Cranberries, Zombie: beyond the meaning of the lyrics

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This story is part of the book:
Mama Mia Let Me Go!
A journey through the most intriguing lyrics and stories in rock music

Buy it on Amazon

Northern Ireland was an ever-present in the chronicles of the last century, a period where violence raged in the streets and clashes between Protestants and Catholics saw civilians living in fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

On March 20th, 1993, Tim Parry and Jonathan Ball, three and twelve years old respectively, were killed by a bomb placed by IRA in Warrington, Northern England, and dozens of other people were injured in the explosion. The bloodbath and the involvement of two children shook the minds of British citizens, who once again had to count the innocent victims of a seemingly endless clash.

Dolores O’Riordan was among them.

Another head hangs lowly
Child is slowly taken
And the violence caused such silence
Who are we mistaking?

The voice of The Cranberries, at that time engaged in a tour in England, was shocked and the emotion of the moment inspired her to grab her guitar and write some verses, without thinking about how difficult such a topic could be. This was the birth of Zombie, one of the definitive 90s rock anthems and the best-known of the Irish group.

Other artists before her had addressed the Northern Ireland issue and its tragic events (among others John Lennon, Paul McCartney, U2, Simple Minds and The Police), focusing mainly on the infamous events of Bloody Sunday, which in 1973 represented the peak of the violence between the various factions involved in the conflict. Zombie became O’Riordan’s protest song against a situation that was already out of control. The shock forced her to go beyond the opposition between Protestants and Catholics, focusing on the death of two innocent children.

With their tanks and their bombs
And their bombs and their guns
In your head in your head they are crying

Released in September 1994 (a couple of weeks after the historic ceasefire) on No Need To Argue, Zombie raised the status of The Cranberries beyond any predictions, thanks also to the video, which was directed by Samuel Bayer (Nirvana, Blind Melon). The videoclip showed glimpses of life on the streets of Northern Ireland, mixing little boys, passers-by and soldiers with The Cranberries overlapping in the images. The moment when O’Riordan, covered with gold, appeared under a cross at the children’s side (to remember Tim and Jonathan) catapulted the video to fame, securing its place as one of the most iconic of all time.

This protest song is an aggressive and angry response to the passive acceptance of what was happening by part of the Irish population, which at some point had started to become accustomed to the indifference, just like the lifeless beings mentioned in the song title. The Northern Ireland conflict would begin the long and difficult path towards peace in 1998 and the two main promoters, John Hume and David Trimble, would win the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize that year. The band playing at the award ceremony? The Cranberries.

Dolores O’Riordan died on January 15th, 2018, but the oxygen from her most famous song hasn’t yet stopped fuelling the flames of modern music.

What’s in your head?
In your head
Zombie, zombie, zombie

This story is part of the book:
Mama Mia Let Me Go!
A journey through the most intriguing lyrics and stories in rock music

Buy it on Amazon

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