May 16, 2022 2:49 pm

Sinéad O’Connor, the singer with a supernatural voice, a tortured childhood and a thousand demons who lives an endless ordeal

Mario Vargas Llosa’s hackneyed and multipurpose question becomes pertinent to now think about the Irish singer who presented herself to the world with a shaved head, equal parts of the beauty of Romy Schneider and the asceticism of the Dalai Lama. At what point did Sinéad O’Connor get screwed? Driven by the latest news of an ordeal that the world consumes like a crude biopic (the suicide of her teenage son Shane, his internment in hospital custody to protect her, a cataract of desperate tweets, later deleted), the question about “the case O’Connor” comes, it would be said, packaged in origin.

The artist needed to be elevated perhaps as soon as when her porcelain face creaked before millions, when tears ran down, bitter, down her cheeks in the foreground. It was 1990, Sinéad was 24 years old: a song written by none other than Prince that he made entirely his own already said almost everything. The original words of “Nothing Compares 2 U” were intended for the incurable melancholy of a lover but, in the long run, they are the evidence on which the O’Connor case stands. “I have been so alone without you here, like a bird without a song”, she sang at the same time that she had found her song forever. The same one where he said “Nothing can stop these lonely tears from falling”; He wondered “At what point did I fail?” and he rewrote from his own experience “All those flowers that you planted in the background, mother, died when you left”. This last verse, in particular, spoke effectively of his mother Marie, whom he had lost in 1985 and to whom he cried with pain and rage, due to an abusive relationship that would mark his image as angry and at the same time erratic.

Sinéad would describe her childhood as “a torture chamber” and everything that came from the event of that compressed version of a song that Prince had written for the group The Family (and whose own version would only be heard in 2018) was recorded in stone like the Greco-Roman statues in Parc Saint-Cloud in Paris that are his only company in the video that captivated the global eye of MTV. Producer Nelle Hooper (Madonna, Garbage, Gwen Stefani) gave Prince’s original R&B the primal impact of John Lennon’s “Mother” as if the sound specified the feeling. It was an indelible trademark. In that same 1990 that opened the last decade of the 20th century, Roger Waters would add her to the cast with which he turned the fall of the Berlin Wall into a setting suitable for The Wall, the musical. Sinéad would have to sing, once again, “Mother”, by Pink Floyd. But now, 2022, she is the mother and “Nothing compares to you” seems entirely dedicated to Shane, the third of her four children, who was found dead on the 8th of this month after escaping from a psychiatric institution.

His latest album, I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss, was released in 2014Archivo – AFP

In Universal Mother, his 1994 album, the question was pervasive. In “Fire on Babylon”, Sinéad was still settling accounts with her mother, from whom she escaped in 1979 to end up in a Catholic reformatory, but in “My Darling Child” she whispered a lullaby with unfathomable tenderness. Was this the album that was supposed to follow the success of I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (1990) after the impasse with a distracting disc of standards (Am I Not Your Girl, which includes “Don’t cry for me Argentina”) but things happened in the middle. O’Connor signed the most iconoclastic gesture in the history of pop when on October 3, 1992, in Saturday Night Live tore into pieces a photo of Pope John Paul II live, while singing Bob Marley’s “War” before the astonished gaze of Tim Robbins, then host of the program.

The telephones of the NBC chain exploded in a scene that recalled the burning of Beatles records in the United States after Lennon’s statements (“The Beatles are more famous than Jesus Christ”) or the provocation of the Sex Pistols against Queen Elizabeth in the year of his jubilee. Sinéad had ripped that photo out of her mother’s room and used it at her moment of greatest public exposure to denounce the abuses against minors that the Catholic Church could no longer hide. Her emotional instability, which ended with a diagnosis of bipolarity in 2003, made her, however, return to religion. In the late 1990s, she was ordained a priestess by a schismatic bishop and changed her name to Bernadette Mary. Twenty years later she announced her conversion to Islam, asking to be called Shuhada’ Davitt.

Sinéad, in the end, was never what the portrait on the cover of I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, photogenic worthy of classic Hollywood. Theirs would rather be the unfortunate biographies of Audrey or Marilyn, as if the omnipotent dream factory had had a Charles Dickens among its screenwriters. The question why did you peel? she does not have the same response in her as Luca Prodan’s just because she is a woman and all her rebellions were punished twice.

Sinéad decided to shave her head so she wouldn’t have to deal with the sexy image that the producers of her first album asked of her: long hair and tighter clothes. The world would know her, she told herself, as a mashup of Romy Schneider and the Dalai Lama dressed in black gothic clothes walking between statues. And it is there, again, where the O’Connor case accumulated its first pages. The show business it was both heaven and hell for her: like Kurt Cobain, she had to jump on the same train she wanted to jump off. That he recorded an almost a cappella version of “All Apologies” the same year that the Nirvana frontman committed suicide is eloquent: pure identification. Tragic beauties that don’t fit in.

The unfortunate biopic that his life became usually dispenses with the soundtrack. Sinéad was never heard as much as in 1990 when propelled by “Nothing Compares 2 U” she sold seven and a half million records. His subsequent discography is there to be (re)discovered. On the cover of his latest album, I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss (2014) shows perhaps how its first producers would have wanted to sell it in 1987: a fatal Woman dressed in black leather hugging a phallic guitar.

In the last seven years, he has hardly been told about a collaboration on the collective album Salvation, versions of original Cranberries to benefit Pieta, a charity that assists people at risk of suicide. At the piano, Sinéad sings “No Need to Argue” here. The voice denotes the passage of time but still has that authority that made it so unique in the 90s. By then the problems of Shane, the son he had with folk producer Donald Lunny, had become apparent to the point that in February 2021 The singer had asked her fans to pray for her son’s mental health. Now, the lyrics of “No Need to Argue” also seem resigned by his personal tragedy: “I gave you everything I could but you left me too soon”. It hurts the whole body to hear her so stripped, as if she had said goodbye before time.

Along with Shane, his 17-year-old son
Along with Shane, his 17-year-old sonInstagram

Sinéad changed MTV for social networks but no longer to spread her music but to ask for help. A possible suicide was interrupted after he made his decision public on Facebook and during the crisis that ended with the death of Shane he used an alternative Twitter account, which he would later end up deleting, to bleed to death. Among other things, such as blaming the Irish health system, he wrote there “Everything I touch I ruin”. It is not true. You have to hear her again playing Prince (whom she describes as almost psychopathic in her 2021 memoir) and Kurt Cobain to redeem her from her own guilt.

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