In the work of Dolores O’Riordan – The Cranberries lead singer who died earlier this week – we see the realisation of creativity towards social change. The band had many popular songs, but none more so than their 1994 hit ‘Zombie’. The song was written in response to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombings in Warrington, England, which killed two children. Shortly before the song was released, the IRA announced a ceasefire after a 25 year campaign.
In the song, mention is made to “their bombs, and their bombs, and their guns”. Indeed, the song itself is a powerful one, full of creative force, having to stand equal to – in creativity – the force and power of the violence taking place in relations between the Irish and the British.
The song takes no real side but, rather, points to the inner condition of those taking part in the violence. A zombie, by definition, is “a will-less and speechless human” that is “held to have died and been supernaturally reanimated” – a “supernatural power that…may enter into and reanimate a dead body” (Mirriam-Webster).
In the song it is the violence that “causes silence”, and one can have the feeling that silence also causes violence. Here also is the speechless human, as well as the will-less human – one who, in any field of life, does not make use of their capacity to create change but, instead, speaks / wills the impulses of another (or else does nothing). There is a kind of inner death that takes place here – the individuality is subjugated to another power. In the context of this song it would be commanding officers of either army but, in reality, we can find this happening anywhere in daily life. The picture of the “supernatural power” that “may enter into and reanimate the dead body” points not only to the authority we can give to other humans over our own individuality, but also to that which lives in the realm of ideas. Even in the case of the military line of command, the idea must have originated somewhere – and it exists there also that the will-less and speechless, dead human is reanimated by a supernatural power. In this case it is a call to physical violence though, in daily life, this call can be to any number of activities, based as it usually is on fear, hatred and criticism / doubt / judgement.
The song that O’Riordan and The Cranberries created was the antithesis to this process. In the act of writing the song, the band brought this inner process into the light of day, and in doing so overcame it by realising its opposite. They each took hold of their individual willpower and expanded it to the size of their band, at least, if not also to the victims of the bombing and beyond, and spoke their own speech. They too worked with a kind of “supernatural power” – that of the song itself – and put themselves willingly, wide-awake and alive, in service of it. They acted on it, and the song Zombie was born, which illustrated the inner aspect of the very violence they were countering by overcoming it as part of their own creative process. They became not dead and reanimated by something other than themselves but, rather, ‘more alive’ through being filled with that which the substance of their Selves was made of. This process is then invited in others through listening to the song.
They could also have reacted with violence, crafting a song of hatred, of fear, of judgement, but they instead used their creative capacities to shine a light on the futility of this path, and thereby broke the zombie spell, and made something new. It seems no coincidence that the ceasefire was called around the same time as the creation of this song.
Creativity is the antidote to violence. It is the real ceasefire. More, it is the peace process itself. It shows the necessity of personal reflection and individual transformation when it comes to how we interact and relate with others. Every encounter can be violent in one form – be it in our thinking (judgements, criticism), our feeling (anger or hatred), or our willing (fear, inaction, silence, or else actual physical violence). The question is whether or not we are aware of our own will-lessness, our own speechlessness – whether we are aware or not of having given our will over to another human or to an idea which we have not fully penetrated with our own thinking, our own feeling, our own will – and become, consequently, nothing but a dead body, “speechless” and possibly also “reanimated”.
Shining a light on this process in ourselves, however, can lead us to the same creativity expressed in this song, and can do so in every aspect of life. We can open our thinking to the truth of any situation, our feeling to the beauty of the world, and our will to the goodness therein. We can, instead of sleeping or dying while alive, animate ourselves with our own creativity in wide-awake and self-willed self-spoken service of other human beings or of ideas which we have made into ideals through our own penetration of them, and thereby expand ourselves as far as our will-filled thinking might take us.
One path extinguishes the self in silence and inaction, another in reactionary “reanimated” violence. Both of these paths leave the human being unfree. Only the path of creativity expands the individual self in free service of something beyond ourselves.
And where does this choice – this battle – of paths take place?: “In your head, in your head, they are fightin’”.
This is what The Cranberries achieved with this song.
It made it to number one in Australia, Belgium, France, Demark and Germany – all countries which have seen their fair share of violence “since 1916” – and made it to number two in Austria, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Europe as a whole.
O’Riordan had only just turned 23 when the song was released.
Click the image below to view the film clip on YouTube. It has so far received around 670 million views.