On May 29, 1997 Jeff Buckley said his last goodbye to this mortal coil in the roiling waters of the Mississippi. That river, which has given birth to so many classic American songs, has a vicious undertow beneath its placid surface.
Buzzing on the triumph of his new music and the impending arrival of his compatriots, Buckley sought to baptize himself in those legendary waters. He didn't realize he was actually swimming towards the Siren that took his father down to her two decades before.
This BBC documentary brilliantly tells the story of that horrible night:
There's nowhere else this story could have ended but in Memphis, Tennessee. There's no street but Beale from which Jeff Buckley would heed the Siren's call. There's no band but Led Zeppelin that could have been the musical accompaniment to their deathly summons, no other song than their demonic hijacking of "Whole Lotta Love." And the Pyramid is just the cherry on top.
The skies over Memphis became pitch black that night, as rescuers searched for Buckley, and a violent electrical storm soon tore that blackness into shreds. Columbia executive Steve Berkowitz looked up at the violent sky and the enormous pyramid and felt he had been transported to the River Styx. He was half-right. Hell is a movable feast, and that night it descended on Memphis.
On that fateful night, Fraser's Rilkean Dreams would be transformed from a love letter into nothing less than a dire prophecy of Buckley's fate.
Three thousand miles away, Fraser was in the studio with Massive Attack, guesting on tracks for their landmark album, Mezzanine. In hindsight, there is no other song Elizabeth Fraser could have been singing while her onetime lover was pulled beneath the River Styx than the surreal lament, 'Teardrop.' This story began in tears and had to end in them.
Water, water, everywhere.
The imagery of the 'Teardrop' video is mesmerizing- a fetus singing in Fraser's voice while swimming in the waters of Creation- a symbolic new life from tragic death. Full circle. The song would go on to become a modern classic, and would be used in numerous commercials and in the opening credits to Fox TV's House MD.
There's something else at play, some poetic -or mythic- ending, beneath the exoteric narrative. Something floating around the Symbolic Realm. I can just see it in Euripides and Aeschylus.
It goes like this: A beautiful and talented young troubador gets drunk on his own charisma and thoughtlessly toys with a delicate soul who is playing host to something that crossed over from the Other Side. Two thousand years ago, the omens and portents would have been recognized by everyone, from old women to schoolchildren. They would have warned him- don't break the Siren's heart.
As of this writing, Elizabeth Fraser has released only one solo record- a limited-edition single- since walking out on the Cocteau Twins while recording their followup to Milk and Kisses in 1997.
It's called "Underwater."