Face to Face With Fame - Rolling Stone 1990

The Irish singer has found that the side effects of success can be very unpleasant.

By Sheila Rogers

"Where's my boombox?" asks Sinead O'Connor, settling into a van that's taking her and her crew back to the hotel after her mesmerizing performance at Exhibition Stadium, in Toronto. She's handed the blaster and - looking like a child clutching a favorite toy - slips in a tape of N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton and begins bopping her delicate, shaved head, contentedly singing along to "Fuch tha Police."

This postconcert ritual is familiar to everyone else inthe van. A memo from her record-company rep in Canada specified that tapes of O'Connor's favorite acts - N.W.A., Public Enemy and Queen Latifah - be provided during transport. O'Connor is on the road again, resuming her tour in support of I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, her Number One album whose surprising success has proven both a blessing and a curse.

Early that afternoon she held a press conference - her first in quite awhile. "I decided it was time I cleared up a few misconceptions," O'Connor says afterward, lounging poolside at her hotel. "It's important to make people aware that you're a person and you're not what people read in the newspapers."

The conference was paonless enough, although she was bothered by a journalist who told her she was "snitty." If anything, she was guarded.

"I used to get really, really upset by negative press," O'Connor says, reclining on a chaise lounge, clad in a purple spandex unitard rolled down below the waist and a blue bra. "They really insulted me as a person and continually made me out to be some sort of real bastard. It used to really hurt my feelings. I'm not the mose ssecure person on the planet, you know. It's very, very difficult to deal with being seen as a celebrity by practically everyone you meet. I like the fact that a lot of people like my records, but I don't like being famous."

O'Connors experience with the press reached an all-time low during the breakup of her recent marriage to John Reynolds and her subsequent romance with Hugh Harris, the black singer who opened for O'Connor on the first leg of her tour. Her affair with Harris made the British tabloids, along with speculation that she was pregnant with his baby. One paper even paid the nanny of her three-year-old son, Jake, for further tidbits. Her relationship with Harris ended bitterly, and he was dropped from the second leg of the tour.

"It's nobody's business," O'Connor says when Harris is mentioned. "Why should I discuss what I've gone through with millions of people? I go through a lot of pain and a lot of really hurtful things, and if I talk about them in public, it causes me a great deal more pain. It doesn't just stop when the thing is printed in the paper. You've got to live with the result of it for weeks and weeks afterward. The English press is particularly bad. They start hanging on your private life and prying and commenting on things which are totally none of their business."

Her fellow Irishmen have been equally relentless. "At the moment, of course, I'm the most disgraceful adultress they could possibly have," O'Connor says. "A few months ago I was a goddess. When you have the Number One record, they love you and you're great, you're representative of the country. But then it's all horseshit. Then they become critical of anyone who gets famous from Ireland. They're hypocritical and they're racist. I mean, I think racism has a lot to do with their problem with me at the moment, and that's all I'm going to say about that."

(Shortly after the interview, O'Connor had a run-in with the American press after she told officials at the Garden State Arts Center, in New Jersey, that she wouldn't go onstage if the played "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the show. The officials yielded to her request, then announced that she was banned from ever playing there again. The incident made the front page of the New York Post, and some radio stations banned her songs from the airwaves.)

Her experiences with the press, the public and Harris have drawn her even closer to the friends she had prior to becoming famous. "I've leaned much more on my friends and crew and people around me.," O'Connor says. "I've discovered that friends - and my husband, who is my best friend and always has been - are more important to me than boyfriends. Boyfriends are full of shit most of the time." O'Connor and Reynolds (who is Jake's father) are currently separated with no plans to divorce.

Jake, meanwhile, is at home in England. "I really miss him a lot," O'Connor says. "All of this has made me appreciate him much more than I did. You don't really know what you've got till it's not around. But last time I had him on the road with me, he was walking up and down airplanes, telling people to fuck off. I thought I'd better send him back to school. I don't want him to end up like me."

I Do Not Want was perhaps the year's most intensely personal album, and O'Connor said that if she were to make an album now, it would be "very raw - it would be a painful record." But with time, that pain may ease a bit. "What I do is, I sit around and I think and I get over it, and then I look at it objectively and I can see what I learned from it, and then I write about it."

O'Connor's not all angst and anguish. "I sound as if nothing good ever happens, which isn't true," she says. "And out of the really terrible things that happen to me really good things have come. And I've realized what good friends I have and how important to me they are. So I don't wnat people to think that I'm just awfully depressed."

At the same time, O'Connor is aware of "the awful ugliness of the business, and the racism." She's particularly outspoken about the 2 Live Crew controversy. "I have immense admiration for 2 Live Crew," O'Connor says. "I think that what they've been subjected to is disgraceful, utter racism." She admits that she doesn't necessarily agree with the band's songs, but "they should be allowed to say whatever they want."

"You've got Aerosmith and Guns n' Roses and all of those people making really offensive records about violence, abuse, racism and everything else," she continues. "Hip-hop has always been a threat to the white people of America. They're afraid of black people because they realize black people have the right to be pissed off. It's racism. And there's no excuse for racism. It's purely based on guilt and fear, and that's disgraceful. But the truth will out, and I just hope I'm around when it happens. And that Jake will be around."

"It's scary having a kid, but it's a good world too," O'Connor adds. "God is good; we've just fucked up. He's probably biting his nails, he's probably smoking up a joint up there, thinking, 'Fuck, what am I gonna do now?'"

Rolling Stone magazine

October 4th, 1990