up singing along, but if I was going to make music, I wanted it to be something different. Dolores O'Riordan's voice was beautiful and serious; the band was meticulous and ethereal. It was so unlike pop music or girl bands as I had come to know them. I was suddenly fixated on the idea of learning the guitar and being in a band. Of course the first songs I taught myself were Cranberries songs.

Trying to make something beautiful when the world is trying to convince you otherwise is a distinct challenge.

I had a similar revelation a few years later when I heard the Cocteau Twins in my friend Sara's car, around the time that their band was breaking up, but it was The Cranberries that got to me first. It was Dolores that I wanted to be like. Their music laid the groundwork for the rest of my teenage years. Of course by the time I realized that I was serious about music and it might be a career path for me, I took conscious pains to eliminate the influences and affectations of Dolores, Fiona Apple and Sarah McLachlan from my singing, taking a step back from listening to their music and exploring other genres, the 4AD catalog, goth music. I didn't want to sound like someone else. But I am forever grateful to the seed that was planted the first time I heard “Linger” and the hours I spent singing along to the first two Cranberries albums, for hearing music that sounded like what I thought was beautiful and cool, that was fronted by a woman and was pensive and heartfelt. 

I have spent a lot of time thinking about Dolores O'Riordan since hearing of her passing, reading that she had been in pain and that it most likely had something to do with her death. I think of her still trying to create despite the obstacles, when your body is drowning out your head. A couple of years ago while I was on tour, I suffered a painful nerve injury that has affected my use of several muscles and that necessitated that I cut way back on touring for now, replacing band rehearsals with physical therapy and trying not to take any pain medication despite how hard it is sometimes. I'm still recording music and I finished my album with the injury, but it is a different sort of sacrifice now that goes into working and completing something. 

It is a different place, trying to make music in pain, and it's a place I’ve glimpsed enough to imagine a bit of what Dolores might have been going through. I thank her for her beautiful music, her unique voice, her courage in getting up on stage or going into the studio with the extra burdens she had. Trying to make something beautiful when the world is trying to convince you otherwise is a distinct challenge. She will always be the singer that lit that first spark, the feeling that there was a place for me in music. And I hope that I can, likewise, find inspiration from her when pushing through darkness to make something light.