March 2013

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In this month’s Audience With Sinéad O’Connor, she’s asked about her traumatic appearance at the all-star bash at New York’s Madison Square Garden, put on by Columbia Records to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Dylan’s debut album for the label.

The concert brought together Dylan and a lot of his old cronies – Neil Young, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Tom Petty – and a few young bloods like Eddie Vedder, the frankly ridiculous Sophie B Hawkins, and Sinéad, all of them performing their own choice of song from Dylan’s vast and astonishing repertoire.

I’d just made it back to my seat from the bar where I’d taken refuge when John ‘Cougar’ Mellencamp had started doing something to “Like A Rolling Stone” for which he deserved a spell on a chain gang when Kris Kristofferson appeared to introduce someone whose name apparently was “synonymous with courage and integrity”. This turned out to be Sinéad, which was a surprise to the audience in whose opinion she was clearly not much more than a foul-mouthed harridan after a recently televised verbal attack on the Pope, for which she is loudly booed, almost swept away by a wave of anger and deafening abuse that leaves her evidently shocked. She screeches a verse or two of Bob Marley’s “War” instead of the scheduled version of Dylan’s “I Believe In You” before being led away protectively by the noble Kristofferson, who looks in the mood to throw some serious punches.

She’s followed that night by Neil Young, who tears the place up with incendiary versions of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and “All Along The Watchtower”, but makes no mention of the crowd’s treatment of Sinéad, which I have the opportunity to ask him about a couple of weeks later in London, where he’s fetched up to promote his new album, Harvest Moon.
“She got a good reaction,” Neil says, by way of surprising reply. “It was a New York reaction, OK?” he snaps, a grizzled veteran of the rock’n’roll wars. “They were booing her, but at least they were reacting. It wasn’t like they didn’t know she was there. I’d say that was a good reaction.”
She seemed pretty distraught.
“I’m surprised by that.”
I’ve also just heard that after talking to God, or at least someone who knows him, she’s decided to quit the music business. “Well,” Neil says, and you can tell he’s not impressed, and may not even be at all interested, “she’s gotta do whatever she thinks she’s gotta do.”

Would he have taken that kind of hostility in his legendary stride? “Absolutely. Shit, I’ve been booed for my music. Bob was booed for going electric. I was booed for singing with a Vocoder and synthesisers. I was booed here in London. I was booed in Germany, Spain, France, Italy, everywhere. But they never made me run. It doesn’t bother me. I just keep on going,” he says, playing the crusty old geezer here, the unyielding loner hero. “She blew a great chance to be brilliant. She let the audience get the best of her. I don’t want to pass judgement on her and the things she’s said or done. I’m sure she has plenty of good reasons. More power to her. You want to protest, go ahead. Be my guest. But there’s a time when it’s gonna come back on you. You have to be strong. You have to be prepared to take that. She let it beat her. They put her to the test and she just wasn’t up to it. So don’t,” he says with grim finality, “ask me to feel any sympathy for her.”


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