Saturday, April 06, 2013

Sinéad's "contract with the Holy Spirit"

From The Saturday Times"

A hug begins my interview with Sinéad O’Connor and a hug ends it. For the two hours in between we talk about everything from her infamous ripping up of a photograph of Pope John Paul II on the American TV show Saturday Night Live in 1992 to her frequent accusations of child abuse within the Roman Catholic priesthood — which fell on deaf ears for years until being vindicated in spectacular fashion. Christians across America drove steamrollers over her records after the Saturday Night Live incident, but O’Connor claims that it is faith, rather than a lack of it, that drives everything she does. 

“Making music in the first place is a result of my entering into a contract with the Holy Spirit when I was a kid,” she says. “I knew that God was much more loving than he was being portrayed in the church, and I felt the best way to address that was music. I see music as a priesthood.” 

...“Oh, people only know a tiny bit about me,” she says with a laugh. “They only know a millimetre. But I have no shame, no. I don’t have an embarrassed gene, unless I declare my undying love to someone that doesn’t want to go out with me. I don’t do regret. Years ago, when I thought I was a terrible person, I went to confession and told the priest about what a ** I was. Eventually he banged his fist on the table and said: ‘This is blasphemy! You are what God made you, what God wanted you to be, so you can’t stand there criticising it.’ 

“He was right. We are what we are and being a truthful person comes with being a singer. That’s our job: to be emotionally honest. Bob Dylan is honest and so was John Lennon. Singers show everything, warts and all. That translates into your life off stage, so everyone knows your wildness.” 

...For the first time in years the focus is on me as a musician, probably because for a long time I wasn’t recording albums designed for the pop arena. But it was important for me to make Theology. I grew up in a country with terrible religious music and I wanted to give God something decent to listen to. It’s the only album I’ll be taking into the coffin with me when I go.”

So begins a treatise on O’Connor’s deep religious beliefs. “People say to me: ‘Why did you risk all this fame and money by ripping up a picture of the Pope?’ A guy wrote recently that the reason I was a mockery to people in showbusiness was because I was an artist with no sense of self-preservation and that is a dangerous thing. I was a very religious person and Catholicism taught me to reject the vanities of the world. I knew all the fame and money was bollocks. I knew I was a wild character and I couldn’t change that. People say to me: ‘Why didn’t you want everyone to think you were great? Why wouldn’t you be a control freak over your good name?’ The answer is because my only duty is to the Holy Spirit.” 

All of this contributes towards an impression of O’Connor as definitely wild, definitely narcissistic, and perhaps a little unhinged, but never less than honest or brave. “You have to be,” she says. “You’ll have a breakdown if you falsify things. The big influence on me is Bob Dylan. I wanted to be a singer after listening to Idiot Wind because he’s not a nice person in that song. He has the balls to show that side of himself. I think that’s what people want, because artists are here to do your madness for you. We’re here to say the things you cannot say because you have to go to work and you don’t have time to go to the nuthouse. Artists are a bit ***ed up and we are trying to work out our +++, but so are a lot of other people.” 

... But doing music doesn’t make you the saviour of the universe. You’re only dealing with things that everyone has to deal with.” 
For another hour or so we touch on O’Connor’s love of the American singer John Grant, whose song Queen of Denmark she covers beautifully on her latest album, and she says she’s been enjoying performing live more than ever before. Sooner or later, however, the conversation always returns to religion. O’Connor explains that she identifies deeply with the Rastafarian ideal of music as spiritual expression, that she is a priest (she was ordained in the late Nineties by Michael Cox, a bishop in the independent Irish Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church, but you feel she is referring to her approach to music as religious communication more than official ordination), and that Christian belief in Ireland is deep-rooted and genuine, however tainted it is by the abuse scandal. 
“I realised that recently,” she says. “Katie Taylor, who won the Olympics gold medal for boxing, gave a talk outside my house in Bray, and said in front of 10,000 people that she felt God was in the ring with her. There was a ripple of joyous applause and I thought: ‘The Irish people still do believe in God. We haven’t lost our spirituality. We’re people who know that energy and nothing can take it away, whatever happens to us.’” 

What, for O’Connor, is at the heart of her belief? She stares contemplatively down at the sofa for a while, composing her answer. “There was an old lady I went to when I was younger, when I was upset because everyone hated me,” she says. “And she said to me: ‘You’re not here to win a popularity contest.’ I see that now. It wasn’t given to me to explain my actions when it comes to the church. It was given to me to do those things. I was hurt for being treated like a piece of shit, but at the end of the day it’s not my business to make anyone understand what I have done, or even question myself about it. You take your orders from the sergeant major. You don’t moan about the consequences.”    LINK

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