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A refuge and a fortress
On the death of Sinéad O'Connor and the media's short memory.
The papers are writing about her as though she was a saint now but they painted her as a mad screaming sinner when she told the truth on Saturday Night Live, when she sang Bob Marley’s 'War’ and ripped up the Pope’s picture, when she talked about the way the Irish state and the Catholic church wrapped around each and abused generation after generation. The media, in general, did not give Sinéad O'Connor the credit for her bravery, her prescience, her humour, and her power until she died. It’s because they think she is no longer dangerous now she’s gone.
But the things she said remain, the music she made abides, and the minds she changed are still thinking. As I’m writing this, the Today programme is boiling her down to that Prince cover and the tears she shed in that video. It is doing its usual glib run through the work and the life, the controversies and the personal struggles. There is a template for this stuff and it is always unsatisfying. “When we use this word ‘troubled’, it just doesn’t do justice to people who are ‘sensitive’…” Justin Webb just said, with that ersatz tone that broadcasters put on to mimic gravitas.
When Sinéad O'Connor was asked about her early gigs, she said: “I just wanted to scream.” She called Ireland “an abused child”. She performed at the 1989 Grammy Awards in ripped jeans, a black halter-neck, Doc Martins, her son’s babygro tied around her waist, and with her head shaved in defiance of the music industry’s desire to harness her extraordinary beauty.
The song that she was singing was her first hit Mandinka:
I don't know no shame I feel no pain I can't see the flame... ... Soon I can give you my heart
Those words are a better tribute to Sinéad O'Connor’s talent and power than the bruised breakup anthem that she took from Prince and so thoroughly possessed.
Sinéad O'Connor’s first album was called The Lion and the Cobra; the name is taken from Psalm 91 and another line from that Bible verse is how I feel about her voice:
I will say of the LORD, who is my refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust…
For so many people, Sinéad O'Connor’s work has been and will always remain a refuge and a fortress.
Rest in power Shuhada’ Sadaqat, known professionally as Sinéad O'Connor
(8 December 1966 — 26 July 2023)
Thanks for reading.
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