“A Champion of the Freaks”: Christeene and Justin Vivian Bond on Sinéad O’Connor


Christeene, photographed by Katerina Jebb.

This week, at City Winery downtown, CHRISTEENE, the on-stage drag avatar of Paul Soileau, is paying homage to the late Sinéad O’Connor with a tribute concert set to the songs of The Lion and the Cobra, the Irish trailblazer’s 1987 debut. Joining her will be Peaches and Justin Vivian Bond, the latter of whom linked with CHRISTEENE late last week to reminisce on O’Connor’s life and legacy. On Zoom, the artists, who first performed O’Connor’s songs together at Outsider Festival in Austin in 2017, wondered what she might think of the show. “I mean, Sinéad was a champion of the freaks and the sad sacks,” Bond said, “so I think we might have a special place in her heart.” Before they take the stage, with a dinghy at the ready so they can sail off into Hudson River afterwards with wine-stained teeth, they talked about O’Connor’s enduring sadness, her prescient protest of the Catholic Church, and why you shouldn’t expect much from Debbie Harry in the way of applause.


CHRISTEENE: I’m glad to see your face and I’m excited to do this show with you.


CHRISTEENE: Do you think Sinéad O’Connor would be happy that you and I are going to butcher one of her songs together?

BOND: I guess it depends on what kind of mood she would be in that day.


BOND: But hopefully, she would be. I mean, Sinéad was a champion of the freaks and the sad sacks, so I think we might have a special place in her heart.

CHRISTEENE: I agree. You and I, we’ve sung Sinéad together several times.

BOND: To great effect.

CHRISTEENE: To great effect and huge aplomb. I believe the first song we sang was “Black Boys on Mopeds.”

BOND: Was it in Austin or Seattle?

CHRISTEENE: Austin. They had that festival. You got brought in, the Outsider Festival. That was the first time you and I sang together.

BOND: Absolutely. Yeah, that was fun.

CHRISTEENE: I was nervous and now I carry a photo of that time in…

BOND: In a locket?

CHRISTEENE: Wherever I’m living at the time, I hang it up in the toilet.

BOND: Oh, nice.

CHRISTEENE: Yeah, I’ve been excited to get up on it with you and to do this, and it’s a good thing that our schedules match. You’re a busy bird and you just did Lincoln Center?

BOND: The American Songbook series, where I sang hippie songs from 1964 to 1974. But I’m coming to town just to sing with you.

CHRISTEENE: Good. I’m excited. Two nights.

BOND: Two nights. We’ve got two chances to fuck it up. Hopefully, we’ll just fuck shit up.

CHRISTEENE: Yeah. It’s at City Winery, so we can always just go and jump in the river. We should get a little inflatable boat and have it read on the side of the building.

BOND: A dinghy.

CHRISTEENE: A dinghy, and we can get in the damn dinghy and scoot boot out of there if things get rough.

BOND: That sounds good. I also hope that we can also steal some bottles of wine on the way out of the winery.

CHRISTEENE: Do you think they have good wine at City Winery?

BOND: I hope they have better wine than interior decor.

CHRISTEENE: My hope is that by the time we get on stage, we look out in the crowd and everyone in the room has those black teeth from wine.

BOND: Oh, yeah. Red wine-stained lips?

CHRISTEENE: Yeah, I want red lips and black teeth and stained shirts and all. Have you sung with Peaches or met Peaches before?

BOND: Yes, I introduced Peaches to Debbie Harry back in 2001 or ’02. And on that night, Chrissie Hynde was supposed to come to our show, but she didn’t. And I was so excited because I knew Peaches and Debbie Harry were going to be there and I thought Chrissie Hynde was going to be there, too, so I was going to be like, “Hello. I’m bringing the three of you together.” But only Debbie was there, so I got to introduce Peaches to Debbie.

CHRISTEENE: I believe Debbie is coming to our show.

BOND: Oh, no.

CHRISTEENE: No, I’m serious.

BOND: Well, don’t expect her to react.

CHRISTEENE: She gets all stone-cold Debbie in the crowd?

BOND: She gets stone-cold Debbie in the crowd. She doesn’t give anything away until she comes back in the dressing room and spits on you. And that’s when you know you did good.

CHRISTEENE: If I’m missing teeth, I’ve done a good job.

BOND: We’ve got to get Chrissie Hynde in there.

CHRISTEENE: Well, how about Christine instead of Chrissie?

BOND: I mean, you’re like the poor man’s Chrissie Hynde, like Joan Collins is the poor man’s Elizabeth Taylor.

CHRISTEENE: Oh, poor Joan Collins. I saw a dirty movie with her once and it was horrible. She played a nasty lady.

BOND: The Bitch?

CHRISTEENE: Yeah, maybe that, The Bitch.

BOND: She was trying to make a comeback at that point. That was before Dynasty.

CHRISTEENE: I guess we should talk about some Sinéad more since the fucking show’s about Sinéad O’Connor.

BOND: What made you decide you wanted to do this Sinéad O’Connor show? Because you did this show before she died.

CHRISTEENE: Yeah, before she died, the good old kind of days. It was in London. I was never a crazy big worshiper of her. She just always felt like the good old pal in the room, the sister right on the side there.

BOND: When she came out, she was like, the voice of our generation in a way in the late ’80s. And I was in Tower Records in Georgetown and DC the week that the record was released in the United States and I’d never even heard of her before. And I just saw the album with this amazing-looking girl with a shaved head and I was like, “I’m getting that record.” And I brought it home and I was like, “This is insane.” And then, when I went to San Francisco and I worked at a A Different Light Bookstore, which was the sort of ground zero headquarters for all the ACT UP people, everybody was obsessed with her because she dressed like us. Or, we dressed like her. Everybody was wearing their leather jackets and their Doc Martens and their rolled up jeans. It was like she was the only pop culture person that represented us. We played her records in the store nonstop. And all the dykes were completely in love with her, and she just had that thing that made us feel better about ourselves, and hopefully, we made her feel better too.

CHRISTEENE: Did you ever get to see her live?

BOND: Yes. I saw her live at the Electric Picnic Festival In Ireland.

CHRISTEENE: That sounds dangerous.

BOND: It was fun. I was performing, but also Grace Jones was performing and she was mind-blowing. The Gossip was performing. It was a great festival. I hadn’t seen Sinéad in a long time. She came out and it was just her and her guitar,and she just looked so sad to me. She didn’t look like the Sinéad that I remembered. This was in 2008. I was there when John McCain decided Sarah Palin was going to be his running mate. I remember that. And I guess, she just made me sad.

CHRISTEENE: Yeah, she was sad then. She carried a lot of sadness.

BOND: There were times when people were crazy about her, but it went back and forth. And that time, 2007, was a time when women in the music industry were being treated so badly. She was tortured from the time she ripped up that picture of the Pope. And a lot of people didn’t like her already because she was so radical and she was so queer. That just wears you out after a while, I’m sure.

CHRISTEENE: Yeah. She was an intelligent, outspoken young woman.

BOND: Can you imagine being that famous? I mean, she was on the cover of Rolling Stone, the first rock star of the ’90s, and she was so huge and so vulnerable. And also, she was very intelligent, but she wasn’t extremely well-educated. So for her to find her voice and be able to say the things that she said in such a powerful way really is a testimony to her brilliance as a spirit and as a person. I think that’s why it resonated with everybody. It was like nothing you’d ever heard before, but it was not in any way pretentious.

CHRISTEENE: You had asked me why I wanted to do this show and it wasn’t so much about the album. It was about, first, a deep fascination with how a human spirit of that age can carry the weight of the fame that she was experiencing at that time. And then, the massive turning of the public tide against her. I am fascinated by how humans, especially such as her, survive situations like that.

BOND: Yeah, because a lot of them didn’t. Well, a lot of them survive, but they don’t retain their sanity. And she had psychotic breaks and episodes. First of all, with the childhood that she had, that was a lot. For a while, she could channel that into her art. But that, combined with fame, combined with the pressure of how isolating fame can be—how do you go home? How do you unwind? How do you have time to be alone?

CHRISTEENE: Yeah, she smoked a lot of weed. She said in her book that she was so fucking high for many of those years in the middle, which I’m like, “Go for it.”

BOND: Well, that’s amazing too, because she smoked cigarettes and weed and kept her voice for a very long time. Because the power of her voice, and especially on The Lion and the Cobra, was kind of unmatched for the rest of her career.

CHRISTEENE: The one thing I love about her is how, in the midst of whatever, smoking her joints and smoking her cigarettes and getting through it all, she continued to make music. She has so many albums and they’re all fucking good albums. There’s not one album she made where I’m like, “Fuck this, this is terrible.” They carry the themes that she had from the start. I was fortunate to make friends with John Reynolds, who was her first husband and the drummer, and he would tell me about how when they went and recorded the album Universal Mother, she literally walked in there and it was done in a weee. That spirit and the poetry that lives inside of her—and the rage and the fire, all of that—it seemed to always find a fucking place in creativity.

BOND: Right, and that was after the Pope thing. That was kind of her comeback record, I believe.

CHRISTEENE: That’s such a strong album. Her son sings on it. The cover is also drawn by her. It was really like she was doing something to put it all back together and to keep herself there. It was a beautiful album. 

BOND: I saw an interview that she said it was kind of, in a way, a good thing that happened to her, because it did tame down her fame.

CHRISTEENE: Yeah, she didn’t want it.

BOND: It allowed her to be free.

CHRISTEENE: And to call out the hypocrisies of the church when no one believed it. Look at that thing now.

BOND: We should get t-shirts to wear that say, “Sinéad was right.”