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Sinéad O’Connor, a misunderstood woman: the documentary that vindicates her legacy

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every 10 days Sinéad O’Connor (Dublin, 1966 – 2023) shaves his head. He has done so, perhaps at some point not with as much effort or punctuality, since at his record label they suggested he “groom himself more”, wear miniskirts and leave your hair long. Sinéad was not there to be corseted, sexualized and turned into another product of the music industry.

More than three decades ago, Sinéad rebelled. She was about 20 years old, she overflowed with talent and charisma. She would soon be placed in the number one of all possible lists with Nothing compares 2U (Prince composition), in addition to creating a solid and innovative album. Having a shave and wearing clothes two or three sizes too big, a fluid wardrobe – as they call it now – would create an image that did not fit with the canon of the 90s, with what was expected of a nascent pop music star. He was also not well regarded to exercise social criticism, being an activistdon’t stay silent.

Sinéad grabbed a speaker and used it, but in the 90s activism did not agree with pop stars. The performer was ahead of her time, which contrasts with the current era in which some celebrities defend causes chosen in the catalog available to their publicists, due to the need to have activism on the “agenda” (although it is true that others they join wholeheartedly in certain struggles).

The Irish woman with huge eyes, a smile that stuck in your retina, who enraptured with her voice and broke patterns with her music, was like a bird of paradise in the middle of a jungle full of animals that viewed her with suspicion. It didn’t take them long to call her crazy, a slut, and misplaced..

The three adjectives most used to deactivate women who challenge, those who protest, those who rebel with a cause (or without one), those who denounce injustices, mistreatment and atrocities. Sinéad O’Connor was one of them.

Without a doubt, Sinéad constitutes a phenomenon in the history of recent music and the documentary film nothing comparesdirected by Kathryn Ferguson, that’s how he remembers it. What’s more, she has every intention that once and for all, and from today’s perspective, her legacy is assumed and admitted, and in the process it is recognized that whoever they called “crazy” was right. And boy did she have it.

“They broke my heart, they killed me, but I didn’t die.”his voice floats over images in Ferguson’s documentary, “they tried to bury me, but they didn’t realize that I was already a seed.”

Kathryn Ferguson, director of ‘Nothing compares’.

Sundance Film Festival

“I just wanted to scream”

In a way, the premiere in Sundance Festival of nothing compareswhose production began four years ago, complemented the recent publication of O’Connor’s memoirs, Rememberings (Sandycove, 2021). By the culmination of that book, she had gone through a difficult and long process of reliving a past that had left many scars and wounds still open.

It seemed like a good time to vindicate the figure of the singer, who had continued with her musical career and who in 2018 had converted to Islam. But in January of this year, due to the suicide of the youngest of her four children, Shane (17 years old), any promotion, statements or interviews with director Kathryn Ferguson were rejected. Obviously not with O’Connor, who had to be hospitalized for suicidal thoughts.

nothing comparesguided by the voice in off by Sinéad, in addition to statements from artists such as peaches, Kathleen Hanna, Chuck D. either John Grantfocuses on the events, complaints and words of Sinéad O’Connor between 1987 and 1993, key years during which she reached the heights of fame and later became the target of a smear campaign at a time when cancel culture was not yet spoken of as a concept, despite the fact that it was widely practiced left and right.

At that time, the Irish singer-songwriter raised her voice for abortion and for women to decide about their bodies, for the rights of the LGTBQ collective, as well as condemning child abuse and violence towards women in the Catholic Church. She took the side of artists who were belittled, censored and rejected for representing black culture, as well as talked about mental illness when that topic constituted an impenetrable wall of silence. Today all these causes are more alive than ever.

O’Connor dared a lot, perhaps because he was a soul punk that he had nothing to lose. He made many of these causes his own out of pure and sincere empathy, while for others he raised his fist for personal reasons, because in a certain way he had experienced and suffered them firsthand, something that was not known at that time, and if they had been It was known that the fact of being a woman worked against her.

In both the documentary and the book, it tells about the singer’s family constellation, the physical and psychological abuse to which she was subjected since she was a child by her mother, as well as his father’s lack of willingness to intercede. When her mother died in a traffic accident, Sinéad – who was 18 years old – took the only photo in her room: it was an image of Pope John Paul II taken on a visit to Ireland in 1979. She would save it for a moment. prompt.

The abuse in his childhood and his turbulent adolescence constitute a fundamental and definitive part in the life of O’Connor, who is aware that he suffers from a post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder.

“When I was a child there was no therapy,” the singer’s somewhat harsh voice is heard in the document. “Making music was my therapy. “I just wanted to scream”.

The Ireland in which Sinéad grew up was dominated by the precepts of the Catholic Church; In the 70s, the ultraconservative and repressive tradition persisted, in which her mother and her grandmother also grew up.

Women in Ireland had everything to lose, she became aware of this from very early on and confirmed it when, from the Catholic school where she was admitted as a teenager, she saw up close what was happening in the so-called Magdalene Laundries (The Magdalen Laundries), where thousands of raped young women and women who were considered “fallen from grace” ended up.

Image from the documentary ‘Nothing compares’.

Sundance Film Festival

In nothing compares – for which and as a curious note Prince’s heirs banned the use of the song that O’Connor made famous -, he says that becoming a pop music star was not among his plans. He paved his musical path, first supported by a guitar teacher who heard his exceptional voice, then by frequenting alternative bands. rock and punkuntil making the final leap to London where he signed with Ensign Records to record his first album The Lion and the Cobra in 1987.

In full production She became pregnant and the bosses of the record company suggested that she interrupt the pregnancy.. Although he defended the right to abortion, in his case and at that moment in his life, why would he have to comply with such an order disguised as a suggestion? He asked himself.

Mandinka, troy, I Want Your (Hands on Me) and other songs from that first studio album would put her on the international musical scene.

The torn photo

How did thousands of Sinéad O’Connor records get destroyed by a steamroller? Where did that come from? Madonna would mock her, that Frank Sinatra offered him a kick in the butt or that the actor Joe Pesci Would you like to spank him?

Sinatra’s reaction was due to O’Connor’s refusal to allow the US national anthem to be played prior to his concert in New Jersey in 1990. At that time, the American country was not only fighting the Gulf War, it was also Sinéad was openly supporting black artists who were being censored and rejected by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), for which there was boycotted the 1991 Grammy Awards.

His second successful album I do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (I don’t want what I don’t have), which contains the hit Nothing Compares 2Uhad four nominations, of which it won one for best alternative music album.

“Maybe “If it had been a man, there wouldn’t have been so much commotion.”O’Connor comments in the documentary about the fuss around the US anthem, “something like that was simply not expected from a woman.”

The episode of the destroyed records, the mockery and zero empathy on the part of Madonna, the threat from Pesci, to which was added a mixture of humiliating boos with applause at Madison Square Garden in New York during a tribute to Bob Dylan (“the strangest noise I’ve ever heard in my fucking life,” O’Connor describes in the documentary), would be the reactions to an action that left many stunned and others amazed.

It was 1992. Sinéad, at the peak of fame, would participate in the program Saturday night Live (SNL). He sang a cappella WARby Bob Marley, which he modified slightly.

After finishing singing the song, looking straight at the camera took the photo of the Pope that had been his mother’s. He tore it to shreds and said without shaking his voice: “Fight the real enemy.”.

“When have we seen a feminist act like this on television?” she asks. Kathleen Hanna of the group Bikini Kill in nothing compares. This feminist action also had a background, something that was not taken into account at that time when a pop star had to open her mouth just to sing.

In those years, accusations of rape and abuse of minors in the Catholic Church began to come to light in several countries. Ignoring the usual pressures, the media in Ireland had echoed the complaints.

Sinéad O’Connor, who followed the scandal closely, He was enraged at the indolence of the Catholic Church who at that time had John Paul II as Pope.

From that night in 1992, Sinéad would hear the words “crazy, bitch, misplaced” more than ever related to her name. “This bitch says there are priests raping children? Of course it seemed crazy to them! That’s why I don’t blame them for hating me.”puts himself in the place of those who were unaware of what was happening within the Catholic Church.

“I’m sorry that people treated me like shit,” his voice is heard in the film nothing compares“they thought they could make fun of me for throwing my career down the drain, but “I never said I wanted to be a pop star, so I didn’t give up any fucking career.”.

Three decades after that episode in SNL He says that although he was deeply hurt by the reactions, he has no regrets. “It was the proudest thing I’ve ever done as an artist.”

As he writes in Rememberings, what had derailed her career was appearing as the number one performer on all the music charts. “Tearing up the photo,” she says, “put me back on the right path.”

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