Role Models: Sinéad O’Connor Cracked Paul Soileau’s Head Open

The musician/performance artist behind CHRISTEENE talks The Lion and the Cobra.

I was just goin’ on 13 in a small Louisiana town. High school was beginning for me, Catholic high school, and the rules of the game were becoming more complex. 

We had no theater, just sports, so I immersed myself in “Speech and Debate” classes and tournaments. For those who know, “Speech and Debate” tournaments made the acting scenes in Waiting for Guffman look like Oscar-winning performances (which… I mean… they were). High school kids acting their fucking hearts out in scenes they had nooooo business performing. Torch Song Trilogy, Silence of the Lambs, Night Mother, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide, Flowers For Algernon, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf… It was a free for all and it was hiiiigh drama. It was incredible to be a part of and to witness. When I run into people today who took part in it, they all have the same memories that ignite howls of laughter and shock at what we all did in those schoolrooms for shitty trophies.

I had a friend in the class. We were the only two boys who did the “dramatic interps,” and who didn’t mess with the dry-as-all-hell Lincoln-Douglas debates. He was a year older than me, and we sparked. We were soon talking on the phone into the late hours of the night, spending evenings together under the guise of two boys being friends, and fast falling into a love that made perfect sense to us. A love that dare not speak its name in a Southern town. My first love, coming out, Catholic school, small town, secrets, no shame, some fear, trusted friends, and no way to explain how it all felt, this love… Until I discovered Sinéad O’Connor’s second album I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. It became our soundtrack. It was precious and private. The strings, the acoustic guitar riffs, the epic reverberation of her voice in the hallowed halls of our young hearts. “Feel So Different” for our nights sneaking out of the house after our folks had gone to bed so we could smoke cigarettes on the nearby park swings. “Three Babies” surrounding us when we were safely locked away behind the bedroom door staring into each other’s eyes. “I Am Stretched On Your Grave” supplying the beats to lock mouths to. “The Last Day of our Acquaintance” waiting to be there for me when this first love was to end and break my dramatic little heart. 

The music wasn’t the only perfect thing about the album. It was Sinéad. She was one of our friends we trusted with the secrets we held. She was an outsider. She danced strangely. She shocked with her shaved head. She smoked. She cursed. She smiled. She cared. She had a big heart, and an even bigger voice to match it.

And she had raw heat, which I learned when I next discovered The Lion and the Cobra

Out of chronological order, and just in time to crack my head open, Sinéad’s first album was 100% “fuck you all” and “get outta my fukkn way” to a world that was increasingly becoming full of bullshit. “Jerusalem” smacked me across the face like an electro-brick in a tube sock, “Just Like You Said It Would Be” rode me around a synthed out carousel — with lyrics divining the mother goddess as she walked through dark gardens of religion with people dancing in rings? A fucking 19 year old wrote these lyrics, and howled them out to the world. I, like most everyone else, knew that this woman was a keeper, and was someone who was gonna stick it to you ‘til the end. 

And she did. 

Sinéad O’Connor is probably the only artist I’ve held onto who has never disappointed. I carry all of her albums with me, and they have evenly interpreted her fire and her message over a span of 35 years, clearly and beautifully. 

She is a rock I stand on when this world gets dark and heavy, and she is a deep reminder to me of the power I harness within myself when there seems to be nothing around to grab hold of for help. I relish the themes she carries through most every song she wrote, those of love and care and understanding. I’m activated in my life to speak truths and to try not to be afraid to disappoint others. I’m inspired by her relentless efforts to make the world aware of the atrocities of the Catholic church, the horrors the British empire inflicted upon the people of Ireland, and the importance of understanding mental illness and how to properly care for people who suffer from it. 

I’m educated by her on the many forms music can take to represent the multi-layered madnesses and joys of my life. I cherish her love of collaboration, and her courage to be vulnerable in a patriarchal world that is constantly searching for any crack in the wall to tear you down with. 

Lessons for a young queer to learn from. Lessons for a much older queer to live by. 

Thank you, Sinéad O’Connor, for showing me the real enemies, and for sharing with me the fire and compassion to diminish their power.

(Photo Credit: left, Katerina Jebb)

Paul Soileau is a performance artist also known as CHRISTEENE and Rebecca Havemeyer. CHRISTEENE is staging The Lion The Witch And The Cobra at USC’s Bovard Auditorium on 3/23 and City Winery in New York City on 3/25 + 3/26 alongside Peaches, Justin Vivian Bond (NYC), and Shannon Funchess (LA).