Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pure Sweet Hell: Forgiving Sinéad O'Connor

Are Americans really more batsh*t than everyone else? There are, apparently, statistics:

Rates ranged from 26.4 percent of people in the United States to 8.2 percent of people in Italy. While Nigerians appeared to have the lowest prevalence of mental illness — 4.7 percent — the researchers think the actual number is likely much higher since residents of the violence-prone West African nation may be hesitant to confide in strangers.

We are not only the most religious culture in the first world––an aspect making us more like the third world––the U.S. also has one of the lowest thresholds for pseudoscience and alternate realities in the industrialized world. If anything you'd hope this would make us more compassionate but, alas, that is not human nature. Instead, Americans find lotsa LOLz in the humiliating public struggles of the unbalanced and mentally ill, especially when it comes to our public figures. While Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain––hell, even Bill Clinton and Eliot Spitzer––turn on the spit of their unburying pain (even as they attempt to re-inter it through drug use, overconfidence, whoremongering, or whatever the poison), we can only point and laugh. Sure, better them than us, but instead of opprobrium maybe the more appropriate response should be one of compassion.

And then there's Sinéad O'Connor: LiLo is but a rosebud compared to this sister. In addition to famously struggling with disorders, public ridicule, and a horrid upbringing that made her life and career a Roman-scaled struggle spectacle, O'Connor has had the burden of raising four children as a single parent. (If you recall, Sheen and Love had theirs taken away and Cobain couldn't be bothered.) And, remember all the grief O'Connor got for tearing up that image of the John Paul II? Seems kind of prescient now, don't it?

Anyway, she's lived her life authentically and unashamedly, if tragically. If anything she deserves a heap of our respect. The girl's proven herself a courageous warrior. Nothing in her life has kept her down for too long. We should all be so strong. A very detailed and highly recommended overview of her life can be seen in this excellent blog post at The Writer's Life. Read it and feel the added layers of heartbreak and overtone it brings to a song like this:

Thank you for breaking my heart
Thank you for tearing me apart
Now I've a strong, strong heart
Thank you for breaking my heart 

Oh man, if that ain't a potential bag o' tears. Whatever she lacks in technique she surely makes up for in encyclopedic subtext. You'll never hear an eyes downward, introverted whisper of a song given as much affecting magnitude as it is here. Even in a hush the emotional scars of her voice don't compromise any emotion. Her face and those voluminous eyes––the epitome of a travelogue composed on a very hard road indeed.

My hibernophile parents, who in their lives spent all of a week in Ireland, named their second son (i.e. me) Danny––and this is where any resemblance between the song and me ends. They've also been known to get slobbery when Danny Boy's high notes ring. Of course, with all of its sentimental woe and death and loving you so it's no doubt what the song was designed to do. My dad loved the Ray Price version but here O'Connor gives it her powerful signature understatement:

They still won't cut her any slack. I say, bless you sister and fer cryin' out loud fare thee well. You've earned it.

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