Sinead O'Connor Transcends Her Troubled Past (1998)
PEOPLE WOULD SAY YOUR VOICE IS YOUR SIGNATURE, BUT YOU'VE ALSO COME UP WITH A SIGNATURE SOUND: A MERGER OF HIP HOP AND CELTIC MUSIC. HOW DID YOU ARRIVE AT THAT?
The Irish music is in me, because I spent the first 17 years of my life there. But there are only about two black people in Ireland, so we didn't have much exposure to black culture, musically and spiritually. But there's a wealth of it in London, where I've lived for the last 12 years. It's an epicenter of black culture, and it's rubbed off on me.
AS PART OF THAT, YOU'VE EMBRACED RASTAFARIANISM. WHAT DREW YOU TO IT?
It's certainly more exciting than some of the religious concepts I had been raised with. I've been much more inspired by it than Catholicism. Simply put, most Western religions teach that God is someone who died on the cross and that he is someone that we can never be like. Whereas Rastafarianism teaches that God is someone who lives inside us at all times. And I like a religion that doesn't seperate sexuality from spirituality. Catholicism is cut off from the waist down. In Rastafarianism, the music is quite religious and sexy at the same time.
LISTENING TO GOSPEL OAK IS LIKE EAVESDROPPING ON A PRIVATE CONVERSATION. DO YOU EVER FEEL SELF-CONSCIOUS ABOUT LAYING OUT SO MUCH OF YOUR LIFE FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION?
I think I've always done that. I look at all my albums as being the diaries of someone in recovery from child abuse. I think with this record the personal aspect is more disguised, and I've done a better job of making it more universal. But even growing up, the music I was into, people like Bob Dylan, was extremely personal. Talk about opening up your blood veins -you can't get much more personal than "Blood on the Tracks".
ON GOSPEL OAK, THE LOVE SONG "THIS IS A REBEL SONG" ALSO COULD BE INTERPRETED AS BEING ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN IRELAND AND ENGLAND. IT SOUNDS LIKE A RESPONSE TO BONO, WHO USED TO INTRODUCE U2'S "SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY" BY SAYING, "THIS IS NOT A REBEL SONG."
It *is* a direct response to that. What the song is rebelling against is the fear of standing up and saying that we believe in the right to ownership of Ireland by Irish people. In the days when U2 was saying that, people were afraid to stand up and say we have a right to our country because they feared it would be misinterpreted, that people would think they believe in violence, that they were supporting the IRA and other paramilitary groups. This song is a way of rebelling against that fear. We shouldn't be afraid of standing up and saying we have a right to our country.
YET THE SONG IS CONCILIATORY. THE LINE, "YOUR LOVE IS LIKE A FIST IN MY WOMB/CAN'T YOU FORGIVE WHAT YOU THINK I'VE DONE," IS SPOKEN TO THE "HARD ENGLISHMAN."
That love is a Buddhist concept. If you look at the way [Tibetan] Buddhists have handled the invasion of their country by the Chinese, their whole attitude is one of forgiveness and tolerance and love. The Tibetan people see what's happened to them as a test of their faith, and I see the song as being about that.
A LOT OF WHAT YOU SAY AND DO IS ABOUT STANDING UP FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN, AT THE RISK OF BEING MISINTERPRETED AND REVILED. WHERE DOES THAT PART OF YOUR MAKEUP COME FROM?
I think Christianity taught me quite a lot about that. If you look at what happened to Jesus Christ, for example -what I learned from that is that one must stand up for what one believes in even if, in the worst event, one is going to be crucified for it. Sometimes that means fighting those who think they believe in God.
SO YOU WEREN'T SURPRISED WHEN PEOPLE REACTED NEGATIVELY TO YOUR RIPPING UP THE POPE'S PICTURE?
I think at the time, for each person that didn't understand what I had done, there was a person who did. You would think the way the papers wrote about it that nobody understood it. At the Bob Dylan show, three quarters of the audience was cheering, but the newspapers would have you believe that everyone was booing. There are still people who don't understand why I ripped up the Pope's picture, who saw it as a vicious attack on an old man who had had assassination attempts made on his life. But obviously it wasn't a personal attack on the man. It was an attack on the church in general and for it's policy of silence on the abuses that were taking place, particularly in Ireland. I do feel vindicated by all the information that has come out in the last few years concerning child abuse within the church and how the church tried to cover it up, especially in Ireland. With some people you can never win them over, and I respect those who think it was a terrible thing. But it was something I felt I had to do, and I don't regret doing it.
WERE YOU DISAPPOINTED THAT YOUR FELLOW ARTISTS DIDN'T STICK UP FOR YOU AT THE DYLAN SHOW? MANY OF THEM CARRIED ON AS THOUGH NOTHING HAD HAPPENED.
I never expected anyone to save my ass that night. It was something I did myself, and I had to be prepared to accept the consequences. Some people were disappointed that Neil Young [who followed O'Connor on stage] didn't say anything, but why should he get his head kicked in for an artist he'd hardly even met?
WHAT ABOUT DYLAN?
That night he came over and said he was sorry. He didn't even know about what happened that night, or the Pope thing, so he was completely baffled. What I found later was that it was a very carefully organized group that came down to the show specifically to do what they did. So they didn't represent Bob Dylan's audience.
IT DID SEEM AS THOUGH MOST PEOPLE WERE THERE TO SEE YOU PERFORM.
In the end, I guess they saw me perform anyway [laughs].
ON THE GOSPEL OAK TOUR, YOU HAVEN'T DONE MANY SONGS FROM THE FIRST TWO ALBUMS, WHICH ESTABLISHED YOUR AUDIENCE IN THIS COUNTRY. WHY NOT?
My main reason is that I am not a miserable person anymore and I have no desire to summon up the ghosts of my past. People are disappointed when I don't do songs like "Troy." I know that, but it was very painful being that person and I don't have any desire to go back there. I basically do the songs that are loving and peaceful and give me a sense of love and peace, which means the songs on "Universal Mother" and "Gospel Oak". I don't have any desire to be miserable. I've worked very hard to be happy.
SOME OF YOUR FANS WERE BAFFLED BY THE ALBUM OF STANDARDS [AM I NOT YOUR GIRL] YOU RELEASED IN 1992. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?
It was a bit of a red herring, because I didn't want to be under the pressure of the follow-up album nonsense after the success of "Nothing Compares 2 U." I did that album to create a bit of a diversion, which I think it did nicely.
I SENSE THAT BECOMING A POP STAR WAS TOTALLY UNNERVING.
Yes. And that's another reason why I ripped up the Pope's picture: It was a new way of ripping up myself, a way of ripping up that image of myself. People ask me how I dealt with the consequences, but that's what I wanted; I wanted to be locked out of certain areas. I didn't want to be a pop star.
WHAT OFFENDED YOU ABOUT IT?
Pop stars are people who play it very safe. They don't really stir the water. I had a few things I wanted to write about -child abuse, especially at that time, was a hot potato. I didn't want to be writing, "Oh, baby, baby." I had a hit record, I sold a lot of records, so what was expected of me is that I would start licking people's butts. It was not expected of me that I would have anything to say about anything or that I would be protesting anything. It was not expected of me to be a protest singer, which I was in a way -not in the old-fashioned sense, but in the '90s sense.
DO YOU STILL CONSIDER YOURSELF A PROTEST SINGER?
I've gotten through the protesting bit. I've gone through the stages of feeling the anger and epressing it. Now I want to heal -myself and anyone who cares to listen.