Today, Sinead O’Connor died at the age of 56. I had the privilege of interviewing O’Connor multiple times throughout her extraordinary career. Peers and critics recognized her as one of the most influential and significant artists of the last four decades, despite the fact that her career was frequently overshadowed by controversy, which she discusses in this 2014 interview.
The Irish singer-songwriter was a genuine artist who was never apologetic for standing up for her beliefs and values. Without a doubt, O’Connor was a combatant. In addition to her toughness and determination, she possessed charm, a sense of humor, and a profound love of music, as she revealed in this 2014 conversation.
Sit down immediately and listen to your beloved O’Connor album; for me, as cliche as it may sound, it will always be 1990’s brilliant I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, a flawless album from beginning to end. Sinead O’Connor never received her due credit during her lifetime. Sadly, this is likely to occur now that she has passed away. For those of us who knew her, however, she was a genuine revelation, a legendary artist and individual.
Steve Baltin: I admire the line “I’m the only one I should adore” from “Take Me to Church.” I believe that as individuals age, they become more comfortable and secure. So, at what point did you realize that you should love yourself?
Sinead O’Connor: The album is extremely romantic and focuses primarily on love tracks. There are four female characters and me on the album. Beginning with my previous album, I began to alter my songwriting platform. When I was younger, I had things to get off my chest that were considerably more intimate.
I had been raised in a very abusive environment, so music became my outlet for working things out. Then, with the previous album, people started giving me movie scripts, and I began writing tunes from the perspective of other characters. And because I relished doing so, I began to do the same with this record.
So there is a central character who appears frequently in this album, and what I wanted to convey with her was a series of tracks, one of which is “Take Me To Church,” which is essentially her “eureka” moment. What I wanted to convey to her is that we all have the tendency to project our longings onto people we believe we’re in love with, as well as a great deal of longing. And I wanted to demonstrate that underneath it all, we’re frequently seeking ourselves.
And what occurs with my main character on the record is that she writes a number of songs prior to “Take Me To Church” that express her love for and desire to be with this man.
Then, she receives what she desires and discovers that he is a frightening individual, which prompts her to ask herself numerous questions about how she ended up in that circumstance. And she begins to evaluate what it was that she truly desired. She realizes it was herself, so I assume the turning point for the character is the fright she experiences when she gets the guy, as described in the song “Where Have You Been?”
Would you ever consider adapting this into a drama or film?
O’Connor: I assume it’s a little bit of a play, but it’s in musical form. I was referring to the Aretha Franklin album I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You because I’m very interested in album sequencing. I adore this record.
I believe it to be the finest album sequencing of all time. People are accustomed to thinking of the tracks on that album as separate songs, but when you listen to the album as a whole, you can hear the journey of the female character through the relationship.
In fact, the tracks are all conversations she is having with the man she is in love with, and he is very present on the album due to the fact that she is conversing with him. When you hear the songs, you can picture him, and I assume I was aiming for a similar effect, that there is a journey and it’s really about relationships and such.
You could not transform I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You into a musical, any more than you could transform I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You into a musical, because it is an album, I assume.
Baltin: It’s so fascinating that you mention seeing the man in I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You, because one of my all-time favorite songs of yours, “The Last Day of Our Acquaintance,” depicts the protagonists in the attorney’s office. It’s very visual. Was this imagery essential to you from the beginning, or did you develop it for this album?
O’Connor: Songs like “The Last Day Of Our Acquaintance” are highly autobiographical, so they require a different approach than the songs on this album. I’ve intentionally and consciously created characters, and I have a more deliberate narrative. It is similar to writing a play in that I had a deliberate narrative and needed a certain number of songs to tell the story. But with compositions such as “The Last Day,” which are more autobiographical, it was more by accident that I painted such a vivid picture. It’s just that the event occurred so obviously.
Baltin: I recall an interview I conducted years ago with Jackson Browne, which I frequently revisit, in which he discussed how prescient his songwriting was.
O’Connor: Yes, melodies are extremely accurate depictions of your life. This is what my character discusses in the song “Take Me to Church.” She is referring to the fact that she is aware that many of the songs she has written have come true; she received the man she desired, but he turned out to be quite terrifying.
As a result, she declares in “Take Me to Church” that she will be very cautious about the type of songs she writes in the future, given that songs come true in her life and cause things to occur. Then it is true that you must be careful about what you write because the songs you compose will become a part of your existence.
Baltin: Are you able to recall any tunes that you’ve written that came true?
O’Connor: I’m confident there are, but I cannot immediately recall any. However, I think more about other artists, such as Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black.” She created a video in which she saw herself interred, and then the following occurred. Kurt Cobain frequently sang and spoke about mortality and being shot, and then he was murdered.
Many artists will inform you that the events in their songs are true. My own undoubtedly have, but I cannot recall the names off the top of my head. But I would be very cautious about what I write, and if I want something specific to occur in my life, I would write about it and describe it as occurring so that it does occur.
Baltin: Why do you believe this occurs?
O’Connor: There is an ancient adage that goes, “I think, therefore I am.” What you conceive is what you manifest. Your sentiments are directly correlated with your thoughts; your thoughts are the source of your emotions. And what you create is what you think. Words are incredibly potent, and spoken words are ten times more potent.
The spoken word is the science upon which the universe is constructed. Words spoken are incredibly potent. And I believe that songwriters are aware of the potency of the spoken word. Perhaps we learn this the hard way when our words come true, and then we become more cautious about what we write.
When Jim Carrey was young, he wrote himself a letter stating, “In ten years, I will be the greatest comedy actor of all time, and I will have ten million dollars,” and his prediction came true. Bruce Lee followed suit. Bruce Lee sent himself a letter in which he stated, “In ten years, I will be the biggest martial arts film star,” and he was. Thus, there are individuals who have a conscious comprehension of words and how they function, as well as how intent operates.
We, as songwriters, deal with intent; that is what we do. I could stand on stage and sing “A,B,C,” but the intention is what matters. If I want to stop you in your tracks, I can; it’s not the words that matter, but my intent.
What would you write if you were to write yourself a letter ten years from now?
O’Connor: It would indicate that I will be writing songs for many other artists and that I will leave a legacy of excellent songwriting, not just for myself but for many others as well. Additionally, I will wed Robert Downey Jr. and Dave Chapelle.
Why are there two of them?
O’Connor: Robert Downey Jr. due to his physical attractiveness. And Dave Chapelle is a person I truly revere, venerate, and adore. I have more than lust for Dave; I adore Dave. I really admire him because of his principles and the fact that he resisted all the temptations of show business that would have obscured essential truths about himself and the stories he was telling if you will, the African-American experience. And he became insane for walking away from what he knew would dilute truths and stories.
And I can relate to that because when I tore up the Pope’s portrait, I was essentially doing the same thing, and I went insane over it. In this regard, I suppose I can identify with Dave Chappelle. And I admire him tremendously, not only because he is funny and exceedingly attractive, but also because he is a man of immense spiritual principle.
Are there other artists in other disciplines with whom you share this affinity?
O’Connor: Obviously, I have idols and leaders. Muhammad Ali was the first person that came to mind when you began speaking. He has been one of my greatest idols ever since I was a child. I admired him because he broke the rules and was ahead of his time in terms of affirmations, such as jumping around and proclaiming, “I am the greatest, I am the most beautiful,” which were forbidden phrases.
And I also admired John Lennon. I admired Muhammad Ali because he renounced war because he sacrificed everything and lost everything in order to stand for his principles, and because he was the genuine world heavyweight champion. He walked away from the army and had everything removed from him because he refused to support an unjust cause.
And the symbolism in all of his actions was so inspiring to me and others like me. Simply by being principled, he was able to reach across the globe into the living rooms of young females in Ireland and alter their lives. I venerate John Lennon because he utilized his platform as much as possible for causes he believed in.