A few years ago, an ex-boyfriend sent me the link to Sinead O’Connor’s song – Mandinka. He wanted me to know that it reminded him of me, how I was when he knew me. We were a couple in the late 1980s. I was a first year University Drama student. I was in the midst of grappling with who I was, my Catholic faith, and how to project myself onto the world.
I was flattered by the song. I wish I had been the girl who could sing at the top of her lungs –
“I don’t know no shame, I feel no pain.”
I wish I had been that wild, that articulate about suppression and how it feels trying not to buckle under the expectation of being a particular kind of woman.
Last night as I was scrolling through social media a news notification flashed up that Sinead O’Connor had died.
I don’t know why but it pierced me.
Celebrity deaths are a strange phenomenon. The death of some one I know, but that doesn’t know me. That I hold memories and traces of, but for whom I am a passing stranger. It is like revisiting your childhood bedroom, which holds all your secrets, but solidly refuses to be anything other than four walls.
There will be obituaries out there that will track her life through the music she released, the scandal of her ripping up the pope’s picture, her conversion to Islam and the loss of her son.
She did not have an easy time of fame and always looked unguarded under its glare.
So, what can I say that is different? Can I pay tribute to her? Can I explain the little gasp I exhaled when I read the news? What punctured me?
She was just two years older than me and she is no longer here.
She had been so vital.
In Mandinka, she radiated a liberated creativity that I could just sit back and admire.
She is perhaps best known for her cover of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U. She did the impossible. She sang a Prince song better than Prince could. The video of a tear-filled, heavily-lashed eye. The embodiment of grief. Her voice raw and pure.
Watching that video it is hard not to know that she was beautiful – achingly, delicately beautiful. But she never played on it. She shaved her head and stood with brutal fragility in front of a camera to capture her solitude. The shaved head was a statement, a declaration of her independence from society’s need to objectify her.
Her voice held anger and compassion in equal parts.
My favourite song of hers is “This is the Last Day of Our Acquaintance”. It is a straight-forward statement of an ending. This is no heartbreak, no ‘he-done-me-wrong’ song. It is a disassociated frankness of relationship breakdown. And it breaks me a little every time I hear it. There is no turning back from the knowledge that it holds – that sometimes love just ends. It is grown-up. It just is.
“I’ll talk but you won’t listen to me.
I know your answer already.”
The mundanity of a failed affair. The moving on. The resentment as part of the fabric of life.
And Sinead knew what it was like not be listened to.
She tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II and laid the accusation bare of church child sexual abuse. She knew she was right. She wanted to be honest. That was more important than record sales and popularity. She was the child at the centre of the Emperor’s New Clothes who pointed at the naked truth. But we forgot to point and laugh along. We didn’t have her courage. I didn’t have her courage.
So, that gasp I let out. It’s that her courage isn’t in the world anymore.
And she was right – as she said in “The Last Day of Our Acquaintance” – we took it for granted.
About the Creator
Writer-Performer based in the North of England. A joyous, flawed mess.
Please read my stories and enjoy. And if you can, please leave a tip. Money raised will be used towards funding a one-woman story-telling, comedy show.
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
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