“She drew controversy and divided opinion during her long career in music and time in public life.” That’s how the obituary in the times begins.
Of course it does.
Mine probably will as well.
And of course.
She’s a woman.
I got my first Sinéad record at age 14, I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got, dubbed from my mentor Anthony’s CD collection onto a 90-minute Maxell XLII blank cassette tape. It changed my life. I wanted the artwork, so I borrowed Anthony’s CD booklet, took it to the town library xerox machine, copied it, and carefully and lovingly cut it to size for a cassette tape. So I could see her face. Her face.
I learned every song by heart.
She was fierceness and honestly incarnate.
She howled her heart out so purely that people had no idea what to make of it.
This is a woman who ripped up a picture of the pope on Saturday Night Live (when it had no ”safety delay”) to draw attention to the sex abuse happening in the Catholic Church, after delivering “War” by Bob Marley, a cappella:
Until the philosophy which hold one race
Superior and another Inferior
Everywhere is war.
Twelve days later she took the stage at Madison Square Garden for a Bob Dylan tribute festival and you could barely hear her sing over the boos and jeers from the crowd. She scrapped her planned Dylan song and screamed out “War” again, as the crowd tried to overpower her.
That feeling. Many women have been there. I have been there too, shaking, as it feels like the whole world is trying to shout and drown you out, and put you in your place. Wondering if I am the crazy one. Wondering if this many people are right. Or wrong. Or even real.
She was right about the church. She was very fucking right.
She was right about so many things.
Now that she is dead, I know she’ll be lauded and applauded.
But back then? That night? How do you imagine she felt that night, crawling into bed, having been abused by a crowd of thousands? How would you feel? What would that do to you? Would you care if the world turned around, forty years later, and said: “Sorry about that, you were actually very brave?”
This is a woman who boycotted the Grammys saying she did not want “to be part of a world that measures artistic ability by material success.” This is a woman who refused to play US national anthem before certain concerts. That went down reallll well, too.
She was hated, she was scorned, she was cancelled for being honest over and over again. That SNL move was the beginning of the end of a career in many ways. She never recovered.
Too much, they said. Go away.
She used her voice. She kept on singing.
She was loud. Being a loud woman is not fucking convenient, for anyone. Ever. Not around here.
She was strikingly beautiful. She shaved her head and gave the middle finger to the beauty standard. She wore combat boots and jeans. She opened her mouth to the max, literally. She did not mumble; she roared. She inspired me into taking power; she inspired so many of my friends. She showed us all another way. There’s this way, too. Go this way, she seemed to be screaming, GO.
Dismissed as crazy. She struggled, and she struggled, and she struggled. She was punished, she was mocked, she was ridiculed.
She retreated and came back time and time again, her roar ragged, her frustration jagged and visible. Painful. You could see it, feel it. We mourned it, me and my friends.
Sinéad? Misunderstood? Which chicken, which egg?
What the world did to Sinéad was death by a thousand cuts. The world lauded her, worshipped her, bought her, sold her, forgave her, claimed her, disavowed her. Over and over in cycles. How could anyone survive that? Like a piece of metal getting bent over and over and over again. It breaks.
She began as a fragile person. A fragile artist. Which is why her songs were so beautiful and powerful to begin with. A raw heart. A mother. Not an idea, not a theoretical. A person.
The world loved the taste of her. The world didn’t know how to digest her. The world spit her out.
She never apologized for ripping up that picture of the pope. When asked later, she said “I’m not sorry I did it. It was brilliant”.
Never forget this woman. Remember her as the voice she had, not the crazy we made her.
And let her memory guide us.
Let them scream at you, but do not stop singing.
Never apologize just to make them happy, to make them go away, to “get along”, to make them accept you.
No, no, no.
Me say War.
Sinéad….rest in world-changing ripped paper phoenix-pieces from the stage, rising and burning into the white night stars. Find peace at last. I hope you forgive us what we could not give you.
PS. I was just invited to be on BBC’s “Newsnight” in the UK this evening if you want to tune in. I will speak and sing. Around 11pm UK time.
PS. Here’s a cover that my dad, Jack, and I did of Sinéad’s beautiful song “Black Boys on Mopeds”.