I wasn’t THAT into Sinead O’Connor.
I mean, like, I didn’t see her in concert or have her poster on my bedroom wall or anything. I bought the Nothing Compares 2 U single for $2.99 on cassette at the Columbus Circle Tower Records. I gawked at her shaved head and her shock-and-awe heresy on Saturday Night Live like everyone else.
“This bitch is CRAZY!” I remember thinking to myself at the time, with something between voyeuristic cringing and a subtle undercurrent of envy.
What was that about?
I didn’t find out until later, when a few more of her songs started to show up on mix tapes mailed back and forth between me and my friends. I could see that her tortured sense of social justice (along with mental illness probably) both defined and doomed her to mockery and ultimate obscurity.
There was no internet then, so I could only guess at why she hated Margaret Thatcher, but I later came to get her lyrics stuck in my head. Like REALLY stuck, and from two songs in particular.
From Black Boys on Mopeds it was:
I’ve said this before now
You said I was childish and you’ll say it now ...
These are dangerous days
To say what you feel is to lay your own grave
Remember what I told you
If they hated me, they will hate you....
Remember what I told you
If you were of the world they would love you ...
Then from the Emperor’s New Clothes:
Everyone can see
What’s going on
They laugh ‘cause they know they’re untouchable
Not because what I said was wrong
Whatever it my bring
I will live by my own policies
I will sleep with a clear conscience
I will sleep in peace
I could not stop thinking about these lyrics then, and years later they crept back into my head, occupying real estate I could’ve used for things like my kids’ social security numbers and the password to my credit card statement. But there they were again, and after being unconstitutionally fired for criticizing the government, I finally understood why.
“It speaks to me,” people say. They say that about books, poems, or art. In this case, I felt like Sinead O’Connor’s lyrics were speaking to me, and I didn’t even want to hear them. I would’ve just as soon forgotten these words, but there they stayed—not so much inspiring as nagging, warning, and haunting me.
These are dangerous days ... to say what you feel is to lay your own grave ...
Whatever it may bring ... whatever it may bring ... whatever it may bring ....
Those last four words—specifically—have been on loop in my head since 2015 when the Trump era began. I kept telling myself that I was not going to stay silent, but I needed the courage to absorb the consequences of speaking up.
I needed to find a way to stop trying to conform to things I couldn’t bring myself to conform to, and instead just be myself by saying what I thought—in the way I wanted—and letting the chips fall where they may.
Those four words brought me courage and reminded me that there is always a price to pay for living by your own policies. If there weren’t, everyone would do it. They don’t, and that’s because when you do you get laughed at, gawked at, called crazy, lose friends, jobs, credibility, opportunity. You’re walking across what feels like a gauntlet of burning bridges at all times.
But the sleeping in peace part is where the comfort is. It’s the faith that there are lucid clearings beyond those incinerated bridges. It’s the conviction that you’re more at peace being yourself and letting the world burn down around you than you are burning down yourself to satisfy the world.