Dolores O’Riordan: an artist searching for her stable self

Dave Fanning’s interviews reveal a person who understood fame, depression and grief

Dolores O’Riordan with The Cranberries at the Troubadour,  Los Angeles on July 15th, 1993. Photograph:  Donna Santisi/Redferns

Dolores O’Riordan with The Cranberries at the Troubadour, Los Angeles on July 15th, 1993. Photograph: Donna Santisi/Redferns

 

How do pop music and its media handle sudden sorrows? When Dolores O’Riordan died unexpectedly last month, at the age of 46, it felt like the life of The Cranberries singer had been cut off mid song.

Dolores (RTÉ Two, Monday, 9pm) comes then as a retrospective constructed in shock, assembled hurriedly and with little time to process her loss. It is a compilation of television interviews conducted with the singer by Dave Fanning between 1993 and 1999, and it’s a shame it stops there.

That isn’t just because their last conversation is, understandably, their most substantial, where O’Riordan has more to look back on, but because she does so on her own terms; as an artist who understands fame, ceaseless touring, depression and grief, but who is neither jaded or guarded because if it.

Fanning’s tribute comes with his trademark verbosity, introducing this pop obituary with the upswing of a DJ’s patter, rather than the solemn weight of uncomfortable emotion.

Whether the two were close is hard to say, but in 1999 O’Riordan seems comfortable in his company, speaking candidly, animatedly, enjoying the encounter. Fanning, typically, sticks to music nerd territory: the producers, studios and tours, the breakdowns and comebacks.

O’Riordan responds, though, with human insights (originally, her band mates had to turn down their amps to hear her voice, “which is a big thing for them, when guys are 15 or 16”), with political understanding (the music industry and hawkish sensationalism of the press, “is very sexist towards women”, she says in 1995) and with rich, evocative images: recording Bury the Hatchet while seven months pregnant, she recalls, “was great craic … It was like a new band, I was like a different person, obviously.”

Indeed, in the course of a busy few years and through briskly shifting styles, O’Riordan can seem like several different people, her hair cropped and dark, jagged and pink, long and blonde, or comfortably tousled. That’s hardly remarkable in pop music, where change is constant.

But in the years after these interviews she spoke with ever more candour about surviving sexual abuse, coping with grief and struggling with mental health issues, and from this distance she resembles someone searching for a stable sense of self.

That’s probably an idea O’Riordan would happily send up: “That’s my psychologist there,” she jokes when a phone call interrupts the final interview. Fanning, who seems sceptical towards psychiatry but nonetheless alive to vulnerability, lets that serve as the last word of the interviews, sensing, perhaps, that O’Riordan reveals more in her music.

Though he nudges at questions of religion, tracing the delicate breath and powerful rasp of her voice to childhood church singing, and O’Riordan playfully invokes the idea (“I’ve become a bit holy now” she says, speaking of air travel worries), but a gorgeous live performance of Ave Maria with Pavarotti actually demonstrates it.

There, as Pavarotti stands in admiring silence, you can see O’Riordan in a state of pure, unadulterated delight, her eyes screwing up tightly or opening dreamily within the raptures of a song. 

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