There aren't many popular music performers who've had the strength of character to hold onto and express views or opinions that rouse the masses out of their usual state of somnolent ambivalence. While the occasional vocal minority may flail about in agitation over Janet Jackson's nipple or Madonna's plastic sex shows, there have only been a few occasions where an opinion expressed by a pop star has galvanized orchestrated outbreaks of the old lynch mob mentality. John Lennon's famous quote about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus among young people, The Dixie Chicks apologizing to a London England audience for George Bush being from Texas, and Sinead O'Connor ripping up a picture of Pope John Paul before singing Bob Marley's "War" on Saturday Night Live are just a few.
So much for free speech. There's no quicker way to chill individual freedom of expression than to incite mob violence for daring to say or do something the least bit unpopular or controversial. While I'm not familiar enough with the Dixie Chicks to know how the outbreak effected their music, neither Lennon or O'Connor allowed "public opinion" to stifle their willingness to speak their minds. One only needs look at how the FBI tried to prevent Lennon from being allowed to take up residency in the US to see how silent he became. It took a gun in the hands of a mad man to silence him. As for O'Connor her music remained as emotionally charged and painfully honest as it ever was, and she continues to be a strong voice advocating reform of the Catholic Church and condemning its complicity in child abuse.
I wonder how many of those protesting Sinead O'Connor ripping up the picture that night were the same people later protesting the behaviour of the Catholic Church in New England? Or how about all of you who find the theocracy of Iran appalling? Don't you think it a little hypocritical that you can support people demonstrating against an Islamic government, but not someone protesting against the policies of the Catholic church as personified by that Pope? Did you know that in Ireland divorces were illegal at the time O'Connor ripped up that picture because the Catholic church forbid it? Under that pope the rights of women were set back years, and he's the one who led the crusade against condom use and family planning in the the developing nations that aided and abetted overpopulation and the spread of disease which continue to ravage much of South East Asia and Africa.
All of which might seem to have little to do with the recent issuing of a special edition of the disc that first propelled Ms. O'Connor to renown. However with EMI Canada releasing I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (Limited Edition) last April it's given us an opportunity to listen to not only the original album again but a second disc of remixes, previously unreleased material, and a couple of live recordings. Listening to her as she was in 1990, when this was first released and recorded, I have to wonder what had other people been hearing that they were so shocked when she ripped up that picture? Don't they hear the anger, the sadness, and the rejection of authority? Did they think they were just songs that didn't mean anything like so much other pop music?