Wednesday, January 16, 2008

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. 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.

  2. Two lost souls magnetically drawn together.

  3. "Legendary love affair" and all this lovey-dovey hyperbole aside by all the Jeff Buckley fan girls, this song is too great and the lyrics too poetic to be tied down to a single love-affair, however "painful" and "excruciating." Great music and great art stands on its own by mapping through new combinations of sound metaphors, previously unexplored areas of the psyche and spirit, the ENTIRE psyche, not just the part tied to romantic infatuation, for better navigation. Many things at the same time are always being expressed and discovered as you take these new paths and trails made by the artist.

    This song would be just as great if no "excruciating" pain whatsoever was involved in making it. Anyway, like Rilke said himself, people should be grateful for all "pains" that ripen them into what they were really meant to be.

    “To wisely live your life, you don't need to know much
    Just remember two main rules for the beginning:
    You better starve, than eat whatever
    And better be alone, than with whoever.”
    ― Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyat

    "Be wisely worldly, be not worldly wise." — Francis Quarles

    "Be sure that it is not you that is mortal, but only your body. For that man whom your outward form reveals is not yourself; the spirit is the true self, not that physical figure which can be pointed out by your finger." -- Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC)

    “Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide. I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful: patience is everything!” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, "Letters to a Young Poet"

    ~ Negentropic MK II

  4. I'm always late to the party, in this case - almost ten years late. However, as a Cocteau Twins fan from the beginning (early eighties) I'd really like to know your unmentioned sources. There are several pieces of information related to Elizabeth Fraser, that in the last thirty-five years, I've never read or heard of. The most shocking, of course, is:
    "Fraser, an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse... " Perhaps you'd care to provide some footnotes for your sources? Or, provide some notes on why you chose to interpret certain Cocteau Twins material in such a manner.
    Many Thanks

    1. Thanks for your reply. Use the archives; there's plenty of information there to remediate you on basic Cocteau Twins history. Good luck.

  5. You may already know this one, but in case you don't, Cocteau Twins feature in the French detective series Witnesses (Les Témoins) Series 2 ( - it's about a psychopathic guy kidnapping women, wiping their minds of all memories of their past, turning them into 'a blank sheet', then 'marrying them' complete with white dress, impregnating them, then handing the newborn child to what initially looks like some kind of ritual cult with creepy dolls nailed to trees and so on (turns out to be some svengali type man who believes in raising children in complete freedom or 'liberte' in a sort of a hippie survivalist commune type place). Right at the end when the psycho has managed to kidnap the main character, a female detective, and incarcerate her in a secured room somewhere, the room is completely plastered with posters of Cocteau Twins! It was just after I listened to your interview from last year with Greg Carlwood. Anyway thanks for the great shows and great blog. My friends and I all appreciate all that you do.