Graphic for worship at University Baptist Church, College Park, MD.
Photo by Curtis Ramsey-Lucas
Sinead O’Connor sang and spoke truth
I direct the digital communications of my church including producing the livestream broadcast Sunday mornings. During the week I do prep work for the following Sunday editing graphics early in the morning or late in the evening. Our church has an amazing sound system with a subwoofer the size of a small freezer, and I enjoy listening to music while I work.
This week I played O’Connor’s 1990 masterpiece, “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got.” Released the spring of the year I graduated college, it’s one of my favorite records from that time. I’d been a fan of O’Connor’s since her debut album, “The Lion and the Cobra” in 1987.
There’s not a bad song on “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” and several that I’ve grown fonder of over the years. And while I’m normally reserved when it comes to grieving the death of artists and celebrities I’ve never met, I sat at the soundboard in tears listening to O’Connor sing “Black Boys on Mopeds.”
O’Connor wrote the song following several incidents of police misconduct in England including the 1989 death of Nicholas Bramble while riding a moped. Police mistakenly believed Bramble had stolen the vehicle and pursued him. He lost control of the moped and died from his injuries. His death was ruled an accident, but O’Connor held police responsible arguing they would not have pursued him had Bramble been on a bike or been white.
In the song, O’Connor paraphrases John 15:18-19, breaking the quote up among the song’s verses.
“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you,” Jesus said to his disciples. “If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own.” (John 15:18-19)
In “Black Boys on Mopeds,” O’Connor sings:
“Remember what I told you,
If they hated me, they will hate you”
“Remember what I told I you,
If you were of the world, they would love you.”
Many hated O’Connor for what she said and did, perhaps most notably for tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II at the end of a Saturday Night Live performance in October 1992. As she finished singing an acapella version of Bob Marley’s “War,” she tore the photo and said, “fight the real enemy” while the audience sat in stunned silence.
She was roundly criticized for what she did calling attention to sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church ten years before an investigation by the Boston Globe revealed the same. Frank Sinatra for one called her “one dumb broad.”
Twelve days after her appearance on SNL, she sang at a concert celebrating Bob Dylan’s thirty years in the music business. She was booed off the stage. Dylan, who’d been booed by audiences early in his career, did not come to O’Connor’s defense.
In her 2021 memoir, “Rememberings,” O’Connor portrayed ripping up the photo of the pope as a righteous act of protest and therefore a success. “I feel that having a No. 1 record derailed my career,” she wrote, “and my tearing the photo put me back on the right track.”
“The Emperor’s New Clothes,” also from “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” was her last major hit in the United States. In it she sings,
“Whatever it may bring
I will live by my own policies
I will sleep with a clear conscience
I will sleep in peace
Maybe it sounds mean
But I really don’t think so
You asked for the truth and I told you”
Sinead O’Connor sang and spoke truth. I aspire to her kind of boldness, righteousness, and courage. I hope you do too. Speak the truth, even if others think it sounds mean. If the world hates you for it, remember, the world hated Jesus too. Steer clear of the emperor’s new clothes. Sleep with a clear conscience. Sleep in peace.