Curve's 20th Anniversary Retrospective: Sinéad O’Connor
Ten years after she came out to Curve, we're re-printing the classic Sinéad O'Connor interview in the wake of the songstress' headline making protests of Pope.
Photo: Kevin Abosch
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Sinéad O’Connor's landmark sophomore album, 1990's I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, came out the year Curve magazine hit newsstands. Her revolutionary sound and look (she was among the first women to sport a bald 'do) and the breakthrough international hit "Nothing Compares 2 U" (a tune penned by Prince, in which O'Connor calls a lover by a female pronoun) made her a sensation both on the main stage and in lesbian hearts everywhere. The Irish Catholic singer was ostracized for tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live in 1992, after a performance protesting sex abuse in the Catholic Church. In 2000, O'Connor came out as a lesbian to Curve, saying those magic words, "I'm a dyke," but in 2005 she told Entertainment Weekly she is “three-quarters heterosexual, a quarter gay. I lean a bit more towards the hairy blokes." Even so, we still loved her.
As we celebrate our shared 20th anniversaries, O'Connor is making headlines again, by protesting Pope Benedict XVI, after his rather weak apology for decades of sex abuse by priests in Ireland. "To many people in my homeland, the pope's letter is an insult not only to our intelligence, but to our faith and to our country," she wrote in the Washington Post on Palm Sunday. O’Connor, who says she still considers herself to be a Catholic, has been extremely critical of the church’s views on women’s issues, abortion rights and LGBT issues—and most vocal about sex abuse of minors. She said Benedict's letter was a "study in the fine art of lying and actually betraying your own people. He starts by saying that he's writing with great concern for the people of Ireland. If he was that concerned, why has it taken him 23 years to write a letter, and why did he or the last pope never get on an airplane and come to meet the victims in any of these countries and apologize?”
Twenty years later, O'Connor is the rabble rouser we first fell in love with and though she's occassionally disputed our connection to her, lesbians still adore the outspoken songstress. Ten years after she came out to us, we're re-printing the classic Sinéad O'Connor Curve interview.
When Sinéad O’Connor hit the pop culture radar in the late 1980s, she was a bald-headed, controversy-courting, angry banshee whose vocal acrobatics could put most performers to shame. She thumbed her nose at conventional notions of female beauty and brazenly spoke her mind about child abuse, racism and war. She was the boldest, baddest Irish singer that America had ever seen—and lesbians couldn’t get enough of her.
O’Connor first stirred talk about her sexual orientation with a Prince-penned, male-voiced song, “Nothing Compares 2 U”. But the Irish-born, London-bred singer had a baby in tow and boyfriends galore.
O’Connor was the third of four children of an engineer father and a dressmaker mother. After a childhood of abuse at the hands of her mother, her father won a landmark case as the first Irish man to ever be granted sole custody of his children (a fact that would seem ironic in 1999, as O’Connor battled for custody of her daughter Roisin). At eight, she was expelled from Catholic school; a shoplifting stint led to reform school and, at 16, she dropped out to sing in coffeehouses while supporting herself by delivering “kiss-ograms” in a French maid costume. Her first CD, 1987’s The Lion and the Cobra was one of the year’s most acclaimed, as was 1990’s chart-topping I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.
The tabloids took every chance to deride O’Connor for her outspoken politics: refusing to perform if The Star Spangled Banner was played; boycotting Saturday Night Live in response to the misogynist host Andrew Dice Clay; withdrawing from competition in the Grammys and aligning herself with rap artists. (For the record, she was up for four awards.) Bucking convention again, her 1992 torch song release, Am I Not Your Girl? shattered all expectations—it tanked. And then she protested the church’s stance on abortion (among other things) by tearing up a photo of the Pope on national TV.
But while the media called her a has-been (VH-1 recently went so far as to label her a one-hit wonder), O’Connor continued to work: releasing a 1994 CD (Universal Mother), a 1997 EP (Gospel Oak), appearing as the Virgin Mary in Neil Jordan’s film, The Butcher Boy, touring with Lollapalooza in 1995, and—perhaps the accomplishment she’s most proud of—becoming ordained as a priest with the Latin Tridentine Church, a splinter group of the Roman Catholic Church. Plus, she’s given berth to a host of women performers—everyone from Courtney Love to Jana Gross to Alanis Morissette have benefited from the trails that O’Connor blazed.
Now, more than a decade later, and on the heels of a new album (Atlantic’s Faith and Courage), the 33-year-old says she’s finally at peace. O’Connor, who is raising her 12-year-old son Jake, and shares custody of her 3-year-old daughter Roisin with journalist John Waters, refuses to be reduced to caricature by pundits and she says she refuses to live a life that’s not rooted in the truth. And, not unlike Melissa and k.d. before her, she’s ready to tell the world, “I am a lesbian.”
Let’s talk first about the new album, Faith and Courage [Atlantic]. You sing “I know that I have done many things/To give you reason not to listen to me” in “The Lamb’s Book of Life”, which seems to speak a lot to forgiveness and redemption—as do a number of other songs on the CD. Was forgiveness meant as a theme or did it simply emerge?
Yeah … the songs, I think, are something which my soul sang to me. These were the messages my soul wanted me to hear, so I recorded them. But then by putting them out, I guess it’s to inspire other people to get into a relationship with their soul to see what their soul is saying to them—and sing that out, or paint that out, or dance it out, or however they do it.
Another theme that was threaded through the songs was about women’s independence. Was that something you were really feeling at the time?
Yeah, a lot of the stuff you do as a writer, though, is subconscious—it’s very much your soul or your subconscious doing the work, so often you won’t really understand what you were doing until afterwards. So I think I was, without realizing it, asserting an independence and dealing with independence and dealing with a lot of stuff that was going on which I may not have even been very conscious of; growing into a 33-year-old woman and becoming who I am.
Did you worry that the songs would be interpreted as male bashing?
It’s not male bashing. I mean, none of the [songs] are. The thing is, this album has been made with me by a lot of men who’ve poured their beautiful souls into this record and the song is not male bashing at all—”No Man’s Woman.” It’s simply talking about not wanting to be a girlfriend or wife but preferring to have a relationship with the spirit of man. …