Sinead Connor, a woman with a powerful voice, a gifted songwriter, and a deeply troubled personality, has died at age 56.
O’Connor’s cause of death hasn’t been announced as I write these words but I reacted to the news with the same utter lack of surprise when George Michael died on Christmas Day, 2016. Apparently deeply unhappy, Michael had been casually working towards ending it all with a combination of drugs and anonymous sex. With her troubled history, it was my sad conclusion 30 years ago that O’Connor would not live a terribly long life.
She became a star with her cover of Prince’s 1990 song “Nothing Compares to U” on her second album “I Do Not Want What I Don’t Have.”
The song opens with a scene of domestic troubles: a woman is arguing her husband, while another person is threatening to ruin her life. The song begins with a scene that depicts domestic problems:
- It seems years since you held the baby
- While I wrecked the bedroom
- You said it was dangerous after Sunday
- And I knew you loved me
- He thinks I just became famous
- And that’s sure to mess me up
- But he’s wrong
- How could I possibly know what I want
- When I was only twenty-one?
If “Nothing Compares 2 U” was a haunting but fairly traditional heartache ballad, you could see the seeds of O’Connor’s troubles in the album’s fourth track, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Released as the follow-up single, it details her love, her struggle with sudden fame, and a protest against an unspecified “they” who are ruining her life. The song opens with a scene of domestic troubles:
In the early weeks of 1988, I watched MTV with my Mizzou roommate when they played her first (minor) hit, “Mandinka.”
We were both so engrossed in the song, that Dave and I actually stopped talking for three and a half minutes. Dave described her performance as “fearless” after the video ended, and I couldn’t help but agree. I bought the album that week and have played all nine songs for over 35 years.
O’Connor, in reality, was not a fearless person.
She was driven by her demons to tear up a picture of Pope John Paul II after an SNL performance, telling the audience to “Fight the Real Enemy.” At the time of death, she had been married four times, had converted to Islam, and changed her name from Magda to Shuhada.
After the second album, I stopped buying her albums. Barney Stinson, the ladies’ man on “How I Met Your Mother,” had his Hot/Crazy scale to determine how attractive a female had to be in order to compensate for her crazy personality. Steve’s Talented/Crazy Matrix is similar to what I use for recording artists.
After O’Connor tore up the photo of the Pope, I lost interest. This was combined with the fact that her music had a decreased quality, which, in my opinion, made it less appealing. Michael Jackson and I experienced the same thing around the same release date of “Dangerous”, in 1991.
Still, I’ll always be grateful to O’Connor for her sit-up-and-make-you-listen debut album, and for about half of her second one. Today, despite whatever her demons were, I’m glad she has finally found peace.
I’ll wrap this with one of her most electrifying songs, all-too-appropriately titled “Never Get Old.”