• December 9, 2023

Sinéad O’Connor Has A New Memoir … And No Regrets : NPR

Sinead O’Connor will perform at August Hall in San Francisco, California in February 2020. Tim Mosenfelder / Getty Images

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Tim Mosenfelder / Getty Images

Sinead O’Connor will perform at August Hall in San Francisco, California in February 2020.

Tim Mosenfelder / Getty Images

Sinead O’Connor became famous in 1990 with a multi-platinum album. Two years later, a controversial TV appearance on Saturday Night Live threatened to derail her career. Since then, O’Connor’s fights have often taken place in public. But with memories, a newly published memoir, she hopes to show that there is much more to the artist behind the music.

It all started in Ireland, where O’Connor says she grew up in an abusive household. When she was nine, her parents separated, and after a few minor legal battles, she was sent to a notoriously tough Catholic reform school. There, thanks to unforeseen circumstances, her life began to turn. “Sister Margaret was like a mother to me,” explains O’Connor. “There was a punk rock clothing store in Dublin called No Romance. She took me and bought me a red parka and loads of punk clothes and my first guitar and a chord book for Bob Dylan songs.”

She also brought in a guitar teacher, which led O’Connor to a songwriting collaboration In Tua Nua, a band signed to U2 Record label. Despite being too young to tour, O’Connor performed in and around Dublin and eventually caught the attention of London-based Ensign. Ireland has been an established testing ground for exports such as Thin Lizzy, Boomtown Rats and U2. But when it came to women, the most famous artist was a pop singer named Dana, Winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 1970.

O’Connor had other ideas and wrote emotionally complicated songs that raised awareness of social issues and sometimes referred to the difficult circumstances of her own childhood. Dissatisfied with the producer, who was hired for her 1987 debut The Lion and the Cobra, 20-year-old O’Connor took over the reins herself.

When label bosses urged her to grow her hair and wear short skirts, she had her hair shaved and adopted a decidedly anti-glamorous look. In her memoir, O’Connor writes that Ensign executives also sent a doctor to force her to have an abortion when they learned she was pregnant. Instead, she gave birth to her first child a few weeks before the album was released.

Run by her record label to look more feminine, Sinéad O’Connor maintained her independence. Kate Garner / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hide caption

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Kate Garner / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Run by her record label to look more feminine, Sinéad O’Connor maintained her independence.

Kate Garner / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

As for music, there was nothing like it on the radio, says music critic Jessica Hopper: “She just seemed to be an emissary from a bold new world.” Rejection of pop formulas, one of the tracks opens with a Gaelic recitation of Psalm 91 by the singer Enya. Another showed a cameo from rapper MC Lyte. Yet another, referring to a poem by William Butler Yeats, was a dark, intense song about her motherwho died in a car accident when O’Connor was 19 years old.

“It came at a time when alternative music was just beginning to get into the mainstream, but it was over both,” Hopper recalls, “it was instantly iconoclastic.”

The album enjoyed on college radio and MTV. Future Riot Grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna says her roommate shared a copy that she bought on tape. “We just sat there in silence and listened to the whole record,” recalls Hanna. “I don’t even think we were talking. It felt like we were traveling; it felt like someone wrote songs that were already alive in me. It really felt like I was meeting myself . “

The label is expected to sell 25,000 copies of the album; instead it’s sold 2,500,000 worldwide. The Lion and the Cobra earned O’Connor a Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 1989. As a token of support for artists who boycotted the ceremony to protest Grammy’s decision not to televise the Best Rap Performance Award, O’Connor has performed with the Public Enemy logo shaved on the side of her head.

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She broke the mainstream charts even further with her single “Nothing Compares 2 U”, written by Prince, and her memorable music video that brought her second work from 1990, I Do Not What I Haven’t Got, to the top of the world in several countries, with estimated sales of more than seven million worldwide.

Despite being nominated for four Grammys, O’Connor turned down industry awards, claiming that they were too focused on commercial success and not enough on artistic value. When she was invited to perform on Saturday Night Live, O’Connor wrapped up her set tear up a photo by Pope John Paul II, a gesture intended to draw attention to the complicity of the Catholic Church in the continuation of child abuse the subject of public discussion in their native Ireland.

The Anti-Defamation League condemned O’Connor. So did Madonna and Phil Hartmann. Conservative groups rolled over their plates. And when actor Joe Pesci hosted SNL the following week, he threatened to hit her. Two weeks later, O’Connor was booed at a tribute concert for Bob Dylan that signals the end of one phase of her career and the beginning of another.

“She was the first celebrity in mainstream culture to be canceled,” says Hopper. Part of the scandal was O’Connor’s defiant refusal to behave in the way we would expect pop stars – especially female artists.

O’Connor says she is not sorry, even though the reprimand was painful. She had wanted to use her voice to transform the trauma she had suffered into a powerful healing force.

Chrysalis Records YouTube

She stopped making hit records in the mid-1990s, but never stopped making music. In addition to Songs of their own invention, O’Connor redesigned Irish folk songs, Reggae, and religious music. She brought in her unique sensibilities Music made famous by others, Artist collaborations, songs for films, and human rights support efforts.

Over the years, tabloid culture remained fixated on O’Connor’s creative and personal permutations, which included explorations of spirituality and sexuality, overt personal revelations, and the occasional inflammatory public comment. While male artists like Bruce Springsteen have been lauded for being open about theirs struggles with mental health, O’Connor not so much.

As her book cover says, she has “fascinated and outraged millions”. But O’Connor also inspired her, as he emerged at a time before an alternative culture market was fully realized, and the trail for other artists such as Fiona apple and Michael Stipe to convey their music.

The notoriety that came with O’Connor’s commercial success had an especially big impact on young women, says Kathleen Hanna. “Because she was a punk who made these pop records, or what could be called pop records, they had such a wide reach,” she explains. “I think it was an endorsement for a lot of people to hear her on mainstream radio.”

In recent years, O’Connor has embraced Islam and adopted a new off-stage name, Martyrdom of Sadaqatwhat she says means “true testimony”. She also began regaining her musical legacy, playing a number of sold-out shows and receiving rave reviews.

Despite the pandemic interrupting the tour, O’Connor has a chance to work on it new music, and to resume her longstanding goals of what she calls “Do what I love. Be imperfect. Be even crazy.”

The only thing O’Connor isn’t up to is to apologize. “I feel like a number 1 record has derailed my career,” she writes in her memoir, “and the tearing of the photo put me on the right track.”

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