Illustration: Shyam G Menon

If you are middle aged and grew up liking rock music, then you would be a worried person.

Not only have quite a few talented artistes departed in the last couple of years but it is also a fact that replenishment of talent of that caliber has been slow, if at all there is. You could argue technical aspects can be taught and replicated. What is irreplaceable is heart. That plays a big role in creativity for if creativity was all about technical excellence and little else then it would be as dry as owning the latest gadget and claiming to be cool just by that. Firmly lodged in the grasp of business models, fewer artistes are convincingly sensitive these days. We are left with songs that are like the aural version of packaged goodies with nothing for depth or hook to chew on. To compensate for the coldness in contemporary music, we then have well-orchestrated posts and photos on social media to make artistes seem sensitive. In contrast, many of the departed living in era without exploded media, responded to their times. They noticed a non-digital entity called people, held concerts, sang about prevailing social conditions; they touched a chord. When an artiste notices the times and responds to it, you are left with something to reflect on. And sometimes, although the response may be to artiste’s specific environment, the song bears a metaphorical value that exceeds immediate audience. Lyrics and tunes, they linger.

The recent demise of Irish singer Dolores O’Riordan was a loss at several levels. At 46, she was too young to die. She was the singer behind a clutch of memorable numbers, the best known of the lot being Zombie. That song performed by Dolores and her band, The Cranberries, was a protest song based on the 1993 Warrington bombings carried out by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). However, the way the song worked on me, was different. I live in crowded, competitive environment capable of injecting the battles of the outside into the mind. What hit home were those three words in the lyrics: in your head. Led on, I found the name for my predicament: Zombie. To me, that song is an anthem for life hijacked; when it isn’t your voice that you hear within but the war cries of an aggressive, competitive world outside, colonizing the inner self. In your head they are fighting, in your head they are dying – that’s a MRI scan of brain besieged. Richly metaphorical and sung as effectively as Dolores did, her voice angry and cracking at the utterance of zombie, those simple lines easily cross borders and immediate context. Contemporary Indian music gave me no such balm for the soul. It neither casts deep for inspiration nor does it articulate our state. From a thousand miles away, in an oblique, metaphorical manner, Dolores and her song about an altogether different subject provided words and voice for what I felt.

The beauty of middle age is that it liberates you to embrace what you really like with no need to pretend for belonging to this group or that. The vault of accumulated music in your head receives a churn and you are pleasantly surprised seeing what endured life’s passing phases. From Zombie to Linger and more, Dolores was among those who endured in my head.

Rest in peace.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

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