I just read Sinéad O'Connor's new memoir ("Rememberings"). For those of you too young to know, Sinéad was an Irish singer-songwriter who sky-rocketed to fame in the late 1980s. She had a worldwide hit song in 1990, "Nothing Compares 2 U." The song was accompanied by an arresting music-video featuring Sinéad singing with a shaved head. Back then, baldness was a radical, almost unknown choice for women.
Sinéad is still alive (54 years old). Three years ago she converted to Islam and changed her name to Shuhada' Sadaqat.
Sinéad had a horrible childhood, full of abuse and neglect. She was sent to an asylum at age 15 and forced to live with tortured mentally ill patients ("I have never — and probably will never — experience such panic and terror and agony over anything").
Music was a salvation for her, but fame was a curse. Like Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears, Sinéad was simultaneously celebrated and tormented by a global public. People seemed as interested in destroying Sinéad as feting her.
In 1990, Sinéad was criticised for saying she would not perform if the U.S. national anthem was played before her concerts. In response, Frank Sinatra threatened to "kick her in the ass."
Sinéad's most famous act occurred in 1992; it's so well-known it was later parodied by Madonna (who considered Sinéad a competitor). Appearing as the musical guest on "Saturday Night Live," Sinéad sang Bob Marley's song "War" as a protest against the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church. She then presented a photograph of Pope John Paul II while singing the word "evil" and tore the photo into pieces, urging us to "fight the real enemy." This happened nine years before the Pope publicly acknowledged widespread sexual abuse in the Church.
In response, the world ripped Sinéad to shreds, declaring her unfit to be an entertainer. The damage to her career was immense and irrevocable. On SNL the following week, host Joe Pesci held up the photo and said he had taped it back together which got huge applause. Pesci also said that if he had been on the show when it happened, "I would have gave her such a smack." Back then, threatening to beat women for voicing unpopular opinions was culturally acceptable.
The best part of the new book is getting Sinéad's take on this. She believes the controversy had the opposite effect of what's commonly assumed: ""I feel that having a No. 1 record derailed my career and my tearing the photo put me on the right track." "Everyone wants a pop star, see? But I am a protest singer. I just had stuff to get off my chest. I had no desire for fame."
Sinéad is due for a cultural re-appraisal. Our society has evolved in the past 30 years and ought to take a new look at her history and music.