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SHIPLESS OCEANS: Sinéad O’Connor frightens the herd with continued truth-telling

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Sinéad O’Connor, now known as Magda Davitt,
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Unbeknownst to me, Irish singer/songwriter Sinéad O’Connor legally changed her name to Magda Davitt this past summer sometime while spending time in a New Jersey treatment center, one allegedly recommended to her by TV personality Dr. Phil. O'Connor has long struggled with depression and bipolar disorder and went on his program in an effort to destigmatize mental illness.

As reported in early September: “In August, she claimed she is “one of millions” living with mental illness and dealing with suicidal thoughts, in a video she posted on Facebook while at a motel in South Hackensack. O’Connor, a singer well-known for her version of the song “Nothing Compares 2 U” and for tearing up a picture of Pope John Paul II while on “Saturday Night Live,” said she was in the “arse end of New Jersey” and suffered from three mental illnesses. She also appeared to criticize President Donald Trump in Monday's video, though she did not name him. When discussing the difficulties women face, she claimed that Hillary Clinton could not be shrill but a “satanic Satanist” and “clansman” can be president and can also “hold the American people to ransom by threatening a fake war” with North Korea.

There's no doubt about O'Connor/Davitt's outspoken nature and willingness to stand up for the weak and powerless. And in the above article she warns how people were in danger at the treatment center because of lax behavior and disinterest by the staff and that many people were suicidal,as she herself had been. She also mentioned that she had been abused during the 23 days she was there. Sadly, she has been a victim of abuse since she was very young. She knows it when she sees it and experiences it and that's why she is fearless in trying to help those who are victims of individuals or whole systems.


Looking back on O’Connor’s career, it was 30 years ago, last month, that her amazing debut The Lion and the Cobra was released featuring drummer John Reynolds, who would later marry O’Connor (her first husband) and would work with her as producer on her 2010 cover of the Tim Buckley song “Song to the Siren.” It gives me chills everytime I hear it. In fact, the late George Michael also covered it in his final years.

That song (considered a modern-day classic), which has been the subject of much synchromystic analysis by Chris Knowles at The Secret Sun blog over the past several months, is notable not only because of Buckley’s take on the song (best heard on the last episode of The Monkees) but because Cocteau Twins singer Elizabeth Fraser also recorded it with her side project This Mortal Coil in 1985, a version that O’Connor listened to repeatedly following the death of her mother when she was 17, as noted in a 2011 article in the UK Guardian – “Song to the Siren’s irresistible tang,” written by a reporter with the automotive-minded name of Martin Aston.

Aston writes that O’Connor said repeatedly listening to “Song to the Siren” is “how I got through my mother's death, lying on the floor curled up in a ball, listening to ‘Song to the Siren’ nearly all day, every day, just bawling. I still can't move a muscle when I hear (Fraser) sing it.”

Aston continues: “O'Connor avoided covering it for years, ‘because I was afraid of what it would bring up. But in 2009, my eldest child Jake left home, and you'd think someone had died, I was so bereft. It bought up grief that wasn't about him leaving, so it became important for me to get that shit out and gone.’”

O’Connor had had her son Jake with the aforementioned drummer/producer/ex-husband John Reynolds. It seems as though the two worked together on recording this version of “Song to the Siren” to help O’Connor get through the struggle of a child finally leaving home and beginning their own life.

I have to give credit to writer J.B. Turnstone, who wrote a remarkable piece about O’Connor over at Disinfo a few weeks ago, headlined “Sinead O’Connor and the consequences of standing up to abusers.” I sort of stumbled on it, but it really resonated, particularly with so many women coming forward to courageously expose their abusers and breaking the silence.

Turnstone’s article is powerful stuff. More powerful than a lot of articles I’ve read in recent weeks on those having the courage of their convictions and standing up to bullies, sadists and 


And it seems like a dam is breaking, something that O’Connor was vilified for way back in 1992 for tearing up a picture of Pope John Paul II while performing Bob Marley's powerful song "War" live on NBC's Saturday Night Live. Watching it, you just ... wow! I was a sophomore in college and recall watching it then. I was stunned, as she ripped up that picture of the Pope and boldly said: "Fight the real enemy," in hopes of highlighting the lies and cover-ups perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Church against children abused by priests and others under the Church's authority, including in her home country of Ireland.

And 25 years later, I still am stunned and in awe of this woman, who, while struggling with many problems, still inspires.

And as Turnstone mentioned in his piece, when O'Connor appeared at an all-star tribute to Bob Dylan's then-30 years as a singer and songwriter and icon, she was booed, after host Kris Kristofferson notes how O'Connor's name had "become synonymous with courage and integrity."

As Turnstone writes, recounting the '92 Dylan-worship gig: "Faced immediately with a conflicting barrage of boos and cheers, she bides her time, patiently waiting for the imbeciles to shut the fuck up. A few times her band tries to get things going, but the booing mouth-breathers are whipping themselves into a frenzy. At one point, Kristofferson (who is, let me just say, a total class-act and incredible soulful gentleman) puts his arm around her and says: “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” She replies: “I’m not down,” and waits a little longer. Her poise is impeccable. Her dignity, breath-taking. The keyboard player tries again. The knuckle-dragging human tumors still won’t shut up. She has waited long enough. She cuts the music, and then … …Scrapping her set list for an encore of “War,” she erupts in a blaze of righteous indignation. It is simultaneously the most inspirational and heart-wrenching performance I’ve ever seen. I really cannot understate the effect it had on me when I first saw it; that look in her eyes when she finishes the song and takes a moment to stare down the audience, it’s like being in the presence of a flaming archangel who’s called down the wrath of God. It’s a look that could seemingly topple cities, or part the sea. I can’t even imagine the depth of catharsis she must’ve felt in that moment.

She makes her way off stage and falls into Kristofferson’s arms. Only human and just 24 years old, she begins to sob. I cry when I watch it, too, for such are the consequences of standing up to abusers: our culture sanctifies the twin pillars of authority and celebrity, often conflating them into a single, twisted entity."

Turnstone is on a roll in this article, giving O'Connor full credit for being so brave at such a young age - going up against so much and facing a potentially damaging repercussions to her career, a little over a year after her second album,  I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got, was all over the place and the Prince-penned "Nothing Compares 2 U" was one of the top songs of 1990.

Listening to the So Far ... The Best of Sinéad O’Connor CD here in my office - it was released 20 years ago.

And while she was nominated for all sorts of awards the following year, O'Connor was not interested. She was an artist and an outspoken one at that. She was about the art and the message she could convey. She was not going to miss an opportunity to rip that picture of the Pope into small pieces on national television because she knew so much was at stake. Sadly, it would take another decade before the Church's sex-abuse crisis reached critical mass. 

The day after her appearance on Saturday Night Live, O'Connor did an interview with a reggae music program interviewer telling him that she had planned this action a week in advance and that she figured, "fuck it," I need to speak out in this way, telling him that she herself had been abused as a child.

And so here we are in 2017 and one wonders if we have learned much since 1992 and before? There is a hate-fueled segment of the population of the United States that cheers on sexual predators and abusers and criminals who are in positions of political power or are seeking said power. 

Turnstone adds: "From Popes to producers, senators to professors, the crisis of abuse within this blood-soaked culture of soul-death is, fundamentally, a crisis of authoritarianism. The hierarchical, chain-of-command structures within the Church, within the corporate workplace, and within the “progressive” republics of the “developed world,” are all based on a single model: that of the Roman Army. That is the abuser’s Petrie dish, the crucible of domination. Sinead O’Connor understood that back in 1992, just as all the women and girls who suffered the Magdalene Laundries understood it back in 1892.” Those controversial laundries, we should note, were still operating in Ireland as late as 1996! And O'Connor had served in one of them as a teenager.

He adds that people went berserk because O'Connor dared to point something out that was expected to be ignored or swept under the rug, which, of course, allowed the abuse to continue for so long. She is an "independent Catholic" who believes in the Trinity and Jesus Christ but it is separate from the Roman Catholic Church, which she is very critical of.

And in 2014, O'Connor was speaking out about feminism and she highlighted the example of women journalists being bullied by editors to get a story. And she notes how the entertainment industry sexualizes underage children, using a young Justin Bieber as an example. Before that she had singled out pop star Miley Cyrus, saying she was "pimping" herself out to corporate music interests. She has also criticized Madonna.

And in 2013, when Pope Francis was chosen, the anti-authoritarian and original thinker was interviewed to get her opinions on the new pope, saying that while she did not know the man and that the office of the Pope was "anti-Christian." She added: "The idea that Christ needs a representative is laughable and blasphemous at the same time."

With O'Connor's new identity as Magda Davitt, one wonders if she will continue to sing and perform? Will she get the treatment she needs? Checking out her official website, one is met with a plain white screen saying that there are upgrades and maintenance being conducted. We shall wait and see what develops.



Just three years ago, O'Connor released her most recent album, I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss, which Red Dirt Report critic Louis Fowler considered one of the top albums of 2014, saying that, essentially it would be ignored, because even all these years later, "the music press has always had a total hate-on for her, proof that as much as the mainstream claims they clatter for originality, they will never truly accept it. And O’Connor has always been as original as it gets."

I did want to mention one other thing. It has to do with a post the aforementioned Chris Knowles made at The Secret Sun, regarding the apocalyptic wildfires sweeping across much of southern California, while dozens of earthquakes have begun shaking the state. Knowles made some outstanding sync-related observations in his piece "Babylon's Burning." I heard the phrase "apocalyptic" and "looks like a movie set" used by a Weather Channel meteorologist this morning. It is eerie, in light of the "burn it all down" mentality coming from Trump. Knowles also mentions "Song to the Siren," of course (it all goes back to Elizabeth Fraser), and notes that in David Lynch's Lost Highway, he included This Mortal Coil's "Song to the Siren," which includes a burning house and the actor Balthazar Getty (who played a sinister gangster in Twin Peaks: The Return and is the great-grandson of J. Paul Getty, whose Getty Museum was being threatened by the very fires plaguing Los Angeles. Fire walk with me, indeed!

Regarding O'Connor's music, I point to the remarkably prescient "Fire On Babylon." 

Note the sawmill blade in the opening credits of Twin Peaks (1990), a show which the same month (April) that O'Connor's biggest hit, "Nothing Compares 2 U" went to number one, remaining there for four weeks. By the time the Packard Sawmill in Twin Peaks is burned down, in episode 7, which aired on May 23, 1990, O'Connor's hit gave way to future rival Madonna, whose "Vogue" would take the top spot that week.

And note the sawmill blade (which transforms, later, into a sharp, pointy, metal monster) in the opening portion of O'Connor's 1994 video for the passionate "Fire On Babylon," pictured below. This song was featured on her album Universal Mother. A symbolic title, particularly when thought about today. Regarding Twin Peaks, think about the character of Laura Palmer, abused, raped and killed by her demonically-possessed father. 

Screenshot of sinister saw in "Fire On Babylon" video. (Chrysalis Records)

The video is eerie in that there is a Stranger Things vibe about it. At points, O'Connor looks like the shaved-headed "Eleven" character (Millie Bobby Brown) and the houses turning upside-down and right-side up, as she essentially sings about the abuse she and her siblings (and her country) has endured. Laura Palmer and Eleven have both endured much at the hands of their fathers. O'Connor's physical abuse was often at the hands of her mother.

And with The Return, Laura Palmer (check out "Palms and sycamores") is given a new "identity," in another town - her name is now Carrie Page. And Sinead O'Connor is now Madga Davitt, making heartfelt videos in a motel room in Hackensack, New Jersey - the oft-ridiculed city that is, as O'Connor/Davitt says, is in the "arse end of New Jersey" and in Superman: The Movie, Lex Luthor tells Superman that one nuclear missile is heading to the San Andreas Fault (on this earthquake-ridden day) and the other? To Hackensack, NJ, of course. This upsets Miss Tessmacher, whose mother lives in Hackensack.

Oh, and today happens to be O’Connor’s 51st birthday (born on the same day Jim Morrison of the Doors turned 23 (check out the apropos post "Palm reader" for more of that Doors/Apocalypse Now connection) - and she turned 14 the same day John Lennon was assassinated). Happy birthday, Magda!

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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