Sinead misunderstood?

-- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:57 AM ET

For someone who insists she has never courted controversy, outspoken Irish singer Sinead O’Connor sure has found enough.

“Looking back on it, I’ve been a square peg in a round hole,” O’Connor, 38, said over the phone recently while sitting by the fire in the music room of her Dublin home, prior to her lakefront gig at Kool Haus tonight.

“I wasn’t in the right ‘arena.’ And that’s why me and ‘it’ had such a conflict with each other — what I was being turned into, what the media were making me out to be, and how I couldn’t quite behave like a pop star was supposed to behave. The media (invented) this controversial figure. As far as I was concerned, I was just being me.”

O’Connor was barely an adult when her first alt-rock album, 1987’s The Lion And The Cobra, came out. She made an indelible first impression.

Her first act of rebellion was to shave her head when record executives suggested she tart up her image.

From that moment on, the gloves were off. She got into a public feud with Frank Sinatra when she refused to allow the U.S. national anthem to be played before a 1990 concert in New Jersey. She boycotted the Grammys in 1991. And then the topper: she sparked widespread outrage following her infamous 1992 appearance on Saturday Night Live when she tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II. She was subsequently booed off the stage at a Bob Dylan tribute concert.

“It’s a very difficult thing to grow up in the public arena,” O’Connor said. “That’s a very hard thing to go through. All your learning and all your foibles and all your f---ups and everything else in full view of the entire human race.

“(It’s) great in one way. Like cutting off all your f---ing hair, you can’t f---ing hide nothing. So I’m not saying I had no responsibility in the fact that it became such an unhappy situation, but the relationship basically between me and that arena was extremely damaging to me. That is a vampire world that feeds upon young people.

“Look at what it does to people on (American) Idol. Look at poor Britney Spears, the way she’s treated in the papers. Why should she have to deal with this sh--?’ I don’t think any of them inspire the hatred that I used to inspire, but to be honest, I’m quite pleased with it too. In retrospect it’s fun, when you understand it. When you’re young and going through it, you think that actually they’re all right and you’re a complete piece of sh-- and you don’t deserve to live.”

Still, the Irish singer must know that she’s dredging up the single most controversial act of her spectacular rise-and-fall music career — tearing up that picture of the Pope after singing Bob Marley’s War on SNL — by including the song on her latest album, Throw Down Your Arms, a collection of reggae classics produced by Jamaican legends Sly and Robbie.

“That was the only Bob Marley song I was ever going to do, obviously,” she said.

“I must say, I’m extremely proud of (the SNL performance of that song) since only (I) had the balls to (do) it.”

Not that she would ever consider going back on SNL now.

“What do you think they would do to me?” O’Connor said. “That would be f---ing stupid. They would get me in there and make mincemeat of me. I would be egged. There would be all sorts of practical jokes. There would be terrible things they would do to me. They don’t need me to go on anyway ’cause they can make such a lot out of reruns (of the first performance).”

The fact that there is even a new O’Connor album is surprising, given that her 2002 CD, Sean-Nos Nua (a highly praised return to traditional Irish music), was supposed to be her last release of new work. The mother of three — Jake, 17, Roisin, 9, and Shane, 14 months (who all have different fathers) — was going to retire from music once and for all.

She was also suffering from a chronic fatigue illness, back problems, and was diagnosed as a manic-depressive only a couple of years ago. But she not only is back with a new CD, she’s halfway through recording her next album, an all-acoustic record called Theology.

Where did she disappear in the late ’90s?

“At the time that I left (the ‘pop-rock’) arena, it was because I actually wouldn’t have been able to stay alive if I stayed in it any longer,” O’Connor said. “That was the effect that it was having on me. So I got out. I moved back to Ireland and have been looking after my kids. For six years, literally, I didn’t sing in the bath. I put all my instruments away. I didn’t even look at a guitar. And I would have nothing to do with Sinead O’Connor. I was absolutely beneath suicidal. If you said suicidal is where your head is, well I was where your f---ing feet are. I was at the bottom of your tree in your garden.”

But after all those years at home, the singer said it then dawned on her that she was actually missing music.

“I began to realize I really lost a huge part of myself,” she said. “I’m about to be 39 years of age (next Thursday). And I had spent 21 or 22 years really having the sh-- kicked out of me. I mean, okay, I may have deserved it but I was physically crocked (done) and it was emotionally quite difficult.

“So I figure I’m going to be 40 next year so if I’m lucky I have 30 or 40 years left. I want to do something that’s good for me ... I’m hoping to create (something) between rock and pop and religious music.”

The other motivation for her return to music was that everything in her house literally was falling apart — the drains, the dishwasher, the toilet ...

“It got to be the only grown-up I was seeing was a man from Dynorod (a plumbing company). And I would kid, ‘I’m going to end up marrying the man from Dyno-f---ing-rod.’ So I just had to get out the kitchen even for a couple of days of week, (to) work a bit.”

O’Connor, who met Sly and Robbie in London when she was recording 2000’s Faith And Courage, has coveted the idea of doing a reggae covers album since she was just 17.

“You know what actually carried me through the last seven years? These f---ing songs got me through.

“When I was at the bottom of the root of the tree in your garden, these are the songs that I used to play that actually stopped from me topping myself, (apart) from, most importantly, my children.”

The experience of recording in Kingston, she says, was beyond her wildest dreams.

“You step out of the kitchen and you’re in f---ing Tuff Gong and Anchor Studios making a record with Sly and Robbie. I couldn’t have ever imagined that. It was beautiful because I had actually had a really sh---y few years. Once I had my last baby, it was a bit like God said, ‘Okay, I’m going to stop f---ing you around now. Okay, I’m sorry.’ ”

Nothing Compares to her new songs

Sinead O’Connor makes her long-awaited return to Toronto tonight at Kool Haus.

It’s the 38-year-old Dublin native’s first visit to our city in eight years, but anyone expecting to hear her pop hits will be disappointed.

O’Connor is touring with Jamaican legends Sly and Robbie, with whom she collaborated on her most recent disc, Throw Down Your Arms, a collection of reggae covers by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Burning Spear and others.

“It is the stuff from this album but also extra Rasta stuff. But I don’t perform any of my older songs anymore,” O’Connor told the Sun.

“I guess people rather knew, ‘Look, don’t buy a ticket if you’re coming to hear Nothing Compares 2 U,’ ’cause that’s not happening.”

O’Connor says Sly and Robbie do an opening set and then she joins them on stage for anywhere from 90 minutes to two hours.

“They’re the cream of the crop of Jamaican musicians, and they’re unbelievable. There’s 11 of us crazy bastards on stage, completely mental, and it’s brilliant.”


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