Voice of the Dead Unburied - by John Waters
Voice of the Dead Unburied
(inside cover jacket of "So Far...The Best Of Sinéad O'Connor")
written by John Waters
I remember when i first moved to Dalkey on Dublin's south side in the early 1990's, having the same thought every time the train stopped at Glenageary. It was the last stop before mine. The station seemed indistinguishable from several others along the line. It was always dark- even, my mind tricks me into believing, in summer. other than to pass it on the train like this, i had never been there, and i had some vague sense that the station wasn't even in Glenageary proper. I knew nothing about Glenageary except that the singer Sinead O'Connor, came from there. As far as i knew it was just a small jungle of three and four bedroomed middle-class houses, between someplace and someplace else. In Irish it is gleann na gcaoracn--the glen of the sheep, as far from the connotations of the English version--bourgeois, bland, built-up-- as it is possible to imagine. Every time the train stopped, i found myself thinking about Sinead O'Connor. It wasn't that i had any special obsession with pop stars. I am not one of nature's groupies. It was more an idle curiousity born of unanswered questions. I had never met her nor seen her perform. I had a cassette of her second album, "IDNWWIHG" I liked it a lot, but for various reasons had never got around to buying the first one. I had heard most of the songs from "TLATC" on the radio, and, while liking what i heard, had never been sufficiently convinced that this wasn't just an amazing singer who "just happened" to come from Dublin. I realize now of course that there is no such thing as an amazing singer of modern rock 'n' roll. There is always something else. "I do not want..." was in a different category to its predecessor. The anger was more channeled, more focussed in the words. It was one of those rare albums which did not seem to have any of those tracks which you end up trying to skip after a few listens. The songs were closer, somehow, less adrift on the idiom. They spoke rather than played. Sinead O'Connor's voice had lost its initial hint of Americanisation. It had come home, wherever that was. The album raised those unanswered questions I mentioned before. I played it a lot and tried to comprehend it without thinking too much. It grew on me more and more, as the questions emerged. In a way, none of it made sense until it all did. When she spoke, it was in the voice of a young woman from South Dublin, which, in the conventional semiotics of the moment, suggested rootlessness, airiness, semi-detachment and self-possession. But when she sang she summoned up a history which the existing perceptions did not allow as having plausibly been hers. How could this woman sing as she did? How could she so invigorate a song like "I am stretched on your grave?" Was this merely craft or artifice? It did not seem humanly possible. Ostensibly, in the public absorption of her persona, Sinead O'Conner belonged to an Ireland which had detached itself from its past. From the start, the voice belied this, even before the songs and the story. I wasn't a great one for taking the tabloids, but gradually the narrative of her life began to seep through; her childhood nightmare and its enduring aftermath. The standard ideological model had it that the darkest Irish Shadows had been cast in places where there were the trees and the steepest mountains, but this woman bore witness to the even darker shadows cast by joined-up housing. The Glen of the sheep began to take on a new set of meanings. And so did Sinead O'Connor. In the beginning, dawning on the consciousness, she had seemed like a neat little package: an extraordinary voice and an arresting appearance, at once beautiful and strange. She suggested an idea whose hour, in the zeitgeist-obsessed world of giddy pop music, had come round at last. She was one of those artists who make you think that you were just about to imagine her yourself. And this made it all the more extraordinary to discover that she had never been an "idea" in the first place, at least not in the sense that this might be commonly understood. Nobody had "created" her, not even herself. Everything about her was at once accidental and inevitable. Even her name was so right that it just had to be invented--half shared with the iconic wife of the godfather of the Irish nation-- Sinead de Valera--and half the name of the last high kings of Ireland. Sinead O'Connor. YES! It was her real name. She was one of those rare individuals who seem to embody the hidden story of their times, the repressed narrative of a surface denial, the screams of the dead unburied, artists who do not simply emerge, but rather erupt, with an air of inevitability, into the world. Art, in a way, is a means of accessing history, of walking into the world in a manner as to make total and irrefutable sense. If Sinead O'Connor had ever been an "idea" at all, she had been an idea of the firmament itself. And when she said that the family was a microcosm of the world, her voice and its origins in the screams of childhood made a sense that was all but perfect in its desolation. She lived in a house that was called Ireland, and refused to stop screaming when she came out the front door. Now, she is my family. She always was, of course, but now literally as well. I don't know what we are to one another, what queve we will be sent to on the day of judgement--husband and wife, brother and sister? I don't know. I think of her sometimes as my sister-outlaw. It was January 1995 when this woman who would be the mother of our beautiful daughter first came to the house where i live. She had read something i had written about her song about the Irish famine, and wanted me to write some more about her life and work. By "U.M." her anger seemed to have dissolved into a quiet sorrow tinged with a crusading purpose, and this was leading her to be viciously attacked by some of those whose pain she sought to express. I had written simply how wrong this was. Sinead O'Connor rang me up and said she would come round that evening. Even now, the idea seems faintly ridiculous. But so she did. She sat in the couch and fixed me with her big blue eyes. She was the most un-rock star person i had ever met. She answered my remaining questions. I gave her tea and fat biccies and played her Luke Kelly's version of "On Raglan Road:" 'I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way, And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.' She said she would like to record the song, and so she did. I know now that the baby already existed, and not only as an idea. I know that the baby had existed for longer than either of us, that for longer than i dare to contemplate she had been waiting for the right moment to emerge from the mists of history, where she had lain, cradled and solemn, staring at the walls of the universe and smiling when Mr. or Mrs. God passed by. Her name is Brigidine Roisin Waters, and she is, as i now know, the reason I wondered in Glenageary all those years ago.
by: John Waters