Monday, April 19, 2010

Sinead O'Connor: Vindication

On October 3, 1992, Sinead O'Connor appeared on "Saturday Night Live” and ripped-up a photo of Pope John Paul II while singing Bob Marley’s “War.” A ferocious backlash followed. Even today the scene is edited out on reruns of “SNL”, both a damning example of censorship in the age of “big media”, and a revelation about the clout of Catholics in America. What few people recall, however, was that it was to protest pedophilia in the Catholic Church, a worthwhile cause by anyone’s standards, but one which hadn’t yet permeated the American psyche. How times change. Eighteen years later, the rest of the world appears to have finally caught up with her.

Sinead was one of the original riot grrrlz; she took on the Pope, Margaret Thatcher, Bono and Frank Sinatra; she ripped the guts out of a man who dared to leave her and then threw her career away to become the first female priest in her own Catholic/Rastafarian/Lesbian Nunnery...or something.

She's a warrior. Like Van Morrison or Emmylou Harris she goes straight for the heart of a song, takes it by the scruff of the neck and shakes it free from any protective plumage. Her gorgeous, stark voice, at times childishly tender or mawkishly cruel, picks up on the essentials, while leaving all superfluity behind.

When she first leapt into the limelight in the late ‘80s, she came on as Kate Bush gone to boot camp: head shaved and shrouded in the anger and mythology of songs “Troy” and “Mandinka.” Barely 20 years old in 1987 when she produced her debut, The Lion and The Cobra, she helped pave the way for the female artists that followed in her wake such as Liz Phair, Alanis Morrissette and Fiona Apple.

Last month she wrote a piece in the Washington Post explaining why she felt compelled to target the Pope:
"Almost 18 years ago, I tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II on an episode of "Saturday Night Live." Many people did not understand the protest -- the next week, the show's guest host, actor Joe Pesci, commented that, had he been there, "I would have gave her such a smack." I knew my action would cause trouble, but I wanted to force a conversation where there was a need for one; that is part of being an artist. All I regretted was that people assumed I didn't believe in God. That's not the case at all. I'm Catholic by birth and culture and would be the first at the church door if the Vatican offered sincere reconciliation."
I'm with her, still waiting at the door.

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