The Siren, Part 3: Sea, Swallow Me


Smitten by her luminescent interpretation of his father's song, Jeff Buckley sought out Elizabeth Fraser while he was working on his debut LP for Columbia Records, Grace. Sometime around 1994, he and Fraser began a passionate, whirlwind affair.

There was something tragic about Buckley from the very start. An uncanny mirror image of his father, the prodigiously talented singer also exuded a delicate androgyny, often interpreting songs by divas like Billie Holliday, Judy Garland, Nina Simone and Fraser herself in his legendary sets at New York's landmark Irish cafe, Sin-e. Fraser referred to this in one of her many songs about Buckley, 'Seekers Who Are Lovers,' singing "you are a woman just as you are a man."


Buckley also worshiped Led Zeppelin and seemed at times to be the embodiment of both Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. Both men returned the compliment and became ardent admirers of the young singer. Later, their music would play a chilling role in Buckley's story.

Fiercely protective of Fraser's privacy, Buckley denied the two were an item. And at some point in 1995 they broke up. Fraser, an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, spoke obliquely of the relationship in 1995 when the Cocteau Twins released their EP Twinlights.
"...when the Twins went on tour in 1994, Fraser fell in love. "My love addiction was worse than ever. I was maniacal," she confesses.

"The EP is about that man," she says of Twinlights. "My last goodbye, as it were. I was too needy and he was too much of an avoidance person. Naturally."

Twinlights finds Fraser voicing words of self-reliance and comfort. When she panics, she says she feels about five years old. "You kind of go back to the age when you were being abused," she explains. Singing helps her soothe her younger self.

"There's some of that going on in 'Rilkean Heart': 'You're lost and don't know what to do/But that's not all of you.' It's all a bit corny, really. It's really simple language; it's how you have to speak to yourself at that age. That's the part of me that's so hungry."

"Last Goodbye," of course, was Buckley's first single.


Struggling to keep her composure (and barely succeeding), Fraser finally broke the silence of her and Buckley's relationship in a landmark BBC documentary on the late singer:
"I mean he idolized me before he met me. It's kind of creepy and I, I was like that with him. This is embarrassing but it's the truth. I just couldn't help falling in love with him. He was adorable.

"I read his diaries, he read mine, you know we'd just swap, we'd literally just hand over this very personal stuff and I've never done that with anybody else. I don't know if he has. So in some ways it was very, there was a great deal of intimacy but then there'd be times when I'd just think 'oh no, I'm just not penetrating this Jeff Buckley boy at all.' "

Already struggling with dealing with her childhood abuse, Fraser was crushed by the split. In conjunction with Twinlights, the Cocteau Twins also released a long-form video called Rilkean Dreams in 1995.

In reality a nakedly-confessional video love-letter to Jeff Buckley, Fraser apologizes to him in Rilkean Dreams for her self-confessed "love addiction." The songs are significant because Fraser is singing in plain English and the lyrics are flashed on screen. Knowing the backstory as we do now, the video is almost heart-wrenchingly tragic. The love Fraser felt for Buckley is excruciatingly powerful- legendary, even - you can feel it still after all these years.



And if you know the end of this story, the very first shot of Rilkean Dreams should put ice in your veins.

1 comment:

  1. As I was searching for some lyrics of a Cocteau Twins track, I came across your blog and was so surprised and almost shock about the bit of information re Liz Fraser and Jeff Buckley. I'm a huge Cocteau Twins fan since the 80's but I never knew about this relationship. Watching the videon after learning about this information, my hair stood up and now I cannot listen to Rilkean Heart the same way anymore. Thanks for posting this in your blog. I wonder how Robin Guthrie felt when they recorded this.

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