Encounters With Sinead O’Connor

Late 2013, a little over a year after our dear Alexander Cockburn had left us, the business office was in the early stages of saving CounterPunch and moving into a new era for our tiny ship. I was working early on a weekend morning when the phone rang and on the other end was a raspy, almost incomprehensible voice blaring at me as soon as I put the receiver to my ear. I nearly hung up, because I first thought that the person wasn’t speaking English and after 15 years at CounterPunch, I no longer put up with screaming callers. My SOP was to hang up unflustered, because it happened all the time in those days. Alex always told me to tell them to fuck off before hanging up. Luckily, I was feeling patient that morning and realized that I could understand a few words and the more carefully I listed the more I could make out, soon comprehending that the engraged person speaking in the thickest Irish accent I’d ever heard was telling me I was speaking with Sinead O’connor. I didn’t believe it for a minute, but it was intriguing, so I heard them out. After a call from Jeff Bridges office, another with Ben Affleck, and also Mark Ruffallo, my most enjoyable being with Margot Kidder on several occasions, so I was prepared to speak to random celebrity callers. I understood that an article posted on CounterPunch had flamed the fire under Sinead. I opened the homepage of CounterPunch and saw the new article in the lineup about Miley Cyrus, in which the author was throwing daggers at Sinead. I could see why she was pissed off. After about twenty minutes, the voice calmed significantly and I told her she could speak directly to the editor, so I gave her Jeffrey’s number and while I was only beginning to believe it was Sinead on the line, I contacted Jeffrey to let him know she’d be in touch. Jeffrey confirmed after a long conversation with her, indeed, it was Sinead and she’d be sending her rebuttal forthwith.

Speaking with her, reminded me how much I loved listening to her music which I’d listened to very little in the previous decade, though she had been featured several times in CounterPunch “Best Of” articles. Her haunting voice was just as powerful as it had seemed to me when I first heard her in the late 80s. I wasn’t an MTV fanatic like my older sister, but I’d stop to watch Sinead’s videos a long with a handful of others.

I recalled the night she tore up the photo of Pope John Paul II and said “Fight the Real Enemy”. I thought she was bold and beautiful and brave and I had deep admiration for her. And I didn’t understand why the fuck anybody in my surroundings cared at all that she’d done this. That is to say, the Mormon capital of the world, Happy Valley, Utah. I defended her and questioned them. It’s the Catholic pope… why should it bother any of them? It’s not as if it’s the president of the Mormon church. I wouldn’t have torn up a photo of him then, but I did question the abuse of men in the church from years before that. It was only two before then that I had three different men, two bishops and an older member of the priesthood, tell me that because I was then pregnant and getting married, it was now my duty to please my husband however he saw fit, whether I wanted to or not. Their orders were eerily similar. They all told me that I had tempted  my soon to be husband and spread my legs for him and got myself pregnant and ruined his life and from then forward I should continued spreading my legs (yes they said those exact words) and if I didn’t want to have sex then I should at least give him a hand-job. All three of them asked me if I knew how to do that and offered instruction. I was 17. These were men between 45-65. So as Sinead made her statement about PJ11 which brought about a war against her by the music industry, that profited from her and still does, and the entire world still ignoring for another decade the abuses committed by the Catholic church, the seeds of escaping Mormonism were already sprouted in the back of my mind. She was an inspiration even if I can’t carry a tune. Shortly after her photo destruction, I shaved my head and escaped Mormonism.

Now, nearly 3 decades later I placed an advanced order of Sinead’s book Rememberings as soon as I saw her post about its impending printing on her Twitter page. I can look back on these years, at the times I was inspired to shave my head and keep running as far and as fast from men trying to tell me what to do about my sexuality and how to behave and obey and how that brought me right into the arms of the CounterPunch family. So, I couldn’t pass up writing a review of the book. It’s been a year now since I finished reading it, but I’ve been delaying because I felt that no review could be complete without a playlist of all the songs she lists in the book. You can find it on Spotify, called Sinead’s Rememberings.

Sinead’s memoir starts from her earliest memories and doesn’t leave out a year or an influence in her life. She’s candid and funny and strikes a tone of not an insane woman as the media might have you believe, but as a character of strength and fortitude who has come out stronger for all she’s been through. She’s suffered, no doubt, from being a slave to her emotions and mental illness. But reading her story, I don’t think any of us could have survived it like she did, letting it inspire her writing and music, channeling it into her songwriting and singing and as advocate against evils she’s witnessed firsthand.

No spoilers here, but before you lionize Prince, enjoy her chapter telling of her visit to his house in the Hollywood hills where she only narrowly escaped. In contrast, her time spent with DeeDee Ramone reads like a teenage punk wet dream… fan fiction… only it’s not fiction at all! She recounts her induction into Rastafarianism

She’s a living contradiction… a juxtaposition in a human body… an Irish person allergic to alcohol… bold and strong and willful, yet girlish and feminine. Career demolished but her art thrived.

You might instantly start remembering all the lyrics to Nothing Compares to You as soon as you see her name, but her repertoire is vast… she’s been wildly productive. Do a search on CounterPunch and you’ll see that after that conversation she became an occasional contributor to CounterPunch.

Becky Grant is CounterPunch’s longtime business manager.