Sinéad O'Connor Has A New Memoir ... And No Regrets Fiery singer-songwriter Sinéad O'Connor became a star in the MTV era, rewriting the rules while courting controversy. Now, she reclaims an influential legacy with a new memoir, Rememberings.
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Sinéad O'Connor Has A New Memoir ... And No Regrets

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Sinéad O'Connor Has A New Memoir ... And No Regrets

Sinéad O'Connor Has A New Memoir ... And No Regrets

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Sinead O'Connor has written a memoir. She's a music star who insisted on rising to fame in exactly her way, which may have been why so many people related to her. Allyson McCabe reports on the story told in O'Connor's book "Rememberings."

ALLYSON MCCABE, BYLINE: Sinead O'Connor achieved worldwide fame in the MTV era with a prince-penned megahit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOTHING COMPARES 2 U")

SINEAD O'CONNOR: (Singing) All the flowers that you planted, mama, in the backyard...

MCCABE: Her story begins in Ireland, where O'Connor says she was raised by an abusive mother. Her parents split up when she was 9, and trouble soon followed.

O'CONNOR: I was stealing everything that wasn't nailed down, basically. Finally, I stole a pair of gold shoes for a friend of mine to wear to a Pretenders concert in Dublin. And I got the hand on the shoulder. Excuse me, miss.

MCCABE: O'Connor landed in reform school, but her life began to turn around.

O'CONNOR: Sister Margaret is like a mother to me. It was a punk rock shop - clothes shop in Dublin called No Romance. And she took me there, and she bought me, like, a red parka. And she bought my first guitar and a book of chords for Bob Dylan songs.

MCCABE: O'Connor was offered a recording contract while still in her teens. Before that, Ireland's biggest female export was an early 1970s pop singer called Dana.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DANA: (Singing) Snowdrops and daffodils, butterflies and bees.

MCCABE: O'Connor had other ideas.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MANDINKA")

O'CONNOR: (Singing) I don't know no shame. I feel no pain. I can't see the flame.

MCCABE: When O'Connor's label bosses pressured her to dress more femininely, she shaved her hair and wore combat boots. Some of her songs drew attention to social issues. Others referenced her difficult childhood. Her self-produced 1987 debut got airplay on MTV and college radio. Riot grrrl pioneer Kathleen Hanna says her roommate bought a copy on cassette.

KATHLEEN HANNA: We just sat there in silence and listened to the whole entire record (laughter). I don't think we even talked. It felt like being on a journey. It felt like someone had written songs that were like already living inside me.

MCCABE: O'Connor stood in sharp contrast with everything happening in the pop world, recalls music critic Jessica Hopper.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I AM STRETCHED ON YOUR GRAVE")

O'CONNOR: (Singing) I am stretched on your grave.

JESSICA HOPPER: Alternative music was kind of just starting across the transom into mainstream, but she was really straddling both those things and also just presented this image of a woman who really seemed to know herself.

HOPPER: In 1990, O'Connor's next album, "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got," sold more than 7 million copies she earned for Grammy nominations but declined industry awards. When she performed on "Saturday Night Live" in 1992, she closed her set by tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II, a gesture of protest against the Catholic Church's silence on child abuse.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

O'CONNOR: Fight the real enemy.

MCCABE: The world gasped. When actor Joe Pesci hosted the show the following week. He had this to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")

JOE PESCI: But I'll tell you one thing. She was very lucky it wasn't my show 'cause if it was my show, I would've gave her such a smack.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCABE: After "SNL," O'Connor still refused to play the game. Kathleen Hanna says she drew rebuke, but that's also what made her real.

HANNA: She's talking about racism. She's talking about poverty. She's talking about homelessness. She's talking about abuse. She's talking about religious intolerance. She's a walking middle finger.

MCCABE: O'Connor stopped making hit records in the '90s, but she never stopped making music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THANK YOU FOR HEARING ME")

O'CONNOR: (Singing) Thank you for hearing me.

MCCABE: In addition to writing her own songs, O'Connor restyled Irish folk, jazz standards, reggae and religious music. Her personal struggles and outspoken views have often been fodder for the tabloids, says Jessica Hopper.

HOPPER: People were not looking to necessarily understand what and how she was as an artist. And so it was just very easy for people to push her to the side, to disqualify her work because she was, quote unquote, "difficult."

MCCABE: But Hopper says O'Connor's significance endures.

HOPPER: She's really remained steadfastly her own artist this whole time. You really still cannot deny her voice and her talent.

MCCABE: In early 2020, O'Connor began reclaiming her musical legacy with a string of sold-out shows. New music is in the works, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

O'CONNOR: (Singing) And the sun's peeping out of the sky.

I wouldn't have consciously set out with the desire to be a voice for others. I was setting out to be heard.

MCCABE: What O'Connor won't do is apologize for surviving. For NPR News, I'm Allyson McCabe.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

O'CONNOR: (Singing) Never cry again.

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