Thursday, July 27, 2023

Sinead O'Connor: Rest in Peace

One of the greats of my generation is gone: an incomparable artist and amazing voice, who made music and moments no one else could have. I'm sure you've heard the news by now.

I say "voice" and I mean that both ways: the instrument of her voice itself, which was thrilling in its power and control, especially the shock of it when she appeared in the late '80s. But also what she said and how she said it and the songs she wrote.

All lives are ironic; the deepest irony of O'Connor's is that the song she's best known for - and her version of "Nothing Compares 2 U" is both definitive and devastating - is one she didn't write. For those who only know that one song, and maybe the controversies: she was a great, thoughtful, thorny, deep songwriter, who wrote great pieces that showcased her great voice.

I heard "Troy" first, and that's still my deepest memory: that fierceness, the anger and sweep and authority of it, the way it was a mini rock opera in a six-minute track. It was clear from the beginning that she was going to say what she had to say, that she would say it as loudly and clearly as she could, and that it didn't matter what got in her way.

I think I was at the New Jersey concert where the "Star-Spangled Banner" wasn't played; I saw her at the then-NJPAC sometime in 1990. I'd have to dig out the ticket and google the news to be sure, but I like to believe it. It was an amazing show; she was an amazing performer.

Her first two records are the most essential - especially I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, a collection of ten almost perfect songs, one of the greatest records ever made - but she made great music later as well, though I lost track of her work the last decade or so. I probably need to dig in to what I missed, now; I'm sorry it took her loss to get me to do that.

Here's a quick widget of some essentials, in my opinion; it's mostly in chronological order, slightly rearranged to start with "Troy" and end with "It's All Good," one of her most positive songs. (I don't know if she would have liked that: positivity was hard-won for her, and I don't think she would want it to be assumed. But it works for a playlist.)

She fought long and hard. She was a premature anti-Catholic Coverup, and that hurt her career immeasurably. Looking back - and, frankly, as I think I believed at the time - I have to say she was right, every time. She wasn't polite or quiet or demure. But she was right. She was a towering figure, and she will be hugely missed - and what I miss most is the world where she could have been right and still had a big career in the '90s, where being that loud and that right and that female didn't mean plunging sales and a flood of scorn from the worst elements.

But this is the world we have, and this is the world she lived in. Here's what she made of it. She did a hell of a lot.

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