A rightly furious woman, dismissed as crazy

I believe I’ve been guilty of it too. Putting a rightfully furious woman away as crazy. It’s been a while, but still. We were in Dublin, somewhere in the noughties, my friend and her family had moved into one of those old-fashioned town houses, with cracks, holes, many rooms and an immense amount of history. And how. Sinead O’Connor had lived there. Not as a child, but as an adult woman with her son, just before or just after she broke through in 1990 with her song ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ and became a mega star. We pored over her scruffy handwriting on the wall in the basement. “My wool sweaters are not allowed in the machine.” Could we see some of her later craziness in this?

But how crazy was it that, in 1992, two years after that mega-hit, she appeared in the American TV program Saturday NightLive ripped up a picture of the pope? She spat the word ‘child abuse’ into the viewers’ mouth long before the Catholic Church even had to apologize for the large-scale abuse of children, women, people. The documentary Sinead O’Connor – Nothing Compareson NTR on Tuesday, retroactively puts a lot of her madness into perspective.

The documentary begins with Sinéad O’Connor becoming an artist. No talking heads appear on screen, you only hear the voices of those who were there. Sinéad herself, too, two octaves lower than when she was twenty and could switch from whisper to scream in half a second. From the age of fourteen she lived in a prison with the nuns – at home she was unmanageable. This may have to do with the fact that her mother abused her “physically, verbally, psychologically and emotionally.” Her mother, she says, suffered from what was wrong with her mother, her mother’s mother and that mother’s mother. It’s the disease the church wreaked on families in a land where it was a mortal sin to dance past midnight, and you’d burn in hell if you ate meat on Friday.

“My mother was a beast,” says Sinead. “And I used my voice to put the devil to sleep.” That voice later brought her to major stages. She didn’t want to be a pop star at all, she says, she wanted to bellow out what was raging inside her.

A petite girl she was, with eyes that seemed even bigger when she measured her hair. Her record label had advised her to grow it long, heels on, maybe some makeup, plain, feminine. I do not think so. Now we have words for how she presented herself at the time. Non-binary, gender fluid, intersectional. She was committed to the abortion movement, against the Gulf War, for Black Lives, only it wasn’t called that then, and against misogyny in the music industry. Born in a country where people died because of a play, it was natural for her to be an activist artist.

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But that pope in tatters, that was spot on spot for the Americans. She had previously refused to perform when the American national anthem was played first. Now she was finished. A hysterical bitch with an ugly, bald head. Tricky and crazy. She was banned and her music with it. See her standing at the concert in honor of Bob Dylan, October 1992. Half the audience cheers, the other half boo her just a little louder. That she survived that “blow of the world” seems like a miracle from God.

At the end of the documentary we see a glimpse of who she has become after years of silence. She still sings. Finally, a title appeared on the screen: Prince’s heirs did not give permission to use the song Nothing Compares 2 U (written by him) in this film. That seems like a goof to me.

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