Saturday, October 20, 2007

No regrets for Sinead O'Connor 15 years after ripping up pope's picture

It was a moment that would ignite a global firestorm and brand her an industry and religious pariah, but 15 years after Sinead O'Connor ripped up a photo of Pope John Paul II on live television, the Irish iconoclast says she has no regrets.

In fact, on this month's anniversary of that fateful act, O'Connor muses on what would happen if anyone ripped up an image of Pope Benedict XVI, the controversial leader who took John Paul's place.

"I don't think this pope is as beloved as the last one," O'Connor concludes diplomatically of the current pontiff, a hardline traditionalist.

"It wouldn't even be noticed if anyone ripped up a picture of this one. I don't think (anyone) would bat an eyelid."

"He's a bit clinical, isn't he? I actually had a lot of fondness for the last one, the same as everyone else did, you know."

This is not to say that O'Connor would even consider repeating such an act today.

Now 40 and the mother of four, O'Connor says she's learned that there's power in subtlety.

The headstrong artist is as opinionated as ever - the political rants come easily in a 30-minute phone conversation from just outside Cork, Ireland - but O'Connor displays a measured diplomacy, too.

"You have to be subtle these days about how you go about making your point," she says as she prepares for a concert in Toronto on Saturday.

"If you really want to get heard, you have to be very careful how you go about getting heard."

Such sentiments are a far cry from the ferocious display of anger and pain that infused O'Connor's infamous display on "Saturday Night Live" on Oct. 3, 1992. That night she ripped up a photo of John Paul to protest child abuse within the Catholic church, shouting, "Fight the real enemy."

It was an act that would derail her career for years and to this day brand her as an uncompromising, outspoken maverick.

"I know why I did it, I know why it was important, I know what it meant to me," O'Connor says of that night. "There's no point in me trying to make a whole lot of other people understand it because it doesn't matter. I don't feel the need for it to be understood."

"To my dying day, apart from having my children, that's the thing I'm proudest of."

Following a backlash that included radio boycotts, CD smashings and concert bans, O'Connor retreated from the spotlight to focus on her family and redefine her own spiritual path.

She went on to be ordained by a breakaway Catholic group and embrace the Rastafari movement.

She's also come forward to talk about her struggles with bipolar disorder.

Creatively, she's continued to push boundaries with a reinterpretation of Irish traditional songs, reggae classics and original material.

Her new disc, "Theology," includes eight new songs based on Bible scripture and three covers, including "I Don't Know How To Love" from the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice musical, "Jesus Christ Superstar."

The song "If You Had a Vineyard," draws its lyrics from the book of Isaiah, serving as a denunciation of war in God's name.

"I wanted to kind of show with the scriptures ... that actually the God character is a very human character and a very unconditionally loving character who doesn't support war and violence or all," O'Connor explains.

"For George Bush to say he's a Christian is a blasphemy, for Osama bin Laden to say he's a Muslim is a blasphemy. And he's done more to denigrate and desecrate his religion than he could ever have done to make it beautiful in the eyes of the world. And actually Islam is a very beautiful religion and all people like bin Laden have done is completely malign it."

Even though she rails against organized religion, O'Connor insists that she considers herself a Catholic and believes in Jesus.

"I am someone who actually loves religion, believe it or not," she says.

"There is a place for (organized religion) but in our times it's important to understand ... that God and religion are two very different things. The difference between them is that God is unconditionally loving and religion is conditionally loving."

Switching gears, O'Connor reveals that her sympathies run high for the media-hounded Britney Spears.

Blasting the tabloid media as "bullies", O'Connor said she's very concerned about the troubled diva.

While insisting that Spears should not have to feel like she should lock herself at home, O'Connor urged the starlet to remove herself from the publicity circus that has dogged her every move.

"If I were Britney Spears, I would leave America. I would not live in a country that would do that to me. I would actually leave and go to a country where I can have more of a private life and I could come to America to work but that's not an easy thing to do if all your family are in America."
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