From top Sinéad O’Connor’s memoir Rememberings; Grace Garvey
During an interview to promote her new memoir, something Sinéad O’Connor says jumps out. She believes she annoys some people because she’s like a mirror in which they see all the noes they’ve ever had to say. ‘So many people in this country, women in particular, had to say no when they wanted to say yes. They never got to say yes to themselves,’ she says. So, could Sinéad be a scapegoat for national self-denial? Now, there’s a thought for the day.
Few would blame Sinéad for saying yes to all of life’s pleasures in light of the abuse she endured as a child. She touches on it lightly in the book, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, which of course is how it must have seemed at the time. She recalls some devastating events: a family weekend away when she was left behind, locked in her bedroom without food; or picking herself off the floor after the latest beating by her mother and setting the table for breakfast. Everyday life intermingled with terror.
It always surprises me when journalists attempt to patronise Sinéad. On BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour last week, the interviewer referred to her reputation as ‘the crazy woman in pop’s attic’. Sinéad wasn’t having any of it, and denounced comparisons with the mad wife in Jane Eyre as abusive. Happily, it didn’t unsettle her as she went on to lambast the music business for sexualising children while calling it liberation and feminism.
She described American pop artists as looking like Donald Duck, ‘on stage with no pants on’, showing she hasn’t lost her sense of fun. When it comes to the exploitation of women in the music industry, the times are not a-changin’, she says.
Sinéad’s enduring interest in religion used to bewilder me, but having read her memoir, I appreciate how it sustained her during episodes of abuse. ‘I love Jesus because He appeared in my head one night when my mother had me on the kitchen floor,’ she writes.
She regards music as a form of priesthood – with artists such as Van Morrison as priests, ‘someone by whom you know there’s a God’ – and speaks not of faith, which relies on belief, but of fact. Listening to her hold forth, a chink appears in my own scepticism, but then I wonder why God hadn’t sent the cavalry to Arnold Grove, and any such notions of divinity fade.
I was gratified to discover that Sinéad regards Universal Mother as the most special album she’s ever made because it’s probably my own favourite too. I recall playing it so often in my London house share in the mid-90s that the entire household begged for mercy.
‘Specifically, I want to talk about the famine,’ I would shriek to Sinéad’s rapping, as my English housemates tucked into their breakfast croissants. In an album of contrasts, the tenderness of My Darling Child is all the more touching when you read of the record company executives who tried to convince her not to have the baby. She owed it to them, they said.
Of course, we’re all entitled to like who and what we like, but when detractors dismiss Sinéad as an attention seeker, it’s hard to see it as a major flaw. As a six-year-old she would wander around the neighbourhood knocking on doors and asking people if she could be their child. In the circumstances, who could begrudge her a bit of attention if they have a little to spare.
Besides, as one of the most captivating voices this country has produced, it’s not exactly a big ask. Whether as singer, song writer, truth teller or mischief maker, she never fails to reward. It comes as no surprise then that her memoir is well worth the read.
Those who call her an unreliable narrator are right on one score at least. Just a week ago, she spoke of her excitement at the prospect of touring next year. ‘I like working, I get bored,’ she told Brendan O’Connor [on RTÉ Radio One]. She sounded as enthusiastic as is possible to sound while dragging on a cigarette. In hindsight, the mention of the buzz she gets from being able to pay the electricity bill should have told us something was afoot. ‘Singers are like footballers, there’ll come a time when I’m too old to be singing,’ she said. It turns out time was on the express train.
Less than a week later, she announced she was hanging up her nipple tassels. ‘A wise warrior knows when to retreat,’ she said. The desire to put her feet up and make other dreams come true had prompted the move.
While it’s sad to see her go, Sinéad deserves to bow out whenever she wants. Only a fool would try to stop her and besides, her instincts tend to be sound. All anyone could want is for her to keep on keeping on. Or rather, to soldier on like the fighter she is. She has done it her way and she has done it well. Brava to a brave soul! Let her next chapter begin.
Grace Garvey is a Communications and Content Marketing Strategist. Grace can be reached at email@example.com