Sinead O'Connor electrified the MTV generation when she entered our consciousness, beautifully buzz-cut and brazen, in the video for her 1990 Prince-penned hit single "Nothing Compares 2 U" (still a guilty pleasure, admit it). She solidified her rebel-with-a-cause stares when she ripped up a photo of the pope on Saturday Night Live, stating defiantly, "Fight the real evil," making her a hero to some and a subject of front-page controversy worldwide. Almost a decade later, people still can't stop talking about it. O'Connor has continued to make beautiful music, but reports about her personal life, including that she had come out as a lesbian, have since overshadowed her modestly selling CDs and film cameos (notably, playing the Virgin Mary in Neil Jordan's The Butcher Boy).
Regardless, O'Connor's gay and lesbian fans have remained loyal to and interested in one of the true punk individualists. Now off the major labels, O'Connor has recorded a lush album of Irish folk songs, Sean-Nos Nua, perhaps an indication of a new sense of contentment and clarity. The Advocate sat down in New York with the painfully shy, still buzz-cut enchantress to set the record straight.
Here in America, following the infamous "tearing up the photo of the pope on Saturday Night Live" incident more than a decade ago, you have been a figure of some controversy. Are you regarded as such in Ireland, where you, your husband, your son [age 15], and your daughter [age 6] reside?
I feel embraced in Ireland, and I've acquired a sort of national daughter status. I mean, I suppose some regard me as controversial, but some quite admire and understand my Irish sense of mischief.
Every [American] journalist who has interviewed me has brought up that controversy, however, probably because they were told that they had to, but there really isn't anything more to say about that, is there? So I've been trying to keep the focus on the music.
So you're saying your protests and outspokenness have a cultural basis that Americans may not appreciate?
You've always been outspoken on political issues--do you feel an urge to address certain issues in the world right now?
I suppose I'd like to write inspirational music about world peace, but I'm not foolish enough to think that I have the ability to stop war. The way I see a musician's role is that we're like the Red Cross. We're standing in the middle of the battlefield with something soothing, but we don't take sides. Perhaps we offer another way of looking at things? Ireland has always been a neutral country--we don't take sides, we just provide aid, and that's sort of how I see myself.
It was reported about a year and a half ago that you made a statement in the gay press declaring that you were a lesbian. Will you tell us exactly what you said and what your intention was?
I think it might have even been an interview for The Advocate? [Editor's note: It was for Curve.] I don't remember exactly, but this woman reporter asked why did I think lesbians liked me so much or why was I so popular with lesbians, and I said it was probably because they thought I was one of them, meaning that I don't believe in gay or straight and I don't believe love is conditional. But obviously the reporter ran with it and the paper hyped it, because it probably sold a lot of issues, and, really, I was quite happy for them to do that. I didn't mind. I think [the gay press] should do whatever they can to sell as many papers as anybody else.
I think gays and lesbians thought you were coming out as bisexual, which they were pleased to embrace you for, since you have always been a really strong and powerful female role model. It was reported you were to headline a queer summer concert tour last year with the Pet Shop Boys, which was later canceled. But you married a man, your current husband, shortly after that interview was published, which sort of confused people. …