The Evening Post
July 22, 2000

Mother Of Mercy

Stefan HERRICK

   Sinead O'Connor is a different woman to the
bald-headed banshee once stalked by controversy at
every turn. She's now a priest, a lesbian, and a
fretting mum. As Stefan Herrick reports, it's quite a
revelation.

SINEAD O'Connor goes very quiet. Seconds pass. Time
turns to treacle. Dismantling a bomb would be like
this.To ask O'Connor about her sexuality - the singer
has reportedly come out as a lesbian - is like
awaiting the big flash after you've snipped the blue
wire. If you believe what you read, O'Connor is a
shaven-headed, Doc Marten-wearing, Pope-slagging,
bloke-clobbering nutcase who likes nothing better than
to verbally disembowel her interrogators if they
overstep the mark.

Crass as this line of questioning is, it falls into
the category of "people will want to know". That
doesn't make it any less volatile.

Finally, she speaks.

"To be honest, I don't believe there's any such thing
as gay or straight, so I wouldn't class myself as
either gay or straight.

"I can't say what it means for me any more than what
loving means for anyone else. If you fall in love with
someone it doesn't matter whether they're female,
male, old, young, pink, grey or yellow."

That went well. But then, so has the rest of this
conversation. Far from being a "bald-headed banshee",
as London tabloid The Sun once described her, the tiny
woman with the enormous reputation for trouble, has
been agreeable, thoughtful and unflappably calm.
Eccentric, certainly, but not, apparently, nutty. It
occurs to me I mightn't be talking to the right
person.

Of course, it is the same Sinead O'Connor, only this
is an older, gentler version. I tell her she is
nothing like I expected.

"What did you expect?" she asks.

Rabid and foaming at the mouth.

She laughs. "I think as you get older that sort of
thing wears off."

It's mid-morning in Dublin, Ireland, and O'Connor is
in her sitting room doing telephone interviews and
"painting psalms". I mishear this first as "painting
palms" and then "painting sounds". Does that mean
you're writing music?

"Psalms!" she says firmly. "I paint the words and then
do really nice gold backgrounds, like, and then paint
the words in really nice colours." Today it's Psalm I.
 

An odd hobby, perhaps, for someone who, in 1992,
ripped up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live
with David Letterman and told viewers to "fight the
real enemy", and who has never been sparing in her
criticism of the Catholic church for what she saw as
its policies of pestilence, poverty and patriarchy.

But, having fought the church for many years, O'Connor
recently became a part of it. She is now a priest, she
says, ordained into the Latter Day Latin Tridentine
movement - a strange choice given that the Tidentines
are ultra conservative. Her ordained name is Sinead
Mother Bernadette Maria O'Connor. Sinead, she says,
will be fine.

Now 33, with a son, Jake, aged 14, and daughter
Brigidine, aged four, the priesthood has helped put
some distance between her and her former life. She
looks back at herself a decade ago and sees "a brave
child of 20 who put out an album, who had come from a
very hardcore situation, was brave enought to write
about it and sing about it and scream and shout about
it".

Being young, outspoken, Irish and female made her a
plumb target for the British tabloids. Between 1990,
when her debut album The Lion And The Cobra was
released, and 1995 when she vowed to drop out and
never talk to the press again, controversy feasted on
her every word.

Madonna got stuck into her over the Pope-ripping
incident, Frank Sinatra threatened to "kick her ass"
for refusing to sing at a concert if the Star Spangled
Banner was played, she was booed off stage by 20,000
fans at a concert celebrating Bob Dylan's 30th year in
the business and she alleged Prince tried to grope her
during a visit to her home.

Despite volumes of defiant quotes and brave
appearances at the time, such things left her in
tatters. She'd underestimated the dangers of the music
business.

"The casualties are huge," she says. "Being famous is
not all for nothing. I paid a huge, massive price in
terms of my spirit. I found that the whole experience
at that age was very soul-destroying." Is she relieved
she made it through reasonably intact? "Yeah. Very
much so. I'm very lucky."

But now, even being ordained doesn't create that much
of a stir. Seen by some as sleeping with the enemy,
O'Connor sees it as making change from within. She's
still scathing of the church, feeling that God has
been badly represented by the large religious
franchises.

"My becoming a priest," she says, "does not mean that
I'll suddenly take on a whole set of right-wing
beliefs. That's not the case. What I've decided to do
is that if I feel I'm in a position to criticise the
church then surely I feel I can help.

"So what I prefer to do now is present myself as a
friend rather than an enemy and try to be a bridge
between 'us' and 'them', and if we want to stop a lot
of bad shit that's going on the best thing that we can
do is get together and be friends.

"I guess," she says, "that I want to rescue God from
religion."

SINEAD O'Connor first sang in public at age 14,
performing a Barbra Steisand song at a teacher's
wedding. Such was the response that she ran away to
study music in Dublin where she was spotted by U2's
guitarist The Edge who asked her to sing on his solo
album.

She recorded The Lion And The Cobra while pregnant.
Two months later she appeared on Top Of The Pops bald
and unsmiling.

Controversy licked its chops.

In 1993 came graphic revelations of childhood abuse at
the hands of her mother (who died in 1985) that
created a rift between her father and brother.

Distraught, she suffered a breakdown and attempted
suicide. The cathartic Universal Mother album, she
says, helped dig her out of the hole.

Music is still a big part of the equation, although
O'Connor now ranks it behind her children and her
faith on her list of priorities. She even has a new
record out.

In Faith And Courage, O'Connor sings like a wily
archangel about love lost, making peace with her
once-doubting father, and seeks forgiveness for some
of her behaviour in the past while firing off a few
fresh broadsides.

But tell O'Connor you hear anger or hate, and she'll
tell you you're listening to it the wrong way and that
- again - she's been misunderstood.

No Man's Woman has been singled out as proof that
she's still got it in for men. O'Connor seems
genuinely puzzled by this.

"Not at all," she says. "But if a man writes a song
saying whiskey and women almost wrecked my life, well,
nobody has a problem with that. But if a woman says a
man wrecked my life everyone thinks she's a man-hater.
 

"It's not fair. The song, when you really listen to
it, honours the spirit of men."

It bothers her that her son wants to become a
musician. He's a big fan of hip hop, and while
O'Connor agrees it's good music (she dabbles in it
herself) she doesn't think it has a good effect on
children. "I don't mind bad language and stuff, but
what I don't like are records that talk about killing
people."

She sounds like a clucking mother hen.

"Oh I am," she says. "There are some things you can't
do when you have children. You do have to set them an
example. I think, though, that when they hit 21 I'll
probably turn into rock'n'roll chick from hell, taking
every class-A drug under the sun, wearing lots of
eyeliner . . .

"Obviously I'm joking," she adds quickly. "I'm not
serious about the drugs. I'm joking."

The phone is beeping. Another interview is standing by
and, with a cheerful "thank-you", O'Connor's off.

The man from the record company rings the next day to
find out how it went. A couple of radio stations had
found her difficult, he says. "They said she gave
shitty answers."

Perhaps the angry young woman hasn't changed that much
after all.

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