Back in the 90s, was it Sinéad O’Connor or Madonna that moved and inspired your 20-something soul?
Last night, my husband and I found our selves four rows back at a Sinéad O’Conner concert for her “American Kindness” tour. With her trademark shaved head and wearing a shapeless Bob Dylan long-sleeve t-shirt, she at once seemed to flash her adorable dimples and her transfiguring scowl. She morphed before our eyes – first as a beautiful, self-possessed women, and then as a rebellious teen-age boy. She was hard to capture, even though I tried with my iPhone camera:
But her sound was extraordinary – her voice clear and transporting. She had the audience in a frenzy – men and women alike –and it gave me cause for reflection…
In 1990, Sinéad’s breakthrough album, “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got,” contained her most famous single, “Nothing Compares 2 U” (written by Prince), winning her a Grammy award in 1991. The album was an international success and the music video of “Nothing Compares 2 U” (she was even before her time using texting characters) focused on her heartbreakingly expressive and beautiful face, and is still riveting http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUiTQvT0W_0.
I think I felt at the time, that she and the album were mine. That Sinéad Bernadette Marie O’Connor, a singer-songwriter from County Dublin, was talking to me – a single Jewish girl living in Hoboken, NJ. It was the soundtrack of my 20-something years when I was studying voice, starting my career and involved in a romantic but tumultuous relationship with an Irishman (a County Kerry man with a thick Irish brogue). But last night, as I watched all the 40-something women and men dance and sway in the aisles, I realized that she deeply affected us all.
And then in those same influential years, there was Madonna, maybe the biggest role model for women at the time. Sinéad’s album, “I Do Not Want…” was straddled by Madonna’s, “The Immaculate Conception,” in 1990 and “Erotica” in 1992.
I never saw Madonna in concert, but I watched her closely, listened to her music and danced my heart out to her hits in the clubs. In 1990, she went on the Blond Ambition World Tour and gave a controversial performance of “Like a Virgin” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s__rX_WL100 and was criticized by the Catholic Church and the Pope who asked that we not attend her show.
As you may recall, Sinéad was also soundly criticized by the Pope and the Catholic Church – particularly harshly for her defiant ripping of the Pope’s photo on “Saturday Night Live.” Sinéad’s personae and sensibility was really the polar opposite of Madonna’s. Both artists railed against the Catholic Church – but Madonna took on sexual freedom and Sinéad, sexual child abuse.
While Sinéad could transform herself from the inside with a mere look or sway, Madonna was able to transform her image on the outside – reinventing herself with every album and music video. While Sinéad didn’t care about style and clothing, Madonna could “strike a pose” and inspire a whole new fashion trend. And, while nothing Sinéad did or does on stage seems choreographed, Madonna started out as a dancer, and is still today, the consummate entertainer – complete with back-up dancers.
At last night’s concert, Sinéad treated us to some of her biggest hits, including one of my favorites, “Emperor’s New Clothes,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFpregq5eJ4 . I recalled how her line, “How could I possibly know what I want when I was only 21?” struck me then, and how even now, at 40-something, I wonder what I want (but that goes under the middle age crisis category).
All of Sinéad’s newer songs from her album, “How About I be Me (and You Be You)?” rocked the house. She had great chemistry with her band and the harmony was spectacular, particularly in “4th and Vine” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIoi7s42lrA and “Take Off Your Shoes.”
The show ended with her vocal, accompanied only by the drone of an electronic organ. She combined her unique artistry as a musician with her soulful talents as an ordained priest…and we all walked out knowing that we had witnessed something substantive and remarkable.
So, who is it for you, Sinéad or Madonna? Would love to hear your thoughts and insights…