Curve's 20th Anniversary Retrospective: Sinéad O’Connor
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Has it changed in Ireland?
Ireland is very homophobic, which is, again, another reason why it would have been very difficult for me. My younger brother also is gay and he’s been beaten up in the streets. There was one gay center in Dublin years ago, kind of a social drop-in center, and it was burned down. It is an extremely homophobic society.
You just went through a pretty difficult custody battle last year. So many of the elements of your situation rang true to lesbians, as many are parenting with friends or trying to work with donors, and fear losing their kids. What have you learned from that experience or what advice would you give to women in similar situations?
What advice I’d give is to honor the father of your child as best you can and to forgive him as best you can. As long as he’s not physically abusing you or your child, or sexually abusing you or your child, allow the father to have the child half the time. And to really ask—if necessary, pray—for the ability to forgive. But, most importantly, honor the father of the child, never shut him out of the child’s life. And to honor the child by honoring the father.
You said you had in mind that once you got to 30 you’d be able to leave your childhood behind. Has that been true?
Yes, very much so; well, more when I got to 33, actually, so it was a few years later.
Now that you’re 33, do you feel like you’re living the life that you thought you would?
It’s actually fucking much more incredibly amazing than I could have even imagined it would be. It’s really quite magical.
You really changed how female performers were perceived—in America at least—by asserting yourself as a serious artist rather than a sex object. Do you feel like you paved the way for female artists to be political and outspoken?
Well, I hope I can be a sex object now. [Laughing.] I was just saving it.
Well, these are your thirties—this is your prime.
I hope I have a few more months left. Sorry, what was your question?
Do you feel like you paved the way for female artists to be political and outspoken?
Yeah, but I think it’s equally important to have fun and I don’t think I necessarily paved the way for anyone, but other people paved the way for me. People like Aretha [Franklin] and John Lennon and Johnny Cash, even. All of those people were quite politicized, as well as understanding that love is politics. That love is really the only politics and the only rebelling and revolution. So I don’t think I was the starter of anything, but I was following in the footsteps and trying to do what I could, close to what my heros were doing.
You went through a time where you really didn’t want to be a pop star because pop stars play it very safe—has that changed?
Yes and no. I want to have fun now. I want to enjoy. When I was younger, I had very little self-esteem and I didn’t feel like I deserved what I had … the chance to have fun. So now, I still want to be a soul singer, which is what I think I am. And I’m an album artist, I’m not a chart artist. But a huge part of me is just a girl who wants to waggle her butt and have fun.
Do you think your fans will be surprised to hear you say that? Sinéad O’Connor wants to waggle her butt now?
You know what I think they’ll think? I think they’ll be very happy for me … I was in recovery from a very severe, violent upbringing and so I was taking a journey in public view and I was recording it as a soul’s journey into recovery. … If they’re true fans, they will have seen that and they’ll be happy to see that I made the journey through to happiness. And the object of the game was to get to the point where I could just waggle my butt.
So you’ve moved through the anger and the denial and—
Well there was never any denial, but to move through the heartbreak, which is all that’s behind anger, and then get to just the girl. And to have fun. And also to talk about serious things, which is important, too. But it’s terribly important to acknowledge a huge part of why you want to do this is because you want to dress up sexy, and get on stage and put your lipstick on.
I think a lot of people expect women to do the opposite. They expect women—as they get older, as they become mothers—to actually stop doing that. How does it feel to do it in reverse?
Yeah. I’m kind of half pissed off that I didn’t appreciate myself when I was 20. I should have dressed sexier. But it’s actually quite nice to see, getting older, growing more into confidence as a woman, kind of. I was very in my “male,” I think, when I was younger because I was a very frightened person and I needed to act tough to protect myself. I was afraid to be tender.
Have you ever been as tough as your image has been?
Not at all. Not one bit. No. Perhaps I was angry, but that came from fear. And youth—because when you’re so young you have all this energy and you don’t know how to direct it. It panics you.
You really gave birth to the whole Celtic, hip-hop sound that we now hear pretty frequently from other artists. Even Bell Book & Candle’s new CD sounds like old Sinéad. Tell me what influenced your sound.
I think all the influences I’ve mentioned, musically, and also the traditional Irish singing. The fact that I’m Irish, I think, is the main thing. The fact that I’m such a religious person. But, my Irishness — that’s the core of it. The traditional Irish, the history of my country, the history of my people.
What about the hip-hop infusion?
That comes from my move out of Ireland into London and out into the world. … [L]iving in London for 13 years, I was exposed to a lot of West Indian culture and … different types of music and a lot of Indian music, as well, which I love.
On the Gospel Oak Tour, you didn’t do any of your earlier works because you said you didn’t want to summon up the ghosts of your past anymore.
Yeah, I didn’t want to do miserable shit because I didn’t want to be miserable.—
Is it different for you now? Can you do miserable shit and not be miserable?
No, I’ve moved on, really, from a lot of stuff from the past. I would do certain songs, which are just classic songs, like “Last Day of Our Acquaintance” —
But, “Troy” and “Mandika”?
No, because I don’t feel like that any more and I think what people respond to in a singer is truth.
You’re ready to put them to rest.
Exactly. If you can’t bring truth—people pay their money because they want to see truth—it’s better to keep bringing them what’s true now.
You told Time a few years ago that you still “have a little pool of sadness that needs working on.” Do you feel like that will always be with you?
No, I feel like that’s OK now. Yeah, I’ve just normal human sadness now.
Ten years ago you were one of People’s “50 Most Beautiful People in the World.” Did you think you were beautiful, at the time?
No. [Laughing.] I don’t think anyone ever does think they’re beautiful.
Do you think you’re beautiful now?
No. [Laughing.] I’m trying to tell myself I am, though. It helps if you tell yourself you are.
Well, I’m sure most other people think you are.
Well, I ain’t Naomi, you know?
A couple more quick ones and I’ll let you go. Your song “This is a Rebel Song” was about the right to ownership of Ireland by Irish people—are people in Ireland less afraid to stand up and say that, now, than they were years ago?
Yes, thanks to America. To the fact that the war has stopped. It used to be, because of terrorism, people were afraid to stand up and say they wanted the country, because they might be perceived as being supportive of the IRA. The Irish people are so grateful to America for what they’ve done to help us. It’s really amazing. Bill Clinton can come live in Ireland any time he likes; so can Hillary.
A while back, you said you risked everything, including material success and your family, in order to speak out about child abuse, because as an adult survivor of childhood violence you could not bear the burden of pain. How much do you think things have changed, societally, in terms of how we view child abuse?
I think people are much more aware now. It’s important that more people came out and spoke about it … it’s important that everything that happened within the church happened and that now people are much more watchful.
Let’s make the Church our last question: How does it feel to perform mass—something women have not been allowed to do?
It’s the most amazing honor. That’s the only word I can use to describe it. Honor.
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