Twenty-five years ago, Sinead O’Connor proved herself to be the single most courageous artist of our time. Perhaps, even, the bravest of all time.
Just two weeks after inoculating Saturday Night Live with a culture of conviction by tearing up a picture of Pope John Paul II to protest child abuse during an a capella rendition of Bob Marley’s “War,” she appeared with Kris Kristoferson at an all-star tribute concert commemorating the 30-year legacy of a musical genius (and, let’s face it: designer protester) named Bob Dylan.
Faced immediately with a conflicting barrage of boos and cheers, she bides her time, patiently waiting for the imbeciles to shut the fuck up. A few times her band tries to get things going, but the booing mouth-breathers are whipping themselves into a frenzy. At one point, Kristoferson (who is, let me just say, a total class-act and incredible soulful gentleman) puts his arm around her and says: “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” She replies: “I’m not down,” and waits a little longer. Her poise is impeccable. Her dignity, breath-taking. The keyboard player tries again. The knuckle-dragging human tumors still won’t shut up. She has waited long enough. She cuts the music, and then…
…Scrapping her set list for an encore of “War,” she erupts in a blaze of righteous indignation. It is simultaneously the most inspirational and heart-wrenching performance I’ve ever seen. I really cannot understate the effect it had on me when I first saw it; that look in her eyes when she finishes the song and takes a moment to stare down the audience, it’s like being in the presence of a flaming archangel who’s called down the wrath of God. It’s a look that could seemingly topple cities, or part the sea. I can’t even imagine the depth of catharsis she must’ve felt in that moment.
She makes her way off stage and falls into Kristoferson’s arms. Only human and just 24 years old, she begins to sob. I cry when I watch it, too, for such are the consequences of standing up to abusers: our culture sanctifies the twin pillars of authority and celebrity, often conflating them into a single, twisted entity. Billions of people were utterly baffled that “someone like Trump” could win the American Presidency- an office which, as per the twin pillars referenced above, deserves absolutely none of its vapidly romanticized mystique of honor and rectitude. On a daily basis now, like some sort of slow-motion epiphany, the same flabbergasted masses are reacting with shock and awe at the realization that we have eagerly allowed ourselves to be both governed and entertained by a class of people who, for the most part, comprise the lowest common denominators of ethics, empathy, and virtue imaginable. From Popes to producers, senators to professors, the crisis of abuse within this blood-soaked culture of soul-death is, fundamentally, a crisis of authoritarianism. The hierarchical, chain-of-command structures within the Church, within the corporate workplace, and within the “progressive” republics of the “developed world,” are all based on a single model: that of the Roman Army. That is the abuser’s Petrie dish, the crucible of domination. Sinead O’Connor understood that back in 1992, just as all the women and girls who suffered the Magdalene Laundries understood it back in 1892.
Those lizard-brained apostles of the Anthill who slung death threats at the most angelic singer of the modern age were not motivated by simple, die-hard loyalty to the Pope. What drove them berserk was the unconscionable spectacle of a break from the herd by a principled truth-speaker (and an “unconventional” woman, to boot) with spirit and with mind aflame, who dared confront them with an existential indictment of the shameless world they’d created, and which they were so pleased to inhabit. As that veil is shredded, remember her.
Tiocfaidh Ar Lá, mo Ghile Mear.