A KINDER, GENTLER SINEAD O'CONNOR WANTS TO BE A HEALING FORCE
Copyright 1997 Chicago Tribune Company
July 4, 1997
sent by Marcel Bobbink
When Sinead O'Connor roared into view 10 years ago, she was a bundle of
nerves. She sang angry, cathartic songs from deep inside a very troubled soul.
She talked of an unhappy childhood and abuse by her parents in Ireland. She
became a figure of enormous controversy, shaving her head, refusing to allow
"The Star-Spangled Banner" to be played before her shows and even tearing up a
photo of the pope on national television in 1992 to protest what she perceived
to be the sins of organized religion.
But, as the saying goes, that was then and this is now.
The new, gentler O'Connor is 30 years old. She's the mother of Jake, 9, and
Roisin, 1. She celebrates motherhood -- and the feminine principle -- in new
songs that have more of a lullaby lilt than a rock beat. She wants to be a force
of healing rather than conflict.
"I don't want to be a pop star," O'Connor said recently from her West London
home. "I just want to sing. Now what I want to do is make records I want to
make, and make enough of a living to look after my children. I want to use my
voice for soothing not just myself, but other people."
O'Connor just released an understated mini-album titled "Gospel Oak," with
delicate, prayerful songs that espouse serenity and nonviolence. "They're all
songs about Ireland and they're also love songs and lullabies, and they're also
obviously about me," she said.
O'Connor won't do any songs from her angry debut disc, "Lion and the Cobra,"
released in 1987. "A lot of those songs I wrote when I was 15 at school," she
noted. I'm 30 now and I've been through quite a lot. I just think some of those
songs are a bit childish. I hate them. It's like reading my diary."
Yet O'Connor won't deny those songs were necessary to her development. "As
St. Augustine said, 'Anger is the first step toward courage.' And I think the
new record is about courage."
Nor will she perform on tour the 1990 mega-hit, "Nothing Compares 2 U," a
Prince song that became an MTV favorite. "I appreciate the money I made out of
it, but that's probably all I appreciate about it. I don't associate it with
good times. And I don't have much of a personal connection to the song. It's not
a song that I wrote. Also, that whole world I ended up in as a result of that
song -- the commercial world -- is not something I really wanted."
O'Connor was on a fast track that took her from clubs to arenas in a flash.
And it landed her on "Saturday Night Live," where she sang Bob Marley's
antiracist anthem, "War" ("until the color of a man's skin is of no more
significance than the color of his eyes, everywhere is war"), then tore up the
pope's picture at the end of it, making front-page headlines around the world.
It led to a demonstration in New York, where protesters hired a steamroller and
drove over a stack of her records.
"It wasn't done out of disrespect to Catholic people," O'Connor said of her
picture ripping. "In fact, that's what shocked me the most. It never crossed my
mind that Catholic people would take this as a disrespect of them, because I'm a
Catholic person myself. I grew up in Catholic Ireland, so I consider myself one
of those people. In a way, it was done out of love for those people because I
felt we were all being duped to a certain extent."
The gesture was "nothing personal against (the pope). It was a statement
against organized religion that was not telling the truth but claiming to
represent the truth and being a bad parent figure, certainly in Ireland," she
said, referring to the child sex-abuse scandal in the Church.
"But I also have admiration for the Church, especially since they've begun
the healing process in Ireland. And I think they're going to end up being a
Church that we can be very proud of, thanks to the fact that these things have
been allowed to come out."
O'Connor, who now considers herself more of a Rastafarian than a Catholic,
also said, "Fight the enemy," before ripping up the pope's picture. She said the
phrase was really directed at Rasta friends who were involved in rival gangs and
feuding with each other about drug sales. Drugs in urban communities were the
"real enemy," she said. Five days after being on "Saturday Night Live" (during
which she hung a Rasta scarf around her microphone), she received word that a
Rasta friend had been killed in a battle over drug turf.
"Obviously, it was a pretty emotional time for me," said O'Connor.
She found herself in another controversy when she played the 30th anniversary
tribute show to Bob Dylan at Madison Square Garden in October 1992, but was
booed by "a very well-organized group of people," she said, and left the stage
without performing her planned Dylan song, "I Believe in You." The tune would
have been appropriate to the occasion, she said, because it had these lyrics:
"They show me to the door, say don't come back no more, 'cause I don't be like
they'd like me."
"The dilemma I had was that the song was going to be very quiet, almost
whispered, and I was in an extremely emotional state. The noise was so loud that
I really didn't think I'd be able to sing it properly."
O'Connor then retreated from public view and, in a surprise move, toured as
backup singer for Peter Gabriel in 1993. While on tour with Gabriel in Los
Angeles, she became exhausted and took extra sleeping pills "so I could sleep
for about three days." Some members of the media called it a suicide attempt,
but O'Connor denies this. "I was in a bad way emotionally at the time, but it
wasn't a suicide attempt," she said. "The incident was misinterpreted."
There have been many misinterpretations about O'Connor. A British reporter
recently wrote that she had become a Buddhist after O'Connor told her that she
liked some Buddhist teachings.
"I'm not a Buddhist. As I say, if anything, I'm a Rasta. I study many
religions. I've always been religious and into religions," she said. "But I hate
the term 'ism' being attached to anything."