book reviews, celebrities

A review of Rememberings: Scenes from My Complicated Life, by Sinead O’Connor

Until very recently, I was not one of Sinead O’Connor’s fans. I remember being in high school when she burst onto the music scene, scoring a smash hit with her cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U”. I was aghast by her shaved head and hauntingly beautiful blue eyes. I was astonished by her powerful, raw, emotional vocals. But, for some reason, I never bought her albums. It could be because I had little money for music in those days, so what little I did have, I spent on people I really loved listening to, like Kate Bush. I was, and still am, a Kate Bush fanatic.

Still, I watched Sinead O’Connor’s antics, which came to a head in 1992 when she was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. She made huge waves when she tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II on live TV. She immediately became a pariah and I’m not sure New Yorkers have forgiven her yet, even after all this time. Personally, when I think about all the furor that arose over Sinead’s decision to tear up that photo, all I can do is shake my head. We tolerated a sexually abusive, narcissistic, criminal moron like Donald Trump as our president for four years and people are still clamoring for him to be the president. Yet Sinead tears up a picture of the Pope, and her career goes straight down the shitter… temporarily, anyway.

Seriously? People hated Sinead O’Connor for this? It just seems so ridiculous now.

I don’t know what made me purchase Rememberings: Scenes from My Complicated Life, which was just released on June 1st. I didn’t even own any of Sinead O’Connor’s music until I started reading her book. Well… I did own a few songs she sang on compilation albums. She did a beautiful version of “Sacrifice” by Elton John on the Two Rooms tribute album. I prefer her version to the original, actually…. and I like to sing that one myself. I also have her version of Dolly Parton’s song, “Dagger Through The Heart”, which, in her book, O’Connor writes is one of her favorite songs. She writes that after she recorded her version, Dolly wrote her a lovely thank you letter. Sinead had it framed and gave it to her beloved stepmother, Viola. That’s another reason why I like Sinead. She loves her stepmother. Also, my great grandmother’s name was Viola, although I never had the chance to know her.

Because of Sinead’s book, I have bought several of her albums and am wondering what took me so long. Sinead O’Connor is a wonderful singer and, based on her book, I think she’s a pretty marvelous person, too. She’s certainly a good storyteller, even if her writing isn’t always grammatically perfect, as a British friend pointed out when I delightedly shared one of Sinead’s anecdotes on Facebook. I like Sinead’s writing style. It’s engaging. I felt like she was sitting in a room, talking to me as if I was a friend. That’s the way I like to write, too.

I often laughed at Sinead’s stories, some of which are legitimately hilarious and outrageous. Some of her other stories were very moving. Others were infuriating. Overall, I came away with the idea that Sinead O’Connor is a very complex person who feels deeply and emotes freely. And yes, she also suffers from mental illness, of which she openly admits. I would imagine that Sinead O’Connor is probably not an easy person to be around, especially when her temper is flaring. But she’s probably just as often kind of awesome… especially when she’s smoked weed. Sinead is also a big pothead, which she also freely admits.

It’s not that often that I feel compelled to share quotes from my Kindle on social media. As I read Rememberings, I found myself sharing a number of Sinead’s musings. She writes that she actually started writing her book in 2015, but then had a full hysterectomy in Ireland due to endometriosis. Apparently, the doctors in Ireland did not prescribe hormone replacement therapy for Sinead; they just sent her home with a follow up appointment and a bottle of Tylenol. Her uterus and ovaries were removed, which sent her into instant menopause. She claims that caused her to go a bit bonkers. She also writes that musicians are naturally crazy– especially if they’ve also had head injuries, which she also claims she suffered when she was a child. I don’t know if that claim is true, although I do think that most creative people are a bit eccentric and weird on some level. God knows, people have called me “weird” my whole life. Below is a gallery of some of the more interesting quotes I found in Rememberings. I particularly loved her comments about Mormon missionaries and her story about the “plump old nun” who drew a picture of a penis with huge balls. That’s the kind of story I like to tell.

Sinead O’Connor has definitely had an unconventional life, so there is truth in advertising in her book’s title. She has four children by four men, and she’s been married three times, although she only married one of her children’s fathers. Two of the men who fathered her children are still friends. The other two, she says would cross the street if they saw each other. She writes lovingly about her children… and she does seem to have great pride and affection for them. I do suspect that they’ve had their share of problems, though, because having a mentally ill parent, particularly one who is also a famous musician, is hard. But I don’t get the sense that Sinead is a narcissist, or anything. When Sinead O’Connor writes praises about her children, I don’t think she’s being fake. She openly acknowledges that they’ve had difficulties, in part, due to her career and her mental illness issues. She also suffered tremendous child abuse when she was growing up, and those traumatic experiences have no doubt affected her as an adult.

Sinead O’Connor talks about her book.

Sinead O’Connor has even had dealings with Dr. Phil, who put her in a treatment center. She was already being hospitalized when Dr. Phil stepped in, and being mentally ill, she decided to try his approach because he was “Dr. ‘fuckin’ Phil” and of course he could fix her. It turns out the people she saw at his behest were not helpful at all, and he basically exploited her for television. She says the psychiatrist at the first facility Dr. Phil sent her two offered her a fig bar, which immediately turned her off for some reason. She says fig bars are for “hippies”. It turns out the psychiatrist was a bit of a flake, and she kind of implies that Dr. Phil is in with the MAGA crowd, although he “faked” being disgusted with it. She offers a delightfully profane criticism of Donald Trump, and I wholeheartedly agree with her astute comments. She may have a mental illness, but she’s no dummy. Personally, I think Trump and Dr. Phil are cut from the same cloth.

This book also includes commentary about Sinead’s albums. She writes about her favorite songs, how she came to name her albums and songs she’s written, and why she made certain recordings. I appreciated the backstories to a lot of her music, many of which made me want to buy and listen to her songs. The other day, one of her songs came on my HomePod and I had never heard it before. It was a hilarious song called “Daddy I’m Fine”… and it just spoke to me. And I wouldn’t have heard it if I hadn’t read her book. I love that Sinead was so generous with her stories about how she created her music and the people who inspired her.

Love this.

Honestly, reading Sinead O’Connor’s book makes me want to visit Ireland again and hang out with funny people. Given that so much of my own ancestry is from Scotland, Ireland, and England, it stands to reason that I’d feel at home there. Alas, we can’t go anywhere near the UK or Ireland anytime soon, thanks to the fucking coronavirus. But I sure did enjoy reading Sinead’s book, even if she does seem oddly enamored of American culture and even American healthcare, which she seems to think is better than Irish healthcare. And maybe it is… who knows?

Anyway… I really liked Sinead O’Connor’s book, Rememberings: Scenes from My Complicated Life. I laughed; I sighed; I remembered things; I learned things; I became inspired… especially to spend money on music. Fortunately, Bill thinks music is a good investment. I know some people think Sinead O’Connor is “crazy”. And maybe she is… but at least she’s honest about it. I like her. I recommend her book. And now, I’m going to have to find the next book and hope it entertains me as much as Sinead’s has.

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humor, music

Catching the “musical flu” and spreading it around…

My friend Ken Turetzky, pumping his own gas…

I should preface this by saying that Ken and I are only the most casual of Facebook friends. I have never met him in person, although he did reach out to me about twelve years ago, when I wrote a review of musical comedian Red Peters’ album, Best of Red Peters Comedy Hour, Volume 1. Ken’s song, “Her Shit Don’t Stink” was featured on that compilation. It reminded me of Bill’s ex wife, who was at that time, pushing a false narrative that her shit didn’t stink. Anyone with their eyes open and nose unstuffed knew the truth, though, and those who weren’t aware would soon become aware as they came of age.

Years later, I care a lot less about Ex than I used to… Bill’s daughters are now grown women and we’re no longer subsidizing Ex’s household to the tune of $30,600 annually. However, we have become aware that for all of Ex’s gas pumping, she was mostly full of hot stinky air. Enough said about that, although there’s a lot I would really like to write. I won’t, though. Not in this post, anyway. Instead, I want to write about something totally unrelated– except I wish I could have helped spread the musical flu to Bill’s daughters.

Yesterday, my sister sent me a private message, asking if I subscribe to Apple Music. I wrote back that I don’t, mainly because I prefer to own my music rather than renting it. Also, I read some disturbing accounts of Apple Music overriding people’s private music collections. I have some rare stuff that I managed to get from Napster back in the day. Those were the days of dialup, so you know I spent a long time downloading those things. I don’t want to lose them by allowing Apple Music to invade my machine. I would imagine that Apple Music has fixed this issue, but I still prefer to buy rather than rent, particularly when it comes to music. I have so many tracks that it would probably take a year to listen to everything, anyway.

My sister, on the other hand, does use Apple Music. She wrote that she heard a song by the jazz player, Michael Franks. She hadn’t really liked him much, but got hooked on this song that came on Apple Music. I told her that I have a similar problem. I’m the kind of person who remembers really obscure songs from many years ago and tries to find out who did them. Sometimes, it takes years. I got tickled by my sister’s comments about Michael Franks, because it turns out that one of his songs was a track I obsessively “hunted down”.

I was first introduced to Michael Franks’ banal style back in the year 2003. Bill and I hadn’t been married a year. We lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in a cheap apartment, because that was what we could afford. We decided to go to the Army Birthday Ball. I needed a formal dress for it, so I drove to a mall in Northern Virginia to go shopping. It was probably Springfield Mall, which is where I used to go shopping when I was 6 or 7 years old.

Eureka!

I was in a department store trying on dresses, and this song by Michael Franks came on. I didn’t know who Michael Franks was, of course. I just remember the song and its monotonous, mind numbing chorus, “Don’t touch that phone.” repeated by female singers over and over again. I don’t even remember liking the song that much. I just remembered the chorus. It stuck in my head for years. I had no idea the name of the song or who sang it, but I relentlessly searched until, finally, I found it. And even though I didn’t love the song, I ended up downloading the album.

My sister and I kept chatting and it occurred to me that she has really had an enormous impact on my musical tastes. It’s almost like she was carrying a kind of “musical flu” bug. Although she is not the sister closest to me in age, I shared a room with her when I was a little kid. I was exposed to a lot of what she liked. My sister famously introduced me to the magic of Kate Bush. She also introduced me to James Taylor, The Police, and Dead Can Dance… as well as the hilarious stylings of Ami Arena, who can’t sing, but is funny as hell.

One of my favorite songs by Kate Bush. I was introduced to her when my sister bought Bush’s 1982 album, The Dreaming, when I was about ten years old. Years later, I bought the album myself, and have since bought it a couple more times.

Back in the early 90s, when I worked as a summer camp as the cook, I had a week off mid summer. My sister invited me to visit for a few days. While I was visiting her in Northern Virginia, she took me to Ellicott City, Maryland. We went shopping, and she introduced me to the band, Dead Can Dance. I remembered one song in particular and liked it, but it was about sixteen years later that I finally broke down and bought the album it came from. It’s still awesome music, even though the album is probably 30 years old by now.

This song stuck in my head for years until I finally bought the album. It’s still a great track… it doesn’t age.

During that same trip, I was exposed to Amy Arena and her sarcastic and very funny brand of music. Amy Arena can’t sing, but she’s witty and snarky and I enjoyed her very much. My sister played Amy’s album and we shared a laugh over the irreverent lyrics. Years later, I bought her CD, too…

She’s a certain king of gap toothed woman… I’m a gap toothed woman, too.

Then my sister told me that both Dead Can Dance and Amy Arena were introduced to her by a guy she used to date– a German dude by the name of Bernd, who played in a band that did live music at a restaurant where my sister used to wait tables. That restaurant, name of Whitey’s, is now long defunct. But for years, it was a great place in Arlington for live music, beer, and junk food. And the funniest part of all is that back in the 90s, when I had to get a food handler’s card to work in food service in Williamsburg, Virginia, I had to watch movies about food safety. One was made by the public health bureau in Virginia and they had actually filmed at Whitey’s. I immediately knew it was Whitey’s, because that place had a big sign that read “EAT”. It was unmistakable.

Both charming songs that you should learn…

When my sister told me about Bernd introducing her to that music, it occurred to me that Bernd had influenced me, too, even though I never met him. Although my sister hasn’t seen Bernd in years, he passed along the musical flu to her, which she then passed to me.

And I have influenced Bill, by sharing the music with him. I have also shared stuff with people on the Internet whom I don’t know. A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about Rush Limbaugh’s death. In that post, I shared a video by the awesome band, Folk Uke, fronted by Willie Nelson’s daughter, Amy, and Arlo Guthrie’s daughter, Cathy. The video was of Folk Uke singing “Shit Makes the Flowers Grow”. I discovered Folk Uke when I lived in Georgia and I had downloaded Willie Nelson’s “children’s” album (quoted, because Willie gave up on the children’s part of that album about halfway through). Amy was featured heavily on that album and I liked her, so I went searching on YouTube for more of her music… and I found Folk Uke. Now, I am a devoted fan…

I used Willie Nelson’s version of “Rainbow Connection” for MacGregor’s memorial video. This song was on Willie’s “children’s” album, which featured his daughter, Amy, half of Folk Uke! I don’t know why, but there’s something about Willie’s take on “Rainbow Connection” that touches me.

When I met Bill, he was pretty limited in his musical tastes. He liked industrial, progressive music, and shunned anything vaguely country. But I think he had the idea that country music was nothing but the pink sequined pop stuff his ex wife listens to… He had not been exposed to bluegrass or classic country music, or outlaw country. It wasn’t long before I had him turned on to people like the Infamous Stringdusters…

I actually discovered them while watching a morning show in Murfressboro, Tennessee. Ever heard a U2 song done quite like this?

And then, thanks to my constant ear to YouTube, I found the likes of Todd Snider and Paul Thorn, both awesome musicians who are entertaining, talented, and fun…

Story of my life… or at least it was when I was at Longwood.
Damn, I want to see him play. If you have a raunchy sense of humor, listen to this.

Last summer, I was on Facebook, and Keb’ Mo’ shared a track that he was listening to. He had played on guitarist’s Lee Ritenour’s compilation album, 6 String Theory. I looked at the album and quickly downloaded it. Then, noticing that there was a cover of Sting’s song, “Shape of My Heart”, I alerted my friend Andrew. I think he was skeptical at first, but then he decided to check it out. Sure enough, I had guessed right that Andrew would like the cover– he’s a big Sting fan, like I am. But this was a great cover done by other people.

Thanks to Keb’ Mo’, I found Lee Ritenour and a new take on Sting.

Speaking of Keb’ Mo’. I’ve been trying to see him play live for years. I have tickets that were supposed to be used on November 16th, 2020. Obviously, that didn’t happen, and the show has been rescheduled three times at this writing. I think it might go on in September, if enough people get COVID-19 vaccines. I was introduced by Keb’ Mo’ by Martha Stewart, of all people. I bought an album she made for new parents. It had really lovely pop music that would appeal to babies and grownups alike, and Keb’ Mo’s song, “Infinite Eyes”, was on it. I liked it fine, recalling that I had heard Keb’ Mo’ on a Lyle Lovett cover of “Til It Shines”, a Bob Seger cover, and liked him then, too. Then one day, when we still lived in Fairfax, Virginia, Bill and I were having lunch at Austin Grill. They were playing some really great music over their sound system, and I heard Keb’ Mo’s unmistakable voice. He was singing “Folsom Prison Blues”, a song originally by Johnny Cash. I loved it, so Bill and I went to a Border’s to see if I could find the album there– it was still the era of CDs, after all.

Well, I didn’t find Keb’ Mo’s cover of “Folsom Prison Blues” until many years later, but on that day, I came home with, like, three of his CDs. And I quickly became a big fan of his music. Now, one of my favorite songs by Keb’ Mo’ is this song…

I love this song… it’s like Bill and me. He gladly indulges my musical obsession. But it’s just one of my favorites by Keb’ Mo’.
This song is more like the reality of my life… 😉 Especially the line about the dog shitting on the floor.

I could do this all day. In fact, thanks to COVID-19, I’ve got little else to do… although I will admit that the above video makes me want to practice guitar. This post does have a point, though. I don’t know how it is for other people, but I tend to catch musical influences like the flu. I hear something, like it, buy it, and use it to find other stuff I love. And then I spread my musical flu to everybody else… even people I don’t know. Just like people I don’t know spread it to me.

I caught Robert Randolph & The Family Band from Eric Clapton. They opened for him at a concert Bill and I attended, and were a hell of a lot better than Clapton was.

And finally… as I sign off, here’s a plug for my alma mater. This morning, I donated $550 to the music department, not because I was a music major, but because the music department at Longwood University literally changed my life. And I really enjoyed this concert, featuring one of my former professors, Dr. Charles Kinzer. His wife is also a professor at Longwood. She used to be my accompanist, and now she teaches piano. This morning, as I watched the jazz concert, it occurred to me that these folks have also spread the “musical flu”, and still do– even 27 years after I graduated.

Anyway… I long for the days of live music again. I love to discover new stuff and spread it around. Bonus points if the music is also funny. And now, it’s time to play with my guitar. Maybe someday, I’ll play it for public consumption, and spread even more musical flu. At least it’s a kind of infection that doesn’t kill anyone.

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