Although she remains one of the most distinctive and soulful singers to
emerge in the '90s, in recent years Sinead O'Connor has been known as much
for the controversies she's caused (starting with her notorious Pope-bashing
appearance on "Saturday Night Live" in 1992) and the confusion over her
public pronouncements (among them her statements on religion and the news
that she was retiring from singing) as for her music.
At age 38, O'Connor remains a singularly talented artist and a sharp and
insightful interview. I spoke with her about her new album, "Throw Down Your
Arms," an inspired collection of reggae covers, and her current tour with
the famous reggae rhythm section Sly and Robbie as she prepared to bring her
new show to the United States.
Q.A while back, you announced that you were retiring from
music. What happened?
A. I was retiring, insofar as the rock and pop arena I was working
in. It was killing me, actually. I think I was a square peg in a round hole,
and when I came out of it, I really believed I'd never go anywhere near
singing again. But after three years, it became apparent that just because
you don't want to work in that arena, it doesn't mean that you can't work at
Q.Some fans may be surprised by your reinvention as a reggae
artist, but you covered Bob Marley on an album as far back as 1992.
A. For me, it's not a reinvention in the reggae arena. I made a
reggae record, but I don't plan on making another; I'm working on a new
album now called "Theology" that won't be a reggae record. It's not a
reinvention in a Madonna style, either. I left the rock and pop arena and
spent years figuring out how I could still be a singer in a way that would
feed me instead of feeding upon me. With the help of my father and my
sister, I went back and looked at who was the Sinead as a child that wanted
to be a singer, and what was it that made her want to be a singer, this
little girl who was in choirs singing religious songs. What actually
inspired me to be a singer was religious music.
Q.The spiritual aspect of reggae is lost on many people.
A. I can only speak for myself. To me, what I like about it is
going back to being a child growing up in an extremely religious culture.
They were locking God in their tabernacles. It became apparent to me when I
first heard Rasta music that music could be a way one could set God free.
One of the things that is most misunderstood is that Rastafarianism isn't a
religion; it's a movement. It's an anti-religious movement that doesn't
believe in religion. It's a prophetic movement, and I've always been really
interested in prophesy. That's what I find inspiring about the movement --
they're sort of warriors on God's behalf, and they stood up to be priests
without having to be ordained, using music as their priesthood.
The Rastafarian movement is all about the retrieval of self-esteem.
Marcus Garvey understood that slaves had no self-esteem, and as an Irish
Catholic, you are taught that it is a sin to love yourself. To be a good
person, you have to think you are s---. And as an Irish Catholic girl living
in circumstances of extreme child abuse, I could see myself in their
Q.What is it like playing theaters with Sly and Robbie?
A. Oh, it's an enormous kick just being on the bus at 3 in the
morning! We all get along so well. We're just mad about each other. I grew
out of [touring the way I used to do it]. There was no purpose in it after a
while. If you are going to leave your kids for that long, you have to be
able to justify it. The image I always get is that I used to do a lot of
those summer amphitheaters in America, and there'd always be a carnival in
the background, so you'd be standing onstage singing these songs and you'd
hear these wheels going around and people screaming, and I'd be singing
"Nothing Compares to You" and thinking, "What the f--- am I doing here?"
Q.I saw you at Lollapalooza at the New World Music Theatre in
1994 in exactly that sort of setting, and the next morning, you left the
tour and flew home.
A. I was pregnant, and the show you saw me at I could barely
manage not to puke! Also, I was singing a lot of miserable songs.
Q.Have people been receptive to the reggae material on this
A. There are a few people who ask for the No. 1 hit single, but I
was never going to go around and do that for 20 years. The majority of the
people love it, to be honest. There are a few people who don't know what to
expect and are transformed by the thing. Some people might be disappointed,
but at the same time, these songs are terribly powerful. It is like going to
Mass, not like going to a rock concert. I've been asking the promoters to be
clear to people because I don't like people getting ripped off.
REASONS FOR LIVING
Though you'd never know it from his public image as a rough 'n'
randy backwoods bluesman -- an image he continues to project throughout his
new book -- Billy F. Gibbons is one of the sharpest and most erudite minds
in rock 'n' roll, as well as one of its most extraordinarily talented
Rock + Roll Gearhead (Motorbooks, $29.95) is a lavishly
illustrated coffee table tome -- though Gibbons says he prefers to think of
it as a "tequila table" book -- offering a guided tour through his career,
from garage-rock legends the Moving Sidewalks of "Nuggets" and "99th Floor"
fame through ZZ Top, and the many gorgeous custom-made guitars and hot rods
he acquired along the way.
If there's any disappointment to be found in the book's 192 pages, it's
that the famously bearded Gibbons never drops the carefully crafted persona:
How intriguing would the book be, for example, if it also included photos of
his fine arts collection, reportedly the most impressive in Texas? But this
is a minor gripe, since any fan of cars or guitars will welcome this hefty
document as an irresistible example of politically correct pornography,
staring with envy at Gibbons' gorgeous axes and hipster wheels for hours on