Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Troy" by Sinéad O'Connor (1987)

I remember it. Toronto in a... well, I don't remember the weather. I do remember being a kid and playing hooky from school. I remember watching MuchMusic and seeing the VJ introduce some woman with a funny name and a funny accent. She was bald, which, to my twelve-year-old mind, was absolutely hysterical. I was only half-watching as whatever banal questions were met with whatever banal answers. So far, so irrelevant.

Until they played the video.

I don't recall when else I have been so utterly captivated. There's not much to the video except her naked and in gold paint. Yet somehow the video perfectly complemented the song. Which was...

It was...

Twenty years later I still can't explain why this song effects me the way it does. Something about it just pierces through my (admittedly thick) armour and slays me. Every time.

Maybe it's the way she effortlessly goes from whisper to scream, all the time in perfect control, with a searing heat, both of passion and of anger. Maybe it's the way those strings create a perfect vessel on which to navigate the stormy seas - tiny and plain but never capsizing.

Maybe it's just how completely and utterly new this strange creation was; how it was able to take my prematurely-wizened "been there, done that" twelve-year-old mind and slap it out of complacency, saying "There is much more out there that you still have no idea of".

It was just as mythical as the phoenix she sings about.

It seemed to show that there were entirely new modes of expression I was unaware of. Entirely new definitions of beauty and of power. I was completely floored. Transfixed, silent, mouth agape for the six-plus minutes of the song.

Turns out after the video, when they cut back to the studio, the entire working staff of MuchMusic was as shocked and transfixed as I was. There was the kind of reverent silence you probably get when a statue of the Virgin Mary starts crying. Then there was just this applause all round. It was so intriguing to me to see people spontaneously react that way on TV (remember that in the 80s, spontaneity on TV was a bad thing). Especially seeing people spontaneously react the same way I just had. It was truly wonderful.

Then, of course, Sinéad O'Connor became superhuge with a Prince cover, tried to continue pushing the envelope while under the spotlight of fame, messed up tragically, became a punchline, then, after all that... recorded a reggae album.


Still, before becoming a parody, she was the future of music. Hell, perhaps she was the future of Western Civilisation.

And after this accomplishment, a million punchlines are irrelevant.

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