erik lundegaard

Thursday July 27, 2023

Sinead O'Connor (1966-2023)

The most interesting and exciting thing in the whole world

At a time when music videos were getting more elaborate and fantastic—from the special effects of “Sledgehammer” to Michael Jackson's 1930s gangster noir “Smooth Criminal”—director John Maybury, for the second single from the second album by Sinead O'Connor, went the John Ford route. One time, so the legend goes, when the weather was not cooperating in Monument Valley and his assistant kind of threw up his hands, thinking they couldn't shoot anything, Ford said they could still shoot “the most interesting and exciting thing in the whole world: the human face.” And that's what Maybury gave us: a video-length closeup of O'Connor in all of her tough, vulnerable, beautiful, ambisexual glory. That video, and the song, “Nothing Compares 2 U,” written by Prince in 1985, made the Irish girl with the shaved head an international star.

I was suffering my own breakup at the time so the song hit deep for me. The simple act of inverting the usual order of how we talk about time (“It's been seven hours and 16 days...”) made you realize the singer was counting every hour. The album, “I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got,” was on constant rotation for me, too. Every song was great. No bums in the bunch. It begins with the Serenity Prayer—the first time I heard it, I believe—and the irony is there was nothing serene about Sinead or her career. There were public dustups with Prince and Madonna, Frank Sinatra and Andrew Dice Clay, and nobody seemed able to get past her hair. Then there was the Pope-picture-tearing incident on “Saturday Night Live.” That was in 1992 and “SNL” kind of threw her under the bus and all the knives came out. The next week Joe Pesci hosted the show, proudly showing off the photo of Pope John Paul II taped back together, and talking about how he wanted to smack Sinead around. For that, he was applauded while she was booed. The '90s were a weird time.

Particularly when you remember why she tore up the Pope's photo. It was to protest the Catholic Church's silence on child abuse. She was in-your-face, impolite and impolitic, but she sure as hell wasn't wrong.

Given how much I loved the album, I don't know why I didn't seek out more of her stuff but I didn't. I wasn't the only one. “I Do Not Want...” was a No. 1 album everywhere, and her follow-ups were No. 1 nowhere. I get the feeling she didn't mind. In her 2021 memoir, she writes, “I feel that having a No. 1 record derailed my career, and my tearing the photo put me back on the right track.” In an interview with The New York Times, she adds, “It seems to me that being a pop star is almost like being in a type of prison.”

All the bells say: too late, as John Berryman wrote. These also say: too soon.

Posted at 10:03 AM on Thursday July 27, 2023 in category Music  
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