Sinead O’Connor’s long-awaited memoir, Rememberings: Scenes From My Complicated Life, arrives in stores today. It traces her entire life story, from the abuse she suffered as a child to her incredible rise to fame in the early Nineties, and the difficult years that followed. An excerpt about the infamous night in 1992 where she tore up a photo of the pope on Saturday Night Live can be read right here.
“Total stunned silence in the audience,” she writes about the immediate aftermath of the incident. “And when I walk backstage, literally not a human being is in sight. All doors have closed. Everyone has vanished. Including my own manager, who locks himself in his room for three days and unplugs his phone.”
She soon learns that NBC has banned her for life. And when she leaves the studio, two young men chase her down the street and throw eggs at her. Soon enough, everyone from Madonna to Frank Sinatra goes public with their criticism of her. “This must be one stupid broad,” Sinatra told the audience at a show in New Jersey. “I’d kick her ass if she were a guy. She must beat her kids to stay in shape.”
Just 13 days after the SNL broadcast, O’Connor was booked to perform at Bob Dylan’s 30th-anniversary concert on an incredible bill that also included George Harrison, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder, Roger McGuinn, the Band, Eric Clapton, Tracy Chapman, Chrissie Hynde, and Lou Reed.
Early in the evening, Kris Kristofferson came out to introduce O’Connor. “I’m real proud to introduce this next artist whose name became synonymous with courage and integrity,” he said. “Ladies and gentlemen, Sinead O’Connor.” As you can see from this video, a flood of boos filled Madison Square Garden the moment she took the stage. The band eventually began to launch into Dylan’s 1979 classic “I Believe in You,” but they were overpowered by the boos. Kristofferson came out to whisper some encouraging words into her ear and the band tried again, but O’Connor signaled for them to stop. She then sang a portion of Bob Marley’s “War,” just as she had on SNL, before running off the stage and into the arms of Kristofferson.
Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready came out next and won the crowd back over with a chilling rendition of “Masters of War” and the night continued without incident. But it was a sign that the public was never going to forgive O’Connor for the SNL controversy.
“A lot of people say or think that tearing up the pope’s photo derailed my career,” she writes in her book. “That’s not how I feel about it. I feel that having a number-one record derailed my career and my tearing the photo put me back on the right track. I had to make my living performing live again. And that’s what I was born for. I wasn’t born to be a pop star. You have to be a good girl for that. Not be too troubled.”
O’Connor did eventually earn herself a devoted cult audience and she draws large crowds to this day. The SNL incident is also seen in a different light by many since she tore up the pope photo to protest child sex abuse in the Catholic Church. And since that time, such incidents have been verified with horrifying regularity.
The booing incident at the Dylan concert was edited out of the original live album drawn from the show. But a 2014 remastered version features O’Connor’s rendition of “I Believe in You” from a soundcheck. It’s quite beautiful. If the people in the audience that night had given her a chance to sing, they could have heard it.