Lefsetz Letter » Blog Archive » The Sinead O’Connor Documentary

Lefsetz Letter » Blog Archive » The Sinead O’Connor Documentary

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Showtime trailer: https://bit.ly/3Vdo0R0

It’s great, I give it a big thumbs-up, but it’s not the movie I thought it would be.

You see today’s documentaries are not truth, they’re hagiography. The one that bugs me the most is the Bee Gees’…watching it you’d believe they were as big as the Beatles in the sixties, when nothing could be further from the truth, they were just another act, not to take anything away from their disco years. And unfortunately, as time goes by these documentaries become the historical record, because no one else cares enough, or can land enough cash, to set the record straight, meanwhile those who were there and can testify fade away.

So…

You’re watching this flick and thinking how Sinead O’Connor was ahead of her time, that she was right. Especially about the Catholic Church. But then this is all the film turns out to be, and you want so much more. Obviously, if there was more, Sinead wouldn’t have participated. Because if the acts do, it’s hard to get them to agree to something negative, but that’s what I was most interested in, the past two decades. It’s not like Sinead’s not been in the news, she’s been making news, which has left a lot of us scratching our heads. The film does an excellent job of telling us where Sinead came from, explaining her early behavior, but the four children with four fathers, the death of her son, the diagnosis of mental illness, the chest tattoo, the “crazy” statements in the press…these are barely referenced, if touched upon at all.

So what we’ve got here is a young woman from a broken home with an alcoholic mother who dies on her. Along the way, she’s put in an institution because of uncontrollable behavior and…

It’s amazing she survived, never mind became a big star.

But it was thirty years ago, even longer. You watch the movie and you’re shocked. Because it was such a different era. MTV still ruled. Everybody saw the “Nothing Compares 2 U” video. And when she ripped up the Pope’s picture on SNL… There might have been cable, but there was no streaming and certainly no internet and therefore it was big news, whereas nothing’s that big anymore, even Kanye, people have already stopped talking about his heinous remarks, and Kanye’s got the most media attention of any musician.

And it wasn’t hip-hop back in the late eighties, early nineties. Rock still ruled. Sure, hip-hop had a presence, and indie, especially punk and Nirvana, was nascent, but the big labels with their big spends still dominated the business. You had to be with a major to play, to get albums in the store, to get on radio and TV. And if you had a hit, it was EVERYWHERE!

So, it doesn’t appear that Sinead was inherently rebellious, but more that she was sheltered, couldn’t see the bigger picture, and saw no reason to compromise, to not be herself 24/7.

She’s probably still pissed at the Catholic Church, even though she’s now a Muslim. You don’t get over a background that bad that quickly, even though everybody tells you to, it smolders.

So…

Sinead O’Connor was Irish in an era where we didn’t really know what that meant. Before liberalization. Before women’s rights and abortion rights. Yes, they can have a national referendum in Catholic Ireland, and abortion can be legalized, but in the U.S. we’re going in the wrong direction. If only we had a spokesperson like Sinead with that reach. But music has fallen from its perch in importance, and the acts are all about becoming brands, and money is paramount. Sacrificing and standing up for your rights? No one does that anymore. Oh, they’ll e-mail me protesting, but believe me, times were different.

Then again, thirty years ago wasn’t like the sixties. By the time Sinead broke music was huge business and acts were making more money, were being ripped-off less, still being ripped-off, but there were more dollars in the pot and more awareness of what was going on.

Not that Sinead was involved in the business end of things.

Nigel Grainge found her in Ireland and brought her to the U.K. But since Nigel is gone, he can’t speak. But Nigel was an interesting character. With a sense of humor, someone who could see the truth and articulate it, a smart guy but also a fun guy, in an intellectual way, not a rousing, beer-drinking way. But we do get the opinions of Peaches and…how come they have to use contemporary voices when it comes to history? In time, these people will be forgotten. Sinead will outlast all of the acts featured in this flick, at least her music will. I don’t want reflections, I want the essence, what went down.

They do talk about her taking control of the reins and insisting “The Lion and the Cobra” be recut, she hated the initial version. And she resisted the label’s call for an abortion when she got pregnant. She has always had a backbone. And when she stands at the mic and starts screaming…

You realize what a long strange trip it’s been, how this isn’t the sound anymore. But she loved to scream, to get the energy, the anger out.

But Sinead could also be quiet.

And she always stood her ground. Standing up for Public Enemy at the Grammys and refusing to appear the following year. But the Grammys are a period piece too. Today “Hits” is rambling about secret committees at the top and I just can’t get excited, no matter how flawed the organization is. If you need an award to feel good about yourself, you must have huge self-confidence/image issues. And now no one watches, and no one remembers who won, but back then…

I remember being at the Lilith Fair at the Rose Bowl. I’d left the stadium to go outside to the second stage to see K’s Choice, remember “Not an Addict,” and Billie Myers, remember “Kiss the Rain”…you probably don’t, but the latter was a smash and even the former got MTV airplay, but in a moment of silence, through the tunnel, I heard:

“I am stretched on your grave

And will lie there forever”

I RAN to the football field. I had to get closer to the sound. I’ve got goosebumps writing about it now. Sinead’s voice transcended the venue. She had the loudest and most piercing and most memorable vocal of anybody appearing, and she was not at the top of the bill. And after that, “I Am Stretched on Your Grave” became one of my favorite songs.

Which had been “The Last Day of Our Acquaintance,” about her former manager Fachtna O’ Ceallaigh. I know Fachtna, a great guy. I figured representing an urchin and being from Ireland he would be dark and edgy, but he is not. But the film says he previously ran U2’s label and…I remembered the excitement of the old music business, when titans truly were, when everybody tried to get a foothold, when it was exciting, when it was EVERYTHING! TV and movies were behind the time, now it’s reversed, never mind social media.

And then there was the appearance on Letterman. I recorded it and saved it so I could watch it again and again. It was literally the best performance I ever saw on Dave’s show.

Crap, it’s been taken down from YouTube, but Sinead was singing “You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart” from the movie “In the Name of the Father” and she had her eyes closed when the music was quiet and then she started stomping her foot and the song became louder and she was completely animated, looking into the camera, and she was singing like she MEANT IT, which is something else that’s gone by the wayside.

So, who is Sinead O’ Connor?

That I’d like to know more about. This film is a canonization. But no one’s perfect, far from it. So she made it and offended people and…

That’s another thing, some things never change. The same crap they were mad at Sinead for thirty years ago, they’re still mad at today. She ripped the Pope’s picture…no one’s got a sense of humor, no one can say anything negative about religion. As for refusing to air the National Anthem at her live show… I mean come on, WHO WOULD WANT THAT? It’s your gig, people paid to see YOU, it’s not a baseball game, it’s not a law. God, why are people so offended.

Because they’re dumb and caught in a rut, defending that which oftentimes they cannot even see. Once upon a time, music made you question, the creators were vessels who had opinions we hung on, now they’re just mannequins for clothing, selling perfume and tchotchkes trying to get rich when in truth they can never be as wealthy as the rulers of this country. You might get seven figures to pay the private, but there’s a good chance people won’t even pay attention to you, BECAUSE THAT’S HOW LITTLE THE MONEY MEANS TO THEM! You’re just a court jester, when you used to be so much more.

“Nothing Compares” will rivet you. It will make you think.

But it will leave you wanting.

I’d like a subsequent documentary, but I doubt that’s forthcoming, after all the credits say this documentary was first played at a film festival back in 2019, THREE YEARS AGO! It’s a game, raising money, getting distribution, no wonder the youth just make it themselves on their hi-res phones and put it on TikTok, those clips have a lot more authenticity than the ones that are labored over.

At this point, Sinead O’Connor is a fading footnote. This brings more attention to her talents and career, which she fully deserves. If only we could have more.

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