Perhaps no rock star over the past 30 years has stirred quite as much controversy as the angelic-faced, acid-tongued Irish singer/songwriter Sinead O’Connor. From ripping up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live before a performance of Bob Marley’s “War,” which preceded an impromptu a cappella version just 13 days later at a Bob Dylan tribute at Madison Square Garden, where she was unmercifully booed and consoled by Kris Kristofferson.( The song she was supposed to perform that night was, ironically, “I Believe in You.”)
That, in essence, was the end of her stint as a pop star in the U.S. She didn’t help matters by boycotting the Grammys one year and drawing the ire of Frank Sinatra when she refused to have the National Anthem played before a performance in New Jersey.
O’Connor wrote in “Rememberings,” her 2021 autobiography, “A lot of people say or think that tearing up the pope’s photo derailed my career. That’s not how I feel about it. I feel that having a number-one record derailed my career and my tearing the photo put me back on the right track. I had to make my living performing live again. And that’s what I was born for. I wasn’t born to be a pop star. You have to be a good girl for that. Not be too troubled.”
Elaine Schock, who was the singer’s publicist at Chrysalis when she broke out and then later in 2008, posted on Facebook that “my heart stopped when I heard the news… Sinead was a complicated woman, she did things her own way for better and a lot worse. There will never be anyone like her again. She was cancelled.”
If there’s anyone who understands the push-and-pull of an audience’s love and ire, it’s Morrissey, who took to his own blog to pen an impassioned defense of O’Connor, “You Know I Couldn’t Last,” while railing at the hypocrisy of those who “[gush]… with the usual moronic labels of ‘icon’ or ‘legend.’ You praise her NOW only because it’s too late. You hadn’t the guts to support her when she was alive and she was looking for you.”
Morrissey continues, comparing her to difficult females like Judy Garland, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse, Marilyn Monroe and Billie Holiday. “She was a challenge, and she couldn’t be boxed-up, and she had the courage to speak when everyone else stayed safely silent. She was harassed simply for being herself. Her eyes finally closed in search of a soul she could call her own. As always, the lamestreamers miss the ringing point, and with locked jaws they return to the insultingly stupid ‘icon’ and ‘legend’ when last week words far more cruel and dismissive would have done.”
Sinead O’Connor turns out to be much easier to praise when dead than to deal with her messy life, often lived out in the public eye. The public merely registered the mishaps – the nervous breakdowns, the suicide watch, the death of her lookalike 17-year-old son from a drug overdose — until the real artistry was shrouded by the spectacle. Looking back, it’s easy to see how her prescience about her own childhood abuse and mental health, along with the scandals in the Catholic church made her an ironically — for a singer with such a piercing voice — an unsung prophet (not to mention a money-making profit for her record label). For a more complete look at her career, check Showtime’s 2022 documentary, Nothing Compares.
“Tomorrow the fawning fops flip back to their online shitposts and their cosy Cancer Culture and their moral superiority and their obituaries of parroted vomit… all of which will catch you lying on days like today,” wrote Morrissey of the public’s crocodile tears. “When Sinead doesn’t need your sterile slop.”