.@MagdaDavitt77 @amandahess This is wonderful. Great photos too. Hope you like your new home Sinead/Shuhada. We are never too old to make new friends. Sinead O’Connor Remembers Things Differently
The mainstream narrative is that a pop star ripped up a photo of the pope on “Saturday Night Live” and derailed her life. What if the opposite were true?
Sinead O’Connor is alone, which is how she prefers to be. She has been riding out the pandemic in a tiny village on an Irish mountaintop, watching murder shows, buying fairy-garden trinkets online and mainlining American news on CNN. On a recent overcast afternoon, she had a navy hijab arranged over her shaved head and a cigarette permanently installed between her fingertips, and when she leaned over an iPad inside her all-glass conservatory, she looked as if she had been hermetically sealed into her own little world.
Her cottage was appointed in bright, saturated colors that leapt out from the monotonous backdrop of the Irish sky with the surreal quality of a pop-up book. Bubble-gum roses lined the windows, and the Hindu goddess Durga stretched her eight arms across a blanket on a cozy cherry couch. When O’Connor, 54, gave me a little iPad tour during our video interview, the place seemed to fold in on itself: The flowers were fake ones she bought on Amazon.com, and her pair of handsome velvet chairs weren’t made for sitting.
“Deliberately, I bought uncomfortable chairs, because I don’t like people staying long,” she said. “I like being on my own.” But she disclosed this with such an impish giggle that it sounded almost like an invitation.
O’Connor is, no matter how hard she tries to fight it, irresistible. She exudes a tender familiarity, thanks to her cherubic smile, her loose tongue and the fact that she happens to possess one of the most iconic heads in pop culture memory. In the early ’90s, O’Connor became so famous that the very dimensions of her skull seemed inscribed in the public consciousness. If you remember two things about her, it’s that she vaulted to fame with that enduring close-up in the video for her version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” — and then, that she stared down a “Saturday Night Live” camera, tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II and killed her career.
But O’Connor doesn’t see it that way. In fact, the opposite feels true. Now she has written a memoir, “Rememberings,” that recasts the story from her perspective. “I feel that having a No. 1 record derailed my career,” she writes, “and my tearing the photo put me back on the right track.”
O’Connor saw herself as a protest-singing punk. When she ascended to the top of the pop charts, she was trapped. “The media was making me out to be crazy because I wasn’t acting like a pop star was supposed to act,” she told me. “It seems to me that being a pop star is almost like being in a type of prison. You have to be a good girl.” And that’s just not Sinead O’Connor.
“CRAZY” IS A word that does some dirty cultural work. It is a flip way of referencing mental illness, yes. But it’s also a slippery label that has little to do with how a person’s brain works and everything to do with how she is culturally received. Calling someone crazy is the ultimate silencing technique. It robs a person of her very subjectivity.
By the time O’Connor appeared on “S.N.L.,” in October 1992, she had already been branded as insane — for boycotting the Grammy Awards where she was up for record of the year (they recognized only “material gain,” she said) and refusing to play “The Star-Spangled Banner” before her concerts (because national anthems “have nothing to do with music in general”). But now her reputation felt at permanent risk.
“I’m not sorry I did it. It was brilliant,” she said of her protest against abuse in the Catholic Church. “But it was very traumatizing,” she added. “It was open season on treating me like a crazy bitch.”