I talked about the death of Dolores O’Riordan, and the recent spate of deaths of musicians of her era, with the great Lynn Ballen on her Feminist Magazine show on KPFK. You can hear it here:
In either late 1994 or early 1995, I interviewed Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan for Interview magazine, over the phone. The article ran in the March 1995 issue, as an edited Q&A. When she passed away Monday, I dug up the old transcript; following is the unedited interview. She had just gotten married and the band had released their second album. It’s poignant, and powerful, to read now.
Interview with Dolores O’Riordan
By Evelyn McDonnell
EM: You’ve had more success in the U.S. than in England, haven’t you?
DO: It was hard to take off here because of bad marketing, I think. The two singles were released on a demo a year before they came out as singles, so most of the press had already heard them. They’d hyped up the band a year prior to the release of the debut. So when the debut came out it wasn’t anything new to the English public. They started going against them, backlashing, saying the demo was better and whatnot.
EM: How is the English press treating you this time?
DO: I don’t really read them anymore. The band’s happening around the world, everywhere except Japan. So at this time in my life my perspective is more global, so I’m not really worried what an English paper says, or what an Irish paper says.
EM: Are you at all reluctant to do interviews?
DO: No, but I suppose I’m getting a bit cagier.
EM: Where are you living now?
DO: In the south of Ireland. I’m building a house there overlooking the sea. It’s really quiet and peaceful. We haven’t actually started building, we just got planning permission.
EM: Are you building a dream house?
DO: Yeah, it’s a nice big house. I’ve never really been that type of dream-house person, ‘cause I never grew up with too much materialism around me, so it wasn’t as if I longed for it. The idea of having a gymnasium in your house, or a bar, would just not be in my mentality, because you don’t see it that much. But as you travel and stuff, you realize you can’t go out to public places that much, so you put it all in your house — your own little gym and your bar, everything you need in there. You can go there for peace and tranquility, when you need to get away from everything. Continue reading
Dolores O’Riordan had one of the most distinctive voices in rock’n’roll: an angelic brogue, like a rose and briar entwined. “I grew up with a very strong Irish accent, and I didn’t see why I should put on airs and graces for anything or anybody,” she told me when I interviewed her for Interview magazine more than two decades ago. You can see that article below; I’m working on getting the whole transcript typed up (feel free to contact me if you’re a Cranberries fan and would like to help out). You can also hear a snippet of what I told NPR’s Andrew Limbong about her.
Faith Ringgold was already an accomplished artist in her forties when she wrote a memoir of her life. Still, no one would publish it. Instead, the painter turned to a new medium, creating quilts that — via images and words — told the narratives not only of her life, but of other black women. “I decided I would write my story on my art,” she told the crowd packed into the atrium of the California African American Museum yesterday at the closing ceremony for the exhibit We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965-85.
One of the earliest figures whom Ringgold depicted was Aunt Jemima. When her daughter questioned her inclusion of the controversial syrup idol, the artist said, “She’s a black feminist hero.”
“She’s not my black feminist hero” replied the daughter, Michele Wallace – an acclaimed scholar and author.
Mother and daughter shared the dais at CAAM Sunday, a formidable pairing at an event packed with powerful personages. Before their panel, three women of the Saar family (the Saarority?) stood together: the legendary Bettye Saar with her daughters Alison and Lezley. If, goddess forbid, the CAAM ceiling had collapsed yesterday, a few generations of important, inventive artists and their acolytes and analysts would have been buried beneath the rubble. Then again, these are women who have already busted through several glass ceilings on their own; maybe they would have just weathered the crash then begun making sculptures out of the debris.
We Wanted a Revolution gathers drawings, paintings, photos, videos, pamphlets, letters and more from a period when Black and female artists were forcibly fighting against their exclusion from museums and the mainstream. There’s Adrian Piper, Lisa Jones, Emma Amos, Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, and more. Many of the artists, including Linda Goode Bryant, Maren Hassinger, Dindga McCannon, and Senga Nengudi, were part of the closing symposium.
“Have friends and don’t stop working.” That was Hassinger’s advice to young artists trying to persevere, progress and prosper. “Music can be your friend; art can be your friend,” added another speaker.
The work in We Wanted a Revolution is phenomenal, though the show, which was originated by the Brooklyn Museum, is traveling on. You still have a month to see Salon des Refuses, the intense, imaginative exhibit of works by Lezley Saar also on display at CAAM. Saar’s paintings and assemblages are psychedelic and psychological in their exploration of the unconscious and of alternative states of being. Deconstructing – literally – and then reconstructing books, she breaks down definitions of race and gender. She paints Renaissance portraits of dandies and rebel girls as Edgar Allan Poe might have imagined them, with mushrooms coming out of their heads, or bats for ears.
It was moving to think about how Lezley Saar is carrying on the legacy of her mother, Bettye, and how Wallace has dedicated much of her career to chronicling the life of Ringgold. The ghost of the previous generation was in the room as well, as Faith talked about the influence of her mother, Willie Posey Jones, a fashion designer. Mama Jones, as the family called her, helped her daughter make her quilts. Wallace recalled that in her foremothers’ time, all women knew how to sew. But her mother corrected her. “I refused to sew,” Ringgold said. She repeated the statement a few times, emphasizing refused. So, perhaps the most famous quilter of all time was a storyteller, not a seamstress. Yesterday, she made sure her story got told – and we listened.
I’d almost forgotten how much I loved Lou Reed’s music. Then I read Lou Reed: A Life by Anthony DeCurtis, a meticulous, thoughtful, and humanistic biography of a difficult, brilliant subject, and suddenly, I was pulling those records off the shelves again. DeCurtis’s was one of six books — including tomes on Gucci Mane, Stevie Nicks, Al Green, and TLC — that I reviewed for The New York Times recently. Story publishes in print Sunday, but you can read it online now.
Los Angeles punk has always had its own distinct aesthetic, inspired by New York and London but shaped by its environment: the West, Hollywood, the ‘burbs. Somehow, LA punks seem to be aging more relevantly than their peers. This weekend I saw three artists from the earliest, old school days of Los Angeles calling: Alice Bag (the Bags), Phranc (Nervous Gender), and John Doe (X). Punk’s disruption of traditional beauty standards and of heteronormativity always seemed particularly radical in the shadow of Tinseltown, but these AARP-age idols show that choosing original style over the surgeon’s knife is the best revenge. Their music has also matured not declined. Chops may not be punk’s raison d’etre, but these three have them: Doe has always been the genre’s most golden-voiced crooner, but Bag and Phranc are also skilled singers. They flubbed some lines but their harmonies were pitch perfect as they played their second gig as the act with the best “shipped” name ever …. wait for it … PHAG!
If you don’t know what a shipped name is, then clearly you don’t have a teenager: Short for relationship, it means the single name that results from the union of two, such as Brangelina, Kimye, and now, Phag. Phranc and Alice have known each other since at least the early ’80s, when they both were in Castration Squad. As that act’s name indicates, they were (and are) gender warriors. They found refuge in punk’s embrace of outsiders, as they discussed on a panel at the Grrrls on Film festival at Loyola Marymount University in 2016. But Phranc in particular also found racism and homophobia, and eventually she rejected the scene and rebranded herself as the “All-American Jewish Lesbian Folksinger,” revealing the warm, womanly tones underneath punk’s noise and her flat-top ‘do. She’s still a little bit folky, while Bag’s a little bit rock’n’roll, as they sang Friday night at the Razorcake 100th issue party at Avenue 50 Studio. They were parodying Donny and Marie, but the original goal of their union, they said, was to be the Smothers Brothers. And sure enough, their act is satiric, slapstick, and also pointedly sincere. They sang songs dissing Mike Pence and praising Malala. They passed around their prototype for a new $20 bill, featuring Harriet Tubman instead of Indian killer Andrew Jackson. They were funny and sweet and sloppy and pissed. I told my compatriots Allison Wolfe and Sharon Mooney that we had to start their fan club now, and I have the perfect name for it: The Phag Hags! Continue reading
I wrote the poem below almost 28 years ago, after I visited Puerto Rico for the first time. A few months earlier Hurricane Hugo had devastated much of the island. My companion, the Nuyorican critic and poet Ed Morales, and I were struck by the continuing damage, physical and psychological. In the decades since, I have survived a few hurricanes myself, most notably during the terrible season of 2015, when I lived in a home below sea level on Normandy Isle in Miami Beach and a series of vicious storms pummeled us.
Hurricanes are obliteration machines. They set the clock back to zero. You can have all the community support you want: After Wilma delivered the knockout blow in October 2015, our neighborhood truly pulled together. With no electricity, hence no stoves or refrigerators, we took turns hosting barbecues, using up our perishables. With no screens to distract them, the kids played imaginative games together, most memorably one called “hurricane,” which involved shining flashlights on tree branches pulled to wave wildly to the accompaniment of lots of screaming. When, thanks to the seeming caprices of what is optimistically called “the grid,” our side of the street got power back a week before the other side, we strung extension cords across Biarritz Drive, yellow tentacles striping the blacktop. It was a simple, sweet time in a way. But with basic modern services disrupted, Wilma made us all primitives — dependent, ultimately, on the kindness and, hopefully, efficiency of strangers.
My heart goes out to the people of Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, and Cuba, and all the Leeward Islands, and Houston, and Corpus Christi, and my dear Keys and Miami, and to Mexico too. Nature can be a bitch. But it’s certain humans who can be truly evil.
Because of the hurricane
The man sells bowls
with Taino cave drawings
out of his home
in a San Juan suburb
We get lost on streets
named Florence, Venice, Madrid
looking for Barcelona
Geegaws gather dust
on shelves in the dining room
They are little more than fanciful souvenirs
yet his wife shows them off proudly
hoping we mainlanders
will purchase something big
the table carved out of a tree stump, perhaps,
instead of the keychains and ashtrays
our artists’ budgets humbly choose
Because of the hurricane
we back down a dirt road in our rented car,
my lover’s aunt explaining
in a rapid clucking Spanish
that I don’t understand:
The Loiza workshop
where men of African descent
make brilliant masks
of coconut shells and papier-mache
Instead we pull up to a brightly painted casita
where a Loisa woman
sells straw dolls and coconut oil —
she tells my lover
it will keep his hair from falling out
He doesn’t take offense
Because of the hurricane
You can see the ocean
from the house
where my lover’s parents
will retire next year
leaving the Bronx
the part of the U.S.
where Puerto Ricans
can vote for American presidents
yet are still treated like second-class citizens
Luquillo Beach twinkles in the horizon
from El Yunque.
for every palm spreading its fronds
in a heavenward mane
there is the stump of a tree felled by the hurricane
Because of the hurricane
My lover and I
can’t touch each other
without rousing pain
Can’t make love without drowning in sorrow
hugging in the night
to the sharp cries of the coqui
and muffled tears
Because of the hurricane
in San Juan’s hotel district
the woman at the tourist office
hurries to lock the door
shutting us in
as a man outside
with institutionally cropped hair
slices his throat
on the jagged edge
of a broken beer bottle.
(I know what he is doing
I know the feeling of broken glass
drawn against flesh)
He is lying on the pavement
his white T-shirt
and blue jeans
maroon with blood
We have only been
in Puerto Rico two hours
we have never seen
anything like this
As the police car speeds past
two men hover over the body
in the back seat
We wonder if it is too late