If you were alive in the 1990s, your childhood was in tribute to Dolores O’Riordan—even if you didn’t know it at the time. That was the decade that Cranberries were inescapable: from Elton’s commitment to rescuing his CD from the quad in Clueless to the band’s appearance on the second season of Charmed, the band spent the decade hovering between the underground and the mainstream. O’Riordan’s voice was what it sounded like to find solace and understanding in your own alienation.
2018 is a particularly hard time to be young. We are at the beginning of our lives while American society increasingly presents itself as a civilization on its last legs. In many ways—to me and, I’m sure, to many others—O’Riordan’s untimely death in London yesterday seems like a harbinger of cultural crisis: dead at age 46, her voice silenced while the generation it spoke for is still trying to find its way. Criticize me if you like for this grandiose metaphor—but, after all, ascribing outsize importance to the dreamers and doers whose art has shaped us is the American way of life. And the Cranberries, with their moony-eyed lyrics and O’Riordan’s yelping, lonely vocals, were primed for this sort of transference.
What have we lost as a result of O’Riordan’s passing? The remaining Cranberries lost a collaborator and dear friend; for the rest of us, it is harder to say. We lost an idol, and we lost the opportunity to hear more of her music. But her death does not represent the end of the world as we know it, nor even of our childhood. If anything, it is proof that rock-and-roll immortality is not the same as true-blue perseverance, and—on the flip side—that our ideas don’t follow us to the grave.
Because of her work with the Cranberries, O’Riordan—her longing, her alienation, her wistful romanticism—all these things are now part of an entire generation of people. We are the heirs of the things we love, and they guide us as we reshape the world in our image. As a child of the Cranberries generation, I am sorry that O’Riordan will never get to see what that looks like—but I am excited that the rest of us will.