By Stephen Robinson
On the night before I
am due to interview Sinead Mother Bernadette Maria O'Connor, I have a blazing
row with a close friend and I am subsequently beaten up by a drunken Englishman
in Dublin's Dame Street. I don't think the incidents are related. The following
morning, I arrive at the rendezvous, my flat, only to discover that I've
mislaid my keys. There's a taxi strike, so my taxi driver, Lorraine, agrees
to wait for Sinead and ferry us to an alternative venue. I think she may
be a fan. When Sinead arrives (Lorraine: "God, she's really tiny")
we relocate to the house of a friend, stopping on the way for cigarettes.
When I offer to run into the shop for her, she tells me that she'll go
herself. If the clerical garb makes me slightly nervous, it certainly doesn't
have the same effect on her. When we eventually get settled, coffee, cigarettes
and some bread and butter for herself, she tells me that I may have to
move my tape recorder a little closer to her. "I speak very softly,"
she smiles. I think I'm going to enjoy this. Hey, maybe my luck is changing.
Stephen Robinson: As someone who has been damaged by the Church, your decision to take holy orders seems like a strange one. Can you enlighten me?
Sinead O'Connor: It would be a mistake to presume that I personally have been damaged by the Church. I have been hurt and damaged as a child, by other people and by religion's effects on generations of my family and the whole country. But no-one has been more damaged by the Church than the Church itself and we should be aware of that. When I was a child, I was forced to call out to God and, far from being hurt or damaged, I was completely inspired by religion. A lot of it was bullshit and I let that go over my head but the stuff that was real and interesting, like Mary Magdalene, fascinated me. Growing up in Ireland is like growing up in a church anyway or at least it was to me. But when, as a hurt child, I called out to God, I felt an actual presence, I felt a spirit around me at a time when I was naked, bleeding and locked up in rooms. It was such a strong presence that - I don't like the word faith, because it implies that you have no evidence - I felt the Holy Spirit at those times and that's my evidence. The thing about prayer is that you've got to believe it. If you can play that trick on your conscious mind, if you convince yourself it's going to work, it'll work. You should try it. I was completely saved by God and felt a calling from that early age. I'm not saying He'll get you out of the shit but He'll be with you, you're not alone. I promised myself that, uh, when I was big, I'd do whatever I could to show people that He exists, despite 'religion'."
SR: Did you ever consider becoming a nun?
SC: I didn't want to be a nun, because I wanted to have loads of sex, basically. Organised religions all over the world continue to misrepresent God and I couldn't be a part of that. You don't have to go through fucking anyone to get to God. Being a singer is a little like being a missionary - The Lion and the Cobra (the title of her first album) is taken from Psalm 69, so it's always been there in my work. Again no-one has been more damaged by the Church than itself and I'd like to help heal that. I'd like to be able to link the old and the new: let's keep what's good about what we have but let's embrace a new idea - women priests, open-mindedness, understanding and love. I love my God very passionately. There's a crisis of faith within the Church, I believe, and I believe that my strength of faith can only help. When I heard that a woman priest had been ordained in Ireland, I said: 'Fuck it, I'm going to be the next one.
SR: Do you think that God minds that you swear?
SR: Let's talk about music for a while...
find it difficult to talk about music. It's a different language and that's
why I write songs: it's the only way I can articulate those feelings and
emotions. When I write, I tend to keep the songs floating around inside
me, so they write themselves. I see being on stage as a game. I love it,
I can't go to concerts because I feel compelled to grab the mic and let
rip. I get depressed if I'm not singing for a while. I've got a new album
coming out, it's called Faith and Courage and it's fantastically, fucking
brilliant. I've written six songs, which have been produced by Adrian Sherwood,
the reggae producer, and there are four songs I've written with Dave Stewart,
which he's produced, and a track I did with Ashtar Command which is on
the Avengers soundtrack, but worth including because I want loads of people to hear it, basically. In terms of style, shit, it's Sinead O'Connor, maybe Sinead O'Connor stylee. It's a very spiritual record and it's also quite sexy. Fuck, I really can't talk about this stuff, I'll let you hear it soon.
SR: How do you view the success of Irish bands like B*Witched and The Corrs?
SC: I just wish they didn't have so many clothes on. (Laughs) We need a dirty, filthy, whorish band. I've no problem with these bands. OK, so some of them are crap but who cares? Fair play to them for doing it. My main problem with the Corrs is that they wear too much blusher. They represent Ireland badly in the blusher department. The music is not my cup of tea but I admire Andrea 'cos she's very sexual. Ireland needs a sexy, slutty woman and I mean that as a compliment -she's sexy in an Irish way and God, it works. We've never had a sex symbol. I mean, can you name another Irish sex symbol?
SR:You're not a million miles away from that status yourself. I know that I, for one, fancied you in The Butcher Boy.
You've got some issues. That's the Virgin Mary thing and because she said
'fuck'. Actually, my boyfriend and I wanted to fuck while I was wearing
the costume but when we got down to it we couldn't get it together. We
freaked. But no, I don't think I've ever used my sexuality in that way, to promote myself. I've absolutely no problem with it, I just don't do it. Certainly not consciously. Andrea does and she's good at it and it encourages people to hear her records so good luck to her. But I've got to say it again, too much blusher.
SR:What sort of music are you listening to these days? Are you still into hip hop?
SC: Nah, not so much these days. I still love reggae and roots, Jamaican sounds, anything with the words 'Jah' or 'Vampire' in it. I listen to that stuff constantly. The hip hop thing has been sanitised by the mainstream: if you go to America, the gangsta rap the kids listen to is not what you're ever going to hear on MTV. It's still huge, like when the Public Enemy album went to No.1 with absolutely no fucking airplay."
SR: "What makes you cry?"
SC: Jesus, I'm a woman. I cry all the time. Yesterday, I was listening to a programme on RTE Radio One, with kids talking about bereavement and I just bawled. One little boy, about 11 or 12, described returning home from a day trip to discover that his father had committed suicide by hanging. The pain and incomprehension in his voice made me cry.
SR: Do you have a hero of the year?
SC: My father. (Spookily, Sinead's father calls her mobile at this very moment). Wow! Yeah, my father is my hero. I now live in the area of Dublin where he was brought up, so he calls over constantly. It's great. There's been a lot of crap written about my relationship with my family but that's all been resolved a long time ago. I miss my mother, though. My father married again and I have a fantastic relationship with his wife but I miss being my mother's daughter. I believe that when someone dies, their body dies but they don't go anywhere. She's around me, she loves me and she's proud of me. We, and I mean me and my mother, have worked out a lot of shit between us since she died and I know that she's floored by the compassion I have for her and the love. I'm a mother myself now. It's an insight - your kids know you better than you know yourself and they're so loving and so mischievous. I never had to explain to Jake about the priest thing, he just got it. Recently we were invited to a superhero party at a friend's and he told me, quite seriously, that I wouldn't have to dress up because I was a superhero already. And because he believes that, I can try to believe it. Not a superhero, but an inspiration to little girls, an anti-Barbie.
It's a good note on which to leave and we walk back towards town through the Black Pits. People recognise her and smile, children double-take and wave, "Sin-eaaad!" We stop so she can buy a coffee in a sandwich place on Patrick Street. The Dutch girl behind the counter admires her clerical garb and asks why she's wearing it.
"Because I'm a priest," replies Sinead Mother Bernadette Maria O'Connor, with a smile.
Faith and Courage is released on June 13 on Atlantic.
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