Search This Blog

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Controversial Life Of Sinéad O'Connor

Does anyone remember when Sinéad O’Connor was famous for her musical talents and not for the controversy that has followed her in recent years?

Yeah, I know.  Those memories are kind of hazy for me as well.

It’s no wonder though.  Over the last few years, controversy and Sinéad O’Connor have seemingly gone together the same way one would put peanut butter and jelly together in a sandwich.

I mean, yes, let’s give credit where credit is due.  She is a woman who stands by what she believes in, and usually won’t back down from her stances or her beliefs, which is commendable.  Unfortunately, the way that she went about taking a stand has made some to believe that she is nothing more than a troublemaker (a label that O’Connor admits is an appropriate one for her).

The latest bit of controversy surrounding Sinéad O’Connor dates back only a couple of months.  On December 9, 2011 (just one day after her 45th birthday), O’Connor had gotten married to her fourth husband, Barry Herridge, an Irish therapist.  Less than three weeks later, O’Connor filed for divorce.

You know your marriage must have been bad if it didn’t even last longer than the Kardashian train wreck.

O’Connor issued a statement on her official website shortly after the marriage was called off, with her explaining that the marriage was over, making a point to mention that they had only lived together for only seven days total.  Because, I’m sure that everyone who has gotten married has suffered from the seven-day itch.

To make the story even more bizarre, just a week after the marriage was called off, Sinéad O’Connor made people wag their tongues even more when she posted a series of announcements online announcing her reconciliation with Herridge.  So, at this point, I’m not sure exactly what to believe.

And this latest incident isn’t even the most shocking or controversial thing she has ever done in her lifetime!  But, we’ll get to that a bit later.

I figure that since it’s the Sunday Jukebox entry, we might as well talk about the thing that initially made Sinéad O’Connor a star in the first place.

Right from childhood, Sinéad O’Connor had a bit of a rebellious streak in her.  She and her siblings were often abused by their mother (as O’Connor has claimed in several interviews) when they were younger, and Sinéad often acted out as a direct result of it.  At the age of 15, she had already been caught shoplifting, and often skipped school.  It got so bad that she was placed in a building known as a Magdalene asylum (a place where girls who were seen as having poor moral character were sent).  Although O’Connor had some instances in which she hated being there, she did later say that being there helped her develop some essential skills.

Most notably, it helped her become a better writer, and helped her hone into her musical talents. 

By 1983, when O’Connor was sixteen, her father had placed her in a school which was far less restrictive than the one she had previously been enrolled at, and it was here that she was encouraged by her Irish language teacher, Joseph Falvey, to record a demo tape.

The following year, O’Connor met a man named Columb Farrelly after he answered an ad that she had placed in ‘Hot Press’ magazine.  Together, the formed the band ‘Ton Ton Macoute’ (the band name was inspired by the Haitian zombie culture).  She dropped out of school to pursue a career with the band, and many of their performances in Dublin garnered a positive buzz.  Many people who enjoyed the concerts specifically singled out O’Connor’s vocals and stage presence as being the best thing about the band.

In 1985, O’Connor suffered a shock when her mother was killed in a car accident.  Despite the volatility towards her mother, Sinéad was left devastated by the loss.  Months later, she would leave Ton Ton Macoute to embark on a solo career in London, England.

Luckily, upon her arrival in London, people already had an idea of who she was based on her work with the band.  Within a few months of arriving in London, she had gotten signed to recording label Ensign Records.  One of her first jobs with the studio was recording a single called “Heroine” for the motion picture soundtrack for “Captive”.  It was co-written by O’Connor, and The Edge, guitarist for Irish band U2.

Shortly thereafter, Sinéad began work on her debut album, “The Lion And The Cobra”, which was released in 1987.  But the making of the album wasn’t without its problems.  The original producer of the album, Mick Glossop, clashed with O’Connor on multiple occasions, as each of them had different opinions as to how O’Connor’s debut album should sound.  The fallout led to over four months worth of work of recordings being scrapped entirely.  To add to the stress, O’Connor had gotten pregnant with her first child by her session drummer, John Reynolds.  At seven months pregnant, and just twenty years old, Sinéad’s manager, Fachtna O’Ceallaigh, convinced the record execs to let O’Connor produce her debut album herself.

“The Lion And The Cobra” was released in November 1987, and spurned three hit singles.  The album wasn’t a huge commercial success in the United States, but her songs did get a lot of airplay on college radio stations throughout 1988 and 1989. 

And then in 1990, Sinéad O’Connor released her second album “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got”.  And from that second album came the song that would get her noticed by the American public, and became a huge worldwide success.

ARTIST:  Sinéad O’Connor
SONG:  Nothing Compares 2 U
ALBUM:  I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
DATE RELEASED:  January 8, 1990

Originally, the song “Nothing Compares 2 U” was a Prince composition, meant for a side project that he was working on.  But when O’Connor teamed up with producer Nellee Hooper to record the song for her 1990 album, nobody knew just how much of a hit it would become.

For the hard life that O’Connor experienced in her teenage years, and her rebellious streak, the music video for the single was surprisingly calm and serene.   It was a simplistic video that featured an extreme close-up of O’Connor’s head as she sang throughout most of the song.  The shots that did not involve the close-up showed O’Connor walking through a park in Paris, France.

TRIVIA:  When O’Connor sings the lyrics “all the flowers that you planted, mama, in the backyard, all died when you went away”, you can see a tear stream down her face.  O’Connor explained that this was not accidental.  It described the complicated relationship that she had with her mother when she was still alive, and how raw her emotions were upon singing that very lyric.

The music video was largely responsible for the song’s success.  It won three awards at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards, including the award for Video of the Year (the first time that a female artist had won the honour).

Sinéad O’Connor’s second album sold extremely well as a result of “Nothing Compares 2 U”.  Coupled with the success of another single, “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, the album put Sinéad O’Connor on the map, and she had quickly become one of the most sought after entertainers of 1990.

However with the success came the controversy, and for O’Connor, it all began to take place just months after “Nothing Compares 2 U” became a worldwide smash.

In August 1990, O’Connor had a concert booked at the Garden State Arts Center in the city of Holmdel, New Jersey.  One of the practices of the venue at that time was to play a recording of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ before each concert began...a practice that conflicted with Sinéad’s own beliefs.  Because she had felt that most of the anthems were written during times of war, and therefore in her opinion promoted nationalist tirades. 

I’m just writing what I read.  Formulate your own opinions.

The venue did accommodate O’Connor’s request, and the concert went on as planned without the anthem, but the general opinion wasn’t exactly kind.  It was widely reported in tabloids, and some radio stations pulled O’Connor’s songs from their playlists.

And then came the fateful Saturday Night Live appearance.

On October 3, 1992, Sinéad O’Connor was the musical guest featured on Saturday Night Live, singing an a cappella version of Bob Marley’s “War”.  O’Connor specifically chose the song herself to make a statement against the sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church.  Everything went according to plan and without incident, until she pulled out a photograph of Pope John Paul II while singing the word “evil”.  She then did something that would have people talking for weeks afterwards, and caused a national backlash as a result.

She took the photo of the Pope, tore it into dozens of pieces, and urged the viewing audience to “fight the real enemy” before throwing the pieces of the photo towards the camera.

The reaction from the studio audience was pure silence.  Just moments before, they were laughing at the various sketches put on by the cast of Saturday Night Live, but after O’Connor’s performance, many audience members weren’t sure how to react.  And, who can blame them, really?  It was an incredibly shocking thing to witness.

Reportedly, the producers of Saturday Night Live were just as blown away as the viewing audience, as they had no idea that O’Connor was planning on doing such a thing (they had seen her tearing up a different photo altogether during the rehearsal).  Executive producer Lorne Michaels had described the situation as “on a certain level, a betrayal”, but also noted that it was also “an expression of serious belief”.

At any rate, the damage was done.  Luckily for NBC, the network didn’t face any fines for O’Connor’s performance, as blasphemy was not regulated by the FCC.  But NBC had gotten a total of over four thousand complaints from angry viewers, wondering how the network could have allowed such a thing to happen.  Of course, the show was done live, and not even the executives and producers knew what O’Connor was planning, so very little could have been done to stop it from going on.

Of course, O’Connor was vilified by the press, as well as the public.  Two weeks after the Saturday Night Live appearance, she was set to perform at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary tribute concert, and when she took to the stage, the people in the audience were largely opposed to seeing her, and they booed her quite loudly.  At first, O’Connor was set to ignore the naysayers, but eventually she had to leave the stage, as the crowd was getting restless.  While I don’t doubt that it must have been a hard pill to swallow for her, the general opinion was that she had brought it on herself. 

But, did she care?  Not at all.  She revealed in a 2002 interview that she had absolutely no regrets about what she did, and she’d do it over again exactly the same way.  So, I guess if there is something positive to say about this incident, it’s that she still stands true to her beliefs after all this time.  I guess in that sense, you have to give her props for not being wishy-washy, even if her opinion wasn’t one that was popular.

But, in 1992, O’Connor’s popularity in the United States was at an all time low.  The host of Saturday Night Live the week after O’Connor’s fateful appearance was actor Joe Pesci, who poked fun at the incident, and later explained in an interview that had this happened when he was the host, he probably would have decked her one. 

Madonna was also a huge critic of O’Connor’s action, and constantly took pot shots at O’Connor through the media.  But, O’Connor struck right back, accusing Madonna of being a poor role model for women, given the fact that she had publicly slagged her off as an entertainer, and personally insulted her before the incident had taken place.

IRONIC TRIVIA:  The song that dethroned Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” was Madonna’s “Vogue”, which hit the #1 spot the weekend of May 18, 1990.  Even more ironic, May 18 was also the birthdate of Pope John Paul II!

And, of course, O’Connor’s sales of her music plummeted in late 1992.  Although O’Connor had released six albums since the Saturday Night Live appearance, none of them matched the success of her earlier albums.

During the late 1990s and 2000s, O’Connor tried to focus on other things, and ended up having a lot of highs and lows.  Throughout her life, she had four marriages, and had four children.  She was ordained as a priest by Bishop Michael Cox, which caused controversy, as the belief of the Roman Catholic Church stated that women could not be ordained priests.

O’Connor was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2003, and she confessed on the Oprah Winfrey show that she had attempted suicide on her 33rd birthday in 1999. 

But, Sinéad O’Connor survived all that, and she is now moving ahead with her life (even if the state of her current marriage is unknown).

Despite all the scandal and all the controversy that she has gotten involved in through the years, there’re two things that I can point out as being positive.  I already talked about one earlier, about how O’Connor has stood by her beliefs no matter how unpopular they were.

But when you can tune out the controversy and really listen to her songs the way they were meant to be listened to, they really are beautiful and soulful.  It’s unknown as to whether or not O’Connor will be able to rise above the controversy and just focus on the music again, but I suppose as long as she is still alive, there’s a very slim possibility.

No comments:

Post a Comment