“Let your heart break so your spirit doesn’t.” Andrea Gibson
I was in the car on the way to Duluth to vacation with my family when I saw the news about Sinéad O’Connor. A dark pall fell over all of us, as I know it did for millions of people, and it was impossible for me to shake the grief for days so I just let the feelings swirl and settle and swirl again like snowglobe particles. “How sad,” was the simple refrain I kept returning to, followed soon by the acknowledgement that I wasn’t exactly surprised. In fact, it didn’t feel surprising in the least.
Not to state the obvious, but deeply feeling people feel deeply and the practical reality of this is deeply feeling people can be illuminating and electrifying but also messy, inconvenient and maddening for everyone else. Sinéad said in an interview, and I’m paraphrasing, that the world fell in love with her for the raw emotional honesty of her “Nothing Compares 2 U” video and they loved the tear that slowly slid down her cheek in it, but when she continued crying about the things that moved her (as well as speaking passionately and without tears) she was folded quite quickly into “crazy bitch” territory. The single, understated tear in an her video, a song where she is the grieving one pleading for another chance, was fine, but trying to speak about racism, infamously trying to force a conversation on childhood sexual abuse and cover-ups within the Catholic Church decades before the larger society was ready, rejecting the Grammy she won because of her view that the industry rewards commercialism and materialism over depth and truth-telling? You crazy, melodramatic bitch, would you please, please, shut up already? Sing, maybe cry a little, but keep it together.
As I write this in 2023, Sinéad O’Connor remains the only Grammy winner who has refused the statue she was awarded because she had that kind of integrity and the ones who already hated her, probably hated her even more for it. Once again, her adherence to her moral compass was interpreted as insufferable superiority and sanctimony, her actions refracted in that way from the lens of those determined to find fault. The fact that she considered herself a protest singer, not something fed into the pop icon machine to spit out money, mattered little to them.