Breaking news at the end of BBC’s Newsline “Sinead O’Connor has died…” My heart did that little caving in when it’s hit with sorrow filled news. “No, no, no, no… oh dear… Sinead”. I muttered.
I first came across Sinead O’Connor when she was still a teenager, adding her voice to In Tua Nua’s song Take My Hand and then a song with U2’s Edge, Heroine, the theme song for the movie The Captive in 1986.
I pretty much missed her first album The Lion and The Cobra in 1987 but nobody in the world missed 1990’s Nothing Compares To You the global mega single from her second album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.
The video for Nothing Compares To You, written by Prince, introduced a new superstar, an Irish girl with shaved head and a seemingly innocent porcelain skinned face. At 24 she had set her mark on the history of music. What a mark it would be.
She would never reach the same commercial success again but in the vast array of directions that her music took from there on she always caught my attention and mad em pay attention - jazz standards, Irish trad, reggae. There was even an album called Theology, filled with Biblical symbolism.
I would suggest that her last two records were as strong as any before them. I always looked forward to what she would be saying next. That there will not be another and lots after that is a shame. Her music will be missed.
Sinead’s performances off stage are as well known as her art. She had a personal story of childhood trauma to be shared. She also was never backward about coming forward. Her heroes Dylan and Marley were protest singers and she took on that mantle.
For her as an Irish girl that was the backward theocracy that she grew up and suffered under. Her ripping up of a photograph Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live will sit side by side with Nothing Compares To You in her obituaries. It was at the beginning of the opening up the Catholic Church paedophile scandals and a couple of decades that turned Ireland on its head.
I sympathised with her honesty about her brokenness and mental health issues. I empathised with her desire to bring about a just and loving world. Like Jesus, she was always on the side of the underdog, the hurting, the poor, the marginalised.
I remember just two weeks after the Pope incident she was to sing at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Celebration Concert in 1992. Everyone was to sing a Dylan song and Sinead had rehearsed her deeply spiritual version of I Believe In You but when it went live broke into Bob Marley’s War before being booed off.
I was living in Dublin at that time and trying to understand the changes that were happening in the Republic of Ireland led by the likes of Bob Geldof, U2 and Sinead. I remember in the midst of all of the commentary seeing through Sinead’s hurt. Like a pastor I saw her as a prodigal daughter, broken, resilient and brave, often seeming lost but ever seeking.
As the news broke tonight I was back there with my 1992 notebook feeling sympathy, empathy and heart ache for her pain filled life, added beyond understanding by her son Shane’s suicide last year, and the joy that her music has brought me and will continue to do.
“No, no, no…”