This book got a lot of attention when it was released a few months ago, largely because of a story O’Connor tells about Prince which puts him in a none-too-flattering light. As far as I’m concerned though this memoir is more impressive for the honesty and soul-bearing of its author. Full disclosure: I have been a fan of Sinead O’Connor since I first heard the single “Mandinka” in 1987/88. She is one of those female artists who have been kicked around over the years with little regard for their personal struggles, and O’Connor has had many. But she is a greatly talented songwriter with one of the most mesmerizing voices I have ever heard. In this book, penned during the pandemic, she reveals the difficulties and traumas that began in her childhood and have followed beyond. She also demonstrates a deeply spiritual nature that has helped her survive the worst times and persevere, although not without difficulty.
Rememberings is divided into three parts. Part one focuses on O’Connor’s youth and upbringing in Dublin, and there is quite a lot of trauma and sadness there. She is one of four children raised by divorced parents, and her mother apparently suffered from her own demons. O’Connor was abused physically and emotionally, and her feelings about her mother are complicated. As she grew older, because of her own troubling behavior, O’Connor’s father sent her to a boarding school, which was what we might call a school for delinquent girls. Despite the pain and sadness of her childhood, O’Connor has a fierce love for her family (especially her father and older sister Eimer) and for music. Some of her fondest childhood memories involve singing for her mother, and it was music and songwriting that seem to have helped her and given her direction in her teenaged years. One of the nuns at her school helped her pursue music and encouraged her interests there. O’Connor eventually ran away from the school, found work and started writing and performing with local groups.
Part 2 covers O’Connor’s musical career and personal struggles from 1985, when she recorded the demo for her first album The Lion and the Cobra, until the famous 1992 SNL performance and its aftermath. O’Connor’s independence and assertiveness, off-putting in a male-dominated industry, come through here and make for engrossing reading. She decided to shave off her hair when the men helping her make her album suggested that she try to look more feminine. She made a point of learning the details of recording the album and making sure that her own creative vision was not lost to some other person’s whim, and she became pregnant and had a baby before the album’s release. Throughout the book, O’Connor makes clear that as much as she loves music, which is truly a form of prayer for her, and performing, the music industry itself leaves her cold. This would lead to problems later as her star began to rise and her second album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, made her an international star. In this section, O’Connor writes about attending the Grammy’s, a disturbing encounter with Prince, and the Saturday Night Live incident in which she tore up a photo of the Pope and drew the scorn of the world. The photo had been on her mother’s wall, and after her untimely death the year before The Lion and The Cobra came out, O’Connor took it. Her intention in ripping it had been to draw attention to child abuse and the church’s lack of response to it. Given her own childhood, it makes a lot of sense. Her response to the backlash is not what one might have expected. Rather than thinking it derailed her career, O’Connor says it “re-railed” it. She makes no apologies for what she did and remains proud that she was true to her own beliefs. I remember that performance on SNL and the insanity that followed, and at the time, I really thought people went overboard in their response. Certainly the truths that have come to light about the Catholic Church and child abuse show that O’Connor was not wrong.
Part 3 is a bit of a change-up. In this section, O’Connor spends time talking about each of her albums. She also writes about meeting some of her personal heroes (Bob Dylan, Muhammad Ali, Lou Reed) and about her four children. She then explains that she has trouble recollecting much about the years 1992-2015 due to a radical hysterectomy and a breakdown. She explains that treatment in Ireland was poor to non-existent, and so she moved to the US, where mental health support was better. Reading about this is quite sad, although she seems in a much better place now. I had forgotten about her Instagram plea when she was really struggling, and somehow did not know that that charlatan Dr. Phil had wormed his way into her life. Reading about this part of O’Connor’s life made me think about Britney Spears and all the crap that she had to put up with in her personal life that then became the subject of public scrutiny and ridicule. No one deserves this kind of abuse. O’Connor has plans for a new album and had been planning to attend school to become a health aide (inspired by those who helped her while she was getting help in US hospitals) when the pandemic hit.
Sinead O’Connor’s writing reveals not just the pain that she has endured in her life, but also a great sense of humor and abiding faith. I believe that that sense of humor and her spirituality have probably been instrumental in getting her through some very dark periods. She seems very aware of her own flaws, and she has nothing but love for her family and for music. I genuinely hope that she experiences only happiness and good fortune as she moves forward with her life.