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COVER STORY : Nothing Compares 2 Her Year

December 16, 1990|ROBERT HILBURN | Robert Hilburn is The Times' pop music critic.

When the reporter then looked at her shaved head, she smiled. Before the question was even asked, she volunteered: "Once a week."

The furniture in the rented three-bedroom house--where the Irish singer and songwriter lives with her son and Ciara O'Flanagan, a female school chum from Dublin--came with the house.

But there are touches of its present occupants everywhere in the living room: from the huge stuffed animal resting in the antique barber's chair to the ironing board left by the window.

"I do feel comfortable here, (in) the house and Los Angeles," said O'Connor, who extended her stay here through the holidays. "It's much less hectic than London for me. I have always loved Los Angeles. . . . Seeing it in films and on TV . . . all the sunshine and palm trees, the closeness to the mountains and the ocean.

"It is the most inspiring place I've ever been in. There is so much to learn and see . . . things like the extremes of poverty and wealth, which I never knew in Dublin or London."

While Jake is in school during the day, O'Connor goes out a lot, shopping or exploring the city--and never resorts to disguises, even though the shaved head makes her easily recognizable.

Fans occasionally ask for an autograph or say hello, but generally respect her privacy, she said. When Jake gets out of school, they often go together to such places as the zoo or a stable for pony rides.

O'Connor goes to an occasional movie, but mainly stays home in the evening, reading (a biography of Irish poet William Butler Yeats was a recent favorite) or listening to music (lots of rap and Van Morrison). She's not big on clubs or hanging out with celebrities.

Another attraction of life in Los Angeles is less of a media glare than in London.

"It's amazing how the press in London operates," she said. "I'm sure they have something going with the British phone company to get people's numbers. They found my husband on the phone after we split up and he had only got the number the day before.

"I was worried because I had a son and I was worried about what they would do."

One issue that O'Connor will reflect on in the aftermath of her enormous 1990 success is dealing with stardom.

"I wasn't able to catch my breath (on the tour) until last week when it finished," she said. "It will take me a couple of months to figure out what went on and how to better handle it in the future.

"The one thing that hasn't changed through any of this is my music--the fact that it is a reflection of what I'm feeling," she said, lighting a cigarette. "It's amazing to me that so many people responded to what I felt."

What has changed, she said, is how people react to her.

"All too often, they don't look at you like a person anymore . . . they look at you like you are Sinead O'Connor . . . the star. People lie to you, boyfriends, people like that. . . . People will stop at absolutely nothing to take advantage of that fame.

"I'm almost paranoid now. I have a very hard time trusting people, which I think is a wicked thing because I used to be very, very trusting. . . . I am very lucky that I have some good friends who treat me as they always did. . . . Ciara . . . and John, my husband."

English rock drummer John Reynolds is Jake's father and lives in London. She refuses to clarify their status though there have been widespread rumors linking O'Connor with various rock stars in recent months--so much that she joked about what she sees as the absurdity of it:

"It's amazing all the things you hear. I've lost track of all the babies I am supposed to have been having by now from different fathers . . . Lenny Kravitz's baby, Peter Gabriel's baby. . . ."

She does acknowledge that she and Reynolds have gone through periods of separation. "What is difficult for John and I to deal with is that the press seems to think they have the right to ask to those kind of questions . . . that they don't realize that a marriage is between two people and it is nobody else's business.

"The public has no right to know. Just because I made a record, do you not think that I will not suffer pain over my private life when it is discussed in public? Nobody has the right to know."

But why the compulsion for such candor in her music?

O'Connor was the third of four children in a middle-class Catholic family in Dublin. Her father, John, was an engineer; her mother, Marie, a dressmaker.

The singer's parents separated when she was 8 and she lived with her mother, who she says abused her with frequent beatings--sometimes so severe that she would just lie on the floor and cover her face while her mother kicked her.

By the time she was able to escape and move in with her father, O'Connor had become so rebellious that she was placed in a "corrective center" run by Dominican nuns, where her father hoped she would get a fresh start.

Looking back, she said, "First of all the reason I am speaking about this is not that I am looking for attention or for sympathy or that I bear a grudge.

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