Sinead O’Connor has been in the press again today (October 2013), kicking up a stink, alienating people left, right and centre, as she is wont to do. It put me in mind of this piece I wrote back when I saw her in concert in Sydney in 2008.
I’m not ashamed to say I wept back then, when at last, 21 years after I first heard her music, I saw her perform live. I love her, like Emma Thompson in Love, Actually, loves Joni Mitchell. Flaws and all. She’s my girl.
Originally published Wednesday, March 26, 2008 at misrule.com.au/s9y
As I was leaving work today, our fabby young admin support guy, Ben, was playing—get this—Boz Scaggs on his computer. So I stopped for a chat and a groove (come on, Boz was pretty groovy in the day!) and it turned out that the CD belonged to Jean, one of our colleagues who is, I suppose, about the same age as my older sister, Linda, who owned a copy of Silk Degrees back when, well, Boz was groovy.
Jean started reminiscing about listening to Boz Scaggs when she was travelling around after finishing her HSC and we talked about how music comes to mean something more than itself when it becomes attached to a certain time in our life.
And then tonight, 20 years after I first heard “Mandinka” and bought a copy of The Lion and the Cobra, I heard Sinead O’Connor in concert.
I didn’t take my eyes off her for an hour and a half.
She’s tiny, and a little round these days from her four babies, and the top register of voice showed the wear of a year-long concert tour (this was the last concert) but, oh, when she opened her diaphragm and that voice came out… Oh that voice! It filled the State Theatre and it filled me up too.
I have always loved Sinead O’Connor, her contrariness and rage and compassion and feminist faith—and her songs. Her voice.
She started with “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and went into “I Am Stretched On Your Grave” and I don’t remember what else after that, except she played lots of old songs (some I had forgotten, like “Fire On Babylon”) and a few from her new album, Theology (which I bought last week and listened to over Easter). Lots from I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (which I am playing as I write this)—”The Last Day Of Our Acquaintance” nearly killed me, as it always does (as does “Three Babies”, which I hadn’t realised was a waltz, which somehow makes it even more sadly beautiful). Oh yeah, and of course she did “Nothing Compares 2 U”, which has never been a particular favourite of mine (not compared to “Troy” or “Jackie” or “Mandinka”—which she didn’t do, alas—or “Acquaintance”), but it was fabulous live.
She had a wonderful band—the feedback was obviously bothering her at times, but they sounded great most of the time. I hadn’t realised how tricky some of her rhythms are until I heard and watched the drummer. The violinist brought that amazing Irish sound to so many songs. I love that. And it was astonishing to me how Sinead would pull away from the mic and her voice was just as full and powerful as if it were still up close.
There was a young Irish couple sitting next to me. I did wonder what they made of the middle-aged single chick grooving away in her seat (you’re not allowed to get up and dance in the State Theatre, you see), but what the hell—maybe they didn’t really notice.
And then, during the encore, during “Black Boys on Mopeds” to be precise—I was leaning forward and singing along without making a noise, if you know what I mean—the woman of the Irish couple touched my arm and handed me a pair of binoculars. And so I watched Sinead sing the last verse of “Black Boys” close up. And burst into tears.
Me, not Sinead.
It was a little embarrassing, I admit. I did that waving-the-hand-in-front-of-the-face to indicate “sorry, I’m crying!” when I handed the binoculars back and they were so sweet. When the lights came up I was still all damp (well, she finished with a song that was a goodnight prayer for godssakes!) and I turned to them and said “thank you—I’ve been waiting twenty years for that!” “You looked like you were enjoying it!” they said, which was hilarious because I was in fact this weeping mess. I had to duck my head all the way out of the theatre so as for people not to see me all teary and ridiculous.
I don’t know why I got so emotional. It’s not even as if I’ve listened to her all that much in recent years, apart from the new album, but listening to her tonight, live and now at home, I realise how much those songs, her voice, have got into my bones. That voice is so familiar to me—so is that face. Thus the weeping binocular moment! She wore a blue scarf on her head—a bit like an old-fashioned nun, actually—and seeing her face close up, she’s still so very beautiful, and so familiar—and in her daggy old jeans and unflattering t-shirt, how “ordinary”!
I guess the thing is when a musician (as opposed to a celebrity) is important to us in some way over the years, and especially one whose life and lyrics have been laid so bare, we do feel like we somehow know them. (I’ll talk but you won’t listen to me. I know your answer already.)
And how contemporary are the lyrics to “Black Boys”, even decades after the Thatcher era:
These are dangerous days
To say what you feel is to dig your own grave
‘Remember what I told you
if you were of the world they would love you’
I’m not going to read over this or I’ll be too embarrassed to post it!