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The word according to Sinead

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YOU may have noticed something strange in the music pages recently;

'Sinead O'Connor in good review shocker'. Critics seem to think she is happy and it shows in her shows. Happy? That old chesnut?

Tonight's concert in Dublin marks the end of her tour promoting Theology, the double disc album inspired by scripture and psalm that offers a version of Sinead scarcely seen before. Of course, it's fiercely political, but it's also touchingly humble, if you take the time to listen.

This perceived happiness is also reflected in the set she is playing nowadays, which draws from her entire career and includes many songs she used to refuse to play.

She recently played in the US for the first time in 10 years. Given her history with the place, the "absolute unbelievable welcome" she received was gratifying. "I never did have trouble with fans, " she says. "It was always the newspapers."

Perhaps the culmination of the healing process so far was last month's appearance on Oprah, where the mother-of-four openly discussed how she came to be diagnosed with bipolar mood disorder. She also disclosed how she had attempted suicide on her 33rd birthday and how she had begun the long road to a proper diagnosis.

The show was "surreal and freaky", she says now. "I couldn't focus my mind. I kept looking at Oprah going, 'f**k I'm on the Oprah Winfrey show'. I had my plan worked out and then of course I forgot it. The experience made me have to sit and think about it, so in lots of ways it was good for me. It can take a while to really acknowledge that you need to be careful around your illness.

Who would have thought that being crazy would get you on Oprah? I thought that would be the thing that would never get me on Oprah. I was thinking of jumping around the sofa but they took them all away after Tom Cruise jumped up and down on it declaring his love for Katie Holmes."

Raising issues not generally talked about is kind of Sinead's thing. Always has been. Always will be, hopefully.

"Suicidal feelings are probably the biggest symptom of bipolar disorder, but a lot of people don't understand that it is a temporary feeling and perhaps it's a chemical problem. In Ireland, you are not encouraged to talk about those things. That was my objective, as well as to encourage people to take the meds and see what they are like before and after."

The response to her making it public has been good, "apart from the odd nutcase", she says. "Someone on the website said I shouldn't have bred children knowing about the illness, which brings up a misunderstanding because bipolar is not congenital."

Even the suicide attempt has had its funny side. "Someone posted a message saying 'better luck next time', " she laughs. "Wooaah!"

The diagnosis, it seems, has brought Sinead to a more balanced acceptance of all that has happened in her life. She talks about "the seed" of depression she had inside her as a child and how that got worse when she became really famous around the age of 22 or 23.

"That was the first time I felt suicidal or thought suicidally and then it snowballed slowly. Half of it was my own making, but the situation I was in as 'Sinead O'Connor' was difficult. I got myself into all sorts of situations from there on."

The said "situations" need no introduction.

She started going to doctors when she was around 28, "but it did get missed".

"Pregnancy and the post-partum period can bring it on deeply, " she says, adding that around the pregnancy of her third child was when it got really bad. "About five months after, it began to get unmanageable. Once I knew I was ill, I took myself around to various doctors and it took about two months to get a diagnosis."

What is fresh about Sinead's revelations now is the sense of responsibility she brings to the table. "I used to say to my sister that I felt as if I had a tree going through me; a tree going through my heart. But that was of my own making too. The 'Sinead O'Connor' situation was just really crazy.

There are consequences to that in your private life. There was chaos around the birth of my third child, as you may have noticed. That was the thing that really sent me into an unmanageable situation."

The lack of privacy was hard "but I can't claim to be innocent of being the person who threw some things into the public arena . . . but not all.

"I wouldn't claim that I am entirely the victim. I think there is a 50-50 share between me and the way the media dealt with me."

The 'Sinead O'Connor' experience, she says, has a connection with her bipolar disorder "which was there in the first place because of the way I grew up. If you look at what was going on when I was 22 or 23 or so, you would understand.

I felt life wasn't worth living. There was pressure on me that I think would have made most people suicidal.

"And partly because it is sometimes your own behaviour that gets you into the situations. I'm not talking about specific things in my private life, but I'm not entirely innocent when it came to all of that.

"It's not that I don't take responsibility but when you add it on to someone who has bipolarf" Sinead describes her older records as "a diary of recovery musically". The first two albums represent anger and defiance and "and then you hit the real feeling" through the unrelenting, if beautiful, sadness of Universal Mother.

The bipolar diagnosis broadly coincided with the announcement in 2003 that she was retiring from music altogether, the irony being that the very thing that had gotten her through life was now the thing she felt had to be killed.

"I really did think [my career] was over. I got rid of all my musical instruments, cooked horrible dinners for my kids every night, went to the supermarket until I broke out in a rash every time I went in there. I just couldn't take it. I didn't want to be 'Sinead O'Connor' anymore.

"There had also been some very dramatic consequences in my private life and something that threatened my children very badly.

Myself and my family went through a very traumatic period that would not have happened if I was not 'Sinead O'Connor'."

She began the road to recovery with the help of a counsellor. "I said I wanted 'Sinead O'Connor' dead . . . the version if me I saw in the papers wasn't me." And the sought-after domestic bliss simply didn't happen.

She was miserable. Family and friends helped her to separate the character from the musician.

Counselling and meds helped the mood swings. Inspiration came from the rastafarian tradition of music as prayer. She went to Jamaica and recorded Throw Down Your Arms, a record that "had to be made" to reignite the process.

She also began a course in theology and was inspired by the teacher to adapt some of the scriptures she was reading to song.

Although, overtly, it may not sound so , Theology is hugely political. Songs such as 'If You Had A Vineyard' invokes the Book of Isaiah and is an anti-war song. "God has been libelled so many times, " she says. "And I am someone who believes that God and religion are two different things."

Another gem is 'We People Who Are Darker Than Blue' by Curtis Mayfield. "That song reminds me of the Ireland of 15 years ago when to be a good Catholic basically meant you had to think you were a piece of sh*t. That's what people were . . . miserable, or darker than blue. Curtis was quite a prophetic person, a lone wolf."

'Rivers of Babylon', the old Biblical psalm made popular by Boney M in 1978, was chosen as a way of redefining a tune that often gets a hard time. "It's also my way of explaining why I stopped working and why I started again. I went into the psalm and found such beautiful lines."

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Back To Top >> 18/11/2007

The inhuman zoo
THERE was a zoo on the grounds
Knocking down the walls of intimidation
CATHERINE McCartney's book, Wa l l s
Paperbacks: Tom Widger
The Feckin' Book of Everything Irish Colin

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