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Flashback Friday: The Global Impact of AltRock Anthem “Zombie”

[ 64 ] June 30, 2017 |

In 1994, Irish alternative rock band released their anti-war song “Zombie” as the first single off their new album No Need to Argue. Their video featured lead singer Dolores O’Riordan covered in gold paint in front of a cross mixed with black and white footage of children and soldiers in Northern Ireland. The song reached number one on a number of European countries as well as on the US alternative Billboard.

I heard it a number of times throughout the nineties and early 2000’s without any idea of the exact conflict The Cranberries were singing about, but the lyrics still cut deep. “But you see, its not me/ Its not my family…”, the justification for turning a blind eye to the suffering of others is universal. So it makes sense that the song lives on not just through TV singing contests in the Netherlands, Ukraine, Belgium (among many others), but in Pakistan, Gaza, and the Balkans.

Bakht Arif (Pakistan)

Pakistani singer Bakht Arif translated the lyrics into Urdu and recorded this video in 2013. In an interview with an English language South Asian website, she says she felt compelled to write the song because she felt “unhappy” with the state of affairs in the region.

 

Since early childhood, Zombie by the Cranberries has been very close to my heart, and it always speaks to me and has been always relevant.The message is louder and the translation intentionally tries to break the language barrier and makes the song accessible and easily understood to those from the subcontinent.

Either the interviewer or Arif decided the stay vague on exactly what she was protesting against, but of course there is no shortage of possibilities. Which is perhaps why the song touched a nerve, new meaning could be found in a number of different scenarios.

Bondan Prakoso and Kikan (Indonesia for Gaza)

During the 2014 assault on Gaza, Indonesian singer song writers Bondan Prakoso and Kikan recorded a special video in protest of the massive civilian casualties. Footage of their live performance, while they sport “Gaza” written on their hands”, is intercut with news footage of the war (no credit is given to which news agency or what date its from, but it could be authentic). Their own message against the violence also flashes on the screen with an urge to “fight the zombies”. The zombies, in their view, seem to be the perpetrators of the violence. Which is interesting because I always felt the zombies were the ones mindlessly watching and going along with the herd, but maybe the flood of ultra violent zombie movies and TV shifted that idea. A study for another time, I suppose!

Any further exploration of what these artists wanted to accomplish with their song is not available in English. But if you have more on them and their activism, let me know.

The Balkans

These covers are much less overtly political, but when you consider who is singing them you have to wonder what it means to them. The first is from Vedran Djurosovic, a singer from Montenegro now living in Sweden. He plays his guitar in a Malmo train station while people pass him by.

Another singer from Radovis, Macedonia recorded a slightly different video. Perhaps being a female artist, there’s more pressure to emphasize attractiveness over the song so the video feels a little narcissistic in contrast to the lyrics.

I’ve been unable to find any statements from either of them in English describing how they feel about the song, but it seems a fair question to ask as Zombie hit the European airwaves around a tense period of fighting and, like Bakht Arif, these artists may have been very young and carried it through their childhood.

 

As always, if you’ve got a favorite cover let me know in the comments! I am partial to a version I heard on one of my guilty pleasure TV shows, iZombie, which is about actual zombies. Its cute. Probably an inappropriate description but we all have our weaknesses.

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  • NationalGalleryofClipArt

    Oddly, the Tibetan performers of this song were unavailable to comment.

  • John F

    “Which is interesting because I always felt the zombies were the ones mindlessly watching and going along with the herd”

    I never heard that song that way- to me the zombies were those for whom it was always 1916 (The Easter uprising) and could not let go of the past- and so they continued fighting long past when the original cause was long gone…

    but what do I know

    • Mrs Tilton

      I think it would be non-controversial to say that the Northern Ireland “Troubles” were the specific conflict O’Riordan had in mind, but that she also meant the song to be of more universal application.

      • cpinva

        that’s what i always thought as well. being only second-generation, of Catholic Irish stock, i grew up knowing of the “Troubles”, going back long before 1916. at some point, i even considered going to Ireland, and joining the IRA. i ended up thinking better of it.

      • FOARP

        The song was written was written as a response to the Warrington bombings, when IRA men planted a bomb in a high street and killed two children, and made a failed attempt to blow up a gasometer (essentially a very large gas storage tank) in an explosion that would have killed hundreds. Indeed it has universal meaning now.

    • Multiple interpretations are possible and totally legit!

    • I heard it the same way as John. “In your head, they are fighting” could either be a statement that the “zombies” are victims, or a statement that they’re culpable (if people have a responsibility to figure out what’s only “in their head” and not act on that).

    • rm

      I always heard “zombie” as a reference to traumatized survivors, but now that I listen to all the lyrics, all of these readings seem supportable.

      Wait, why does the most recent reply appear at the top? Even when I have “sort by oldest” checked, subthreads display backwards. Curse you, Disqus!!!!

      And but now it is where it should be. And I can edit, like, hours later. Yay, Disqus.

    • cpinva

      “and so they continued fighting long past when the original cause was long gone…”

      the original cause will never be gone, until the English and their flunkies finally leave. you can thank Cromwell for a lot of the hate. whether that hate flares into open warfare again, i hope not, but it’s always going to be there.

      • John F

        I’m Irish Catholic, so I’m all for hating on the Ian Paisley, the Orangemen, etc etc., but seriously, someone has to let it go. What are you gonna do? Send the Irish Presbyterians back to Scotland? Send the Normans back to France? Send the Anglo/Saxons back to Frisia? Send Homo Sapiens back to Africa?

        There’s no a person alive who doesn’t have ancestors who didn’t fuck over someone else along the line. I’m for undoing historical wrongs, but you are gonna need some statute of limitations- after a while you are so far past living memory what’s the point anymore?

  • Denverite

    At first I liked Christa, but as she continues to make me feel old old old, that’s changing.

    • Would it make you feel better if I told you I have experienced a colonoscopy?

      • njorl

        Bah! I bet they used a fancy schmancy fiber-optic camera. In my day the doc would shove a Rochester Box camera up the ole’ brown eye and snap away. The camera wasn’t so bad, but when that flash powder lit it was an experience to remember!

        • Mrs Tilton

          You younguns had it cushy! In my day there were no cameras yet. The proctologist had to yank one’s fundament open with both hands, stick his head up there and look around. It would have been tolerable if that were all there was to it. But he had to hold the handle of the lantern in his teeth, and dropped it half the time, which meant burning oil and broken glass.

          • CP

            In your days, had they already invented the foul, repellent, nasty, disgusting, ungodly, inhumane, sick, twisted, nauseating, unnatural, icky, yucky, FUCKING GROSS liquid that they make you drink a huge container of before the operation to clear your insides?

            Or were us kids lucky and born just in time for that?

            • rm

              Oh, yes, the Shit Kool-Aid.

              Helped my wife through that a couple years ago, and now it is my year. Trying to convince myself that death from easily preventable cancer is not preferable.

              Hers came with orange flavoring, that did not help. Orange+shit = not any better.

              • CP

                Death from easily preventable cancer is not preferable.

                What everyone told me beforehand was that the preparation (meaning the Shit Kool Aid) was infinitely worse than the operation itself. Which as you probably saw with your wife, turned out to be totally true. But God, I wish the cleansing could just be done with prune juice or something.

                Best of luck!

                • rm

                  I’m hoping for grape.

        • reattmore

          I well remember that WWII thriller, “Up Colonscope!”

      • Denverite

        Honeychileplease

        Those of us who were teenagers after they invented Accutane but before they realized how much it fucked your shit up have been having colonoscopies annually. (Exaggerating but only slightly.)

        • TJ

          It’s the least of Pat Boone’s sins, but he will have one extra demon assigned to torture him because he helped promote that stuff.

        • Cheap Wino

          So glad we decided not to do that when that was a possibility. Still, I had my first colonoscopy Wednesday, as it happens. Dare I say it wasn’t as bad as everybody warned me?

          • CP

            As noted above:

            It’s not the operation that sucks, just the preparation.

            • Cheap Wino

              The cocktail rated high on the disgusting scale, for sure. And the aftermath was unpleasant but I’d take that over pretty much any flu I’ve had.

      • Cheap Wino

        LGM. Come for the anti-war tune dialogues, stay for the colonoscopy memories!

    • tsam100

      Me too, but I’m OK with that. The nostalgia from some of these things is totally worth it.

  • I have always liked this song, and I’m not surprised that it has touched so many people around the world.

    I’m also old enough to remember when Sunday Bloody Sunday was not a rebel song.

  • Just_Dropping_By

    “without any idea of the exact conflict The Cranberries were singing about”

    The very clearly enunciated line “it’s the same old thing since 1916” and the lead singer being extremely Irish-sounding weren’t huge clues?

    • Mrs Tilton

      The idea of somebody from Limerick clearly enunciating anything is certainly novel.

    • wjts

      The Pancho Villa Expedition?

      • CP

        Verdun.

        • How many people thought they knew what “Veronica” or “Allison” was about, when they had no clue?

          I think being old enough to remember “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and the relevant Sinead O’Connor song (was there one? or did I think this was her?) might have primed some of us.

          • Just_Dropping_By

            Watching the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles admittedly also helped.

            • Denverite

              Speaking of making me feel old.

            • CP

              LGM is the only place I’ve ever found other people who actually watched that show. Well, LGM plus one friend of mine.

              Even fewer people admit to having watched it :D

          • Denverite

            and the relevant Sinead O’Connor song

            Huh. I never figured Prince for an Irish history buff.

            • rm

              Bite your tongue. Don’t you say nothing bad about my girl Sinead.

              But yeah, I think Bianca probably thought this was her.

              • wjts

                Or possibly she was thinking of “Black Boys on Mopeds”.

                • That’s the one, though I did think this was her for a long time, and probably often still do.

          • CP

            Just for “fun,” Wikipedia has a list of all the incidents that go by the name “Bloody Sunday:” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloody_Sunday

            No less than four of them are related to the Troubles in Ireland – 1887, 1920, 1921, and 1972.

          • sharculese

            I’m not sure what Frank Black becoming a father has to do with oppression.*

            *This is a joke.

    • IM

      I thought they were talking about WW I. That is first association outside Ireland with “1916”.

    • I was 9 when it came out. My knowledge of foreign conflicts was limited.

      • Just_Dropping_By

        OK, well I guess that’s excusable then. I was in college when it came out and have never thought about someone being younger than high school age and being a fan of the Cranberries.

    • tsam100

      Shut the fuck up, you condescending ass. Not everyone is as fucking smart as you, perfesser.

  • DN Nation

    Somehow this post happened on a morning when I flipped on the radio in lieu of playing my own stuff, and sure enough, “Zombie” was playing.

    • IM

      I heard it just yesterday on the radio.

  • Old #38

    iZombie is a pleasure no one should feel guilty about.

    • sharculese

      Yeah, but *spoilers*

      using that cover for for the sex scene between Liv and Major before he took the cure all I could think is… “this is inappropriate.”

      Although maybe I’m wrong, given that the theme of this season is that war between humans and zombies is inevitable.

    • Aaron Morrow

      Having just finished Season 1, I’m definitely recommending this as highly entertaining. I just happen to think it is a plus that the titular zombie is named Liv Moore and her ex is Major Lilywhite.

  • NeonTrotsky

    For those rare few of you who prefer Jazz, Zombie by Fela Kuti is also a good song about the exact same thing.

    • Unemployed_Northeastern

      Fela Kuti’s version predates everything in this article by decades, incidentally.

    • SeattleCyclist

      Thanks for posting this reminder. It made my morning.

  • JohnT

    I like the lyrics to this song, but for me it’s the ferocity and the rawness of O’Riordan’s Limerick vocals which sell Zombie and give it its edge. I thought all the covers were a bit too smooth, excepting Bakht Arif’s, which was really good

    • rm

      Except for this song, they tended to have the most insipid possible lyrics, but her voice made that not matter. “Dreams” is a really great recording because of the vocals, but really dumb on paper.

  • Joseph Slater

    I really liked this song when it came out, and went to see the Cranberries live just because it (that’s the sort of thing I did when I was younger). I thought they were pretty disappointing in concert (for whatever that’s worth), but it’s interesting learning that this song has had such widespread and long-lasting appeal.

  • Cheap Wino

    I’m sure this will be unpopular, I never cared for this song. I find it. . . tedious? I like her voice and like other Cranberries tunes but this never registered with me. I have new found respect for it (and the band) now though. Thanks.

    • The Great God Pan

      I don’t like it, either. “Linger” was pleasant and “Dreams” is a flawless slice of ethereal pop, but “Zombie” is a lumbering attempt at rocking out that does not play to the band’s strengths.

      The most I can say for it is that it is not outright embarrassing like the next Cranberries single I was aware of, a laughably earnest anti-drug rocker called “Salvation,” which hectors heroin addicts with practical advice: “Don’t do it.” Gee, Dolores, who knew it was so simple?

  • This 12 year old is very good.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARnijnqd5MU

  • Bloix

    Wow. That Bakht Arif version. Just wow.

    • Brownian

      Chills up and down my spine.

      Thanks for sharing these, Christa.

  • Lt. Fred

    It strikes me that you can actually put quite a happy spin on the tune. It’s a song about how a civil conflict will never end. The conflict has since ended.

  • caphilldcne

    The repetition of the line “and their tanks and their bombs” is what has made this song so accessible and popular. Everyone fears”them” and “their tanks and their bombs” and particularly without reading the Easter uprising into it makes it a universal anti-war song. Of course “we” are not “them” so “we” can have tanks and bombs and we always use them responsibly for freedom. Sadly despite this criticism I love this song and it’s one of my YouTube gotos because I want everyone to put their tanks and bombs away on their shelves. In my hea-eaad anyway.