Aug. 6, 2001--This summer it was announced that Sinead O'Connor had dropped off the gay-themed Wotapalava tour. I told a friend when I heard the news, and he sighed. "Oh, I am so surprised," he said, his voice dripping sarcasm and perhaps even a little contempt. "I mean, I love her, but she is such a flake."

Which neatly sums up how so many people look at O'Connor, the 34- year-old Dublin native who a decade ago looked to become one of rock 'n' roll's biggest and most deserving superstars. She cited "family reasons" for not joining the Pet Shop Boys, Rufus Wainwright, Soft Cell and others on Wotapalava, which was subsequently canceled. Then, about a week later, she reversed comments she made last year about being a lesbian by announcing she was engaged to 27-year-old journalist Nick Sommerlad. And the world ... yawned. After years of contradictory statements concerning her sexuality, after years of courting controversy both personally and professionally, the unexpected news of her upcoming wedding caused hardly a ripple among rock fans.

Which is quite a change from even a few years ago. It used to be that every move O'Connor made--musically and personally--was major news, both in industry circles and on the pop-culture landscape. Over the past decade, those moves have included publicly detailing an abusive childhood at the hands of her mother, tearing up a picture of the pope during a 1992 appearance on Saturday Night Live, a suicide attempt and, more recently, becoming an ordained priest in an outlawed Catholic sect called the Latin Tridentine Church.

What else? She also decried Ireland as a repressive, backward country; she said MTV should be "abolished," she was booed off the stage during a Bob Dylan tribute concert in New York City shortly after the SNL incident; and she drew ire from many because she refused to perform at a show in New Jersey if the American national anthem was played before her set.

So here in 2001, the combination of all of the above means that O'Connor, like Prince and Axl Rose, is now seen by many as more of a weirdo than an eclectic artist.

Is she gay? Is she in love with a man? Is she really a priest? Will she change her mind on everything next week?

Most people, it seems, just don't care. And the six-year gap between 1994's "Universal Mother" and last year's "Faith and Courage"--long even by current pop music standards--hasn't helped her profile. "I would say as far as the perspective from the 18- to 34-year- old standpoint, she's unknown, forgotten or irrelevant," says Dallas-area d.j. Alan Ayo.

Who would have thought it would come to this when O'Connor, only 20, appeared from nowhere in 1987, fully formed as an artist and a presence? Her first CD was "The Lion and the Cobra," and it signaled the arrival of a vocalist many critics and fans saw as unique and important. She was a singer of amazing power who was also a songwriter and producer, mixing folk, hip-hop, synth-pop and more--and whose shaved head and songs of female empowerment made her impossible to ignore.

People loved O'Connor then, and many more would, too, when her next CD, 1990's "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got," sold millions of copies, helped immensely by O'Connor's dramatic reading of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U." But then came the pope incident, the national anthem incident, and on and on. And on.

Of course, there's more to the story than just Sinead's flakiness. In fact, O'Connor has done much that is admirable over the past decade or so, including contributing beautiful songs to a variety of worthy projects, from "In the Name of the Father" to the 1998 PBS series "The Irish in America: Long Journey Home." She remains one of the best vocal interpreters of traditional Irish music of the past 20 years.

Also, she's donated nearly $2 million to worthy causes. One is the Red Cross; the other, far less well known, is the ALJEF Centre, a rehabilitation facility for alcoholics and drug addicts in Limerick. And, despite it all, she still has her fans--people who believe in her and continue to follow her personal and musical journey. No doubt, O'Connor could help her own cause, at least in terms of recognition, by recording more frequently and by getting on a major package tour with other artists who are bigger draws.

If she's not willing to do those things, well, there's very little a record company can do to maintain or increase her profile. Barring a freak, out-of-nowhere hit, this exceptionally talented woman may soon find very few people listening to what she has to say.

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