Sunday, January 13, 2013
"The Emperor's New Clothes": Remembering Sinead O'Connor and the SNL brouhaha
My daughter was learning about the story of "The Emperor's New Clothes," and I immediately cast back to the song of the same name by Sinead O'Connor, and her flaring into fame and infamy back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I had to get out "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" and play the whole thing again, mesmerized again by her intensity and lyric force; here was a super strong woman who wasn't afraid to show both her power and vulnerability, sometimes in the same song. Musically, the bookended songs feel a bit turgid for my taste, but everything else still sears, and her emotional clarity and political conscience make the contemporary pop stars seem a bit lost (Adele, for all her vivacity and huge voice, feels very safe indeed). It was, of course, Sinead's infamous performance on Saturday Night Live in 1992, of Bob Marley's "War," when she tore a picture of the Pope into pieces, that led to a huge backlash and decline in popularity (when all sorts of people came out of the woodwork to act like assholes--Joe Pesci, Madonna, and others--and destroy her). Here, Joe Pesci threatens Sinead with physical violence: Does anyone remember that her reason for that act? Weirdly lost in the furor over her "disrespect" was the brewing child sexual abuse scandal in the Church, well known in Ireland at the point but still off the radar in the United States. It seems amazing that I have no memory of knowing the meaning of her act. It reminds that acts of protest--for all their power--can so easily become the story, rather than the protest itself. I wish we'd been more awake to the content, rather than the form, of her protest.