In 1992, two weeks after she tore up a picture of the Pope on “Saturday Night Live,” Sinead O’Connor appeared at Bob Dylan’s 30th-anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden.
Then aged just 25 years old, she was introduced on stage by American singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson who praised her courage and integrity.
“I’m real proud to introduce this next artist,” he said. “Her name has become synonymous with courage and integrity.”
However, the 18,000-person sold-out crowd was incredibly hostile and O’Connor was taken aback. Rolling Stone reported that “O’Connor stared back at the crowd in shock and disappointment.”
Kristofferson walked onstage to give her encouragement and the piano player started Dylan’s gospel classic “I Believe in You” again but O’Connor waved him off and refused to sing the song, taking a step toward the crowd and away from the mic.
Looking as if she was steeling herself against the booing, O’Connor returned to the mic, demanded it was turned up and launched into an a cappella rendition of Bob Marley’s “War,” the same tune she had performed on Saturday Night Live to protest child abuse in the Catholic Church.
At the song’s conclusion, she ran into Kristofferson’s arms and can be seen sobbing as she finally broke down.
In retrospect there can be nothing but admiration for O’Connor’s bold stand, coming at a time when child sex abuse by priests and cover-ups by bishops were unknown. Now she would be hailed as a heroine for blowing the whistle and for taking such a stand in front of a crowd of people turned against her.
To add insult to injury, when the CD of the concert was released, her performance had been completely erased from the evening.
Despite this, she was the most-talked-about person the next day with a report from the Chicago Tribune stating she had “overshadowed performances by Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, George Harrison and Dylan, among others. And she didn’t sing a note.”
Neil Young had followed O’Connor on stage that evening and told the Tribune the following day, “She dealt herself a couple of hands, and the deck was stacked against her when she went out.
“In New York City, if the crowd is feeling something, you’re going to find out about it immediately.”
“We all felt sorry for her, because she’s not malicious or evil, just very young,” Young’s manager, Elliott Roberts, said of the then 25-year-old O’Connor.
“When the crowd started booing, she overreacted. She should have gone ahead and done the Dylan song.”
What do you make of the crowd’s reaction looking back at what we know about the Catholic Church now in 2018? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section, below.