Monday, June 12, 2017

"I Always Felt There was a Prophecy of Death in That Song."

Led Zeppelin. John Lennon. Prince. George Michael. The Monkees. Lord Byron. Sinead O'Connor. Chris Cornell. 

What do all these people have in common? 

They're all connected in one way or another to an unfolding drama orbiting a seminal song written by a doomed folk singer and debuted to the world wrapped in a salad of black magic, alien technology and mind control. 
And from then on, things got really weird.

I really didn't mean to get sucked back into all of this. I meant to do an overview post to observe the 20th anniversary and be done with it all. But then Chris Cornell died and the same archetypes rose again. Which means this story is still telling itself. That kicked in the OCD and got me looking again for prophecies.

And boy howdy, I found some real brain-blowers. 


Now I know a lot of you out there don't care about the Cocteau Twins or Jeff Buckley's music. And for a lot of you this might all be old news. I get that, it's totally fine by me. But the music isn't really the point of all this. 

The point is the story, this ancient archetypal myth playing out in real time, for whatever possible reason it may have other than the spirit world seems to have a dark sense of irony. And it may have well taken more trophies.

So, esoterically speaking, this is the equivalent of a Darwinist being able to watch a dog evolving into a turtle. 

You see, what we have here is a drama that seems to weave in elements of the occult, witchcraft, precognition, prophecy, synchronicity, and maybe even some spirit possession. 

We have the story of a strange and troubled teenage runaway from an extremely dysfunctional working class family, who grew up in a place saturated with the power of the old stories. A woman who seems to have dabbled in witchcraft before undergoing a startling transformation in which she suddenly came into possession of an electrifying musical gift that led one British newspaper to declare she had "the Voice of God."

In an entirely matter of fact, self-effacing manner she would claim that in fact she was possessed by or channeling some kind of entity, something I don't find very hard to believe at all. 


Of course, the first test of the spirits comes through prophecy.

And from the very first moment Elizabeth Fraser came into the public eye she seemed to prophesy a terrible event that revolved around an old 60s folk song that seems to have taken on a life of its own in the years since it first debuted. 

And if you take all the apparent prophecies-- prophecies that fly around this story like wasps at your birthday barbecue--together, you come up with the name, place, time and manner that this story would reach its inevitable climax. 

And it all seemed to unfold over a span of four decades.

Mind you, all of this is something we can objectively document. Interpret the facts any way you like but the beauty of it is that you don't need to rely on hearsay or anecdote here. We're looking at accepted and recorded events of history not testimony or speculation.

But there's also that song, which itself seems to be some kind of supernatural totem.


In true Secret Sun style, the 'Song to the Siren' made its worldwide debut in a very strange and unlikely venue. It was first heard on the final episode of The Monkees TV show in 1968. 

And as readers would probably expect by now, the episode dealt with aliens, mind control and black magic. Plus, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band:
The episode begins with a sunrise scene as the boys awaken to the sounds of the Beatles’ “Good Morning Good Morning,” which was the first time the Beatles had allowed their music to be used in a non-Beatles arena. 
The episode is, in short, about the evil Wizard Glick (played by Rip Taylor) who is on a mission to control people’s minds via their television sets. The airwaves beam out a hypnotic eye that is, well, hypnotizing its viewers, a not-so-subtle comment on the brain deadening effects of television. 
Evil wizards using alien technology to take over the world? Why does that sound so familiar?
Eventually, the boys discover that a creature called the Frodis plant had been captured when its spaceship landed on Earth, and was being used for evil by Wizard Glick. They realize they must rescue the Frodis and return it to its spaceship. Upon rescue, the plant emits this cloud of smoke, and in the process, seems to mellow out Glick and his cohorts, “I’ll let you work out that reference, folks,” adds Dolenz. The anti-war song “Zor and Zam” is featured during the “typical Monkees romp.”
As the story part of the episode ends, on walks the late singer-songwriter Tim Buckley to perform a solo acoustic version of his classic “Song to the Siren.” Buckley was a friend of Dolenz, who thought he should be introduced to the world. 
The beautiful song had, at the time, not been released.  
Note John Lennon wrote 'Good Morning Good Morning'. 

The episode is also known as "Mijacogeo," a (sub)title which wouldn't sound out of place on a Cocteau Twins record. In fact, there's even a scene where the Monkees begin chanting  in a style not unfamiliar to Cocteaux fans.

I mentioned this episode several years ago but hadn't seen it until recently. And my god, is it terrible. But as it happens, it also had an alternate title; 'The Frodis Caper.' I hadn't known that until just this past week. What's the significance of that title?

Here, let me write it like this: FRodiScapER
No luck? Try this: FRodiScapER

How's that?

There's even an A in there, if you want to get anagrammatic. And an 'Odic' too. If you really want to get obsessive you can make the p silent (as in Pfeiffer).

Tim Buckley, who never actually knew his son, died of an OD in 1975 at the age of 27. But already the prophecy machine seemed to have hummed to life.

 It'll End in Tears including
'Song to the Siren'


And just so we're clear on all this, I'm by no means the only person who gets how eerie this whole situation is, even if I was probably one of the first outside of the inner circle of people involved to do so. Even The Guardian has caught on:
(Tim) Buckley's eerie original is backed by stark waves of guitar and occasional high-pitched "siren" wails (is it his voice? An extremely flanged guitar?), and his five-octave-spanning tenor – "the closest thing to flying without taking acid or getting on a plane," Watts-Russell reckons. 
But Fraser's version suggested she was the siren of Homer's Odyssey personified, luring lovers to a premature grave
Sinead O'Connor, who was heavily influenced by Elizabeth Fraser, frames the story quite well here:
"I didn't know Buckley hadn't written the words," O'Connor says, "but I always felt there was a prophecy of death in that song." It's apparently the reason Fraser won't discuss the song (an interview request was ignored). Tim Buckley's son Jeff wrote to her when he heard the This Mortal Coil cover and, a couple of years before he drowned, aged 30, in 1997, they had a relationship.
The Financial Times also suggestively dropped that tragedy onto the last paragraph of their piece on 'Song to the Siren', but also noted the TMC/Cocteau Twins' version was so influential, that subsequent versions have mostly been covers of them:
Their reading set the template for those that were to follow — drifty, druggy, drenched in reverb, a perfect setting for lyrics such as “Did I dream you dreamed about me?"
And it so transpires that there are lot of well-known fans of Fraser's interpretation (including superstar directors Peter Jackson and David Lynch):
In 2002, Robert Plant covered it on his Dreamland album, garnished with his characteristic “oh-ohs”. In 2007, George Michael opened his gig at the new Wembley stadium by singing “Siren” from offstage (he later released it as a single)…Sinéad O’Connor’s 2010 version is heavily indebted to This Mortal Coil’s mystic-Celticism.

Indeed, George Michael - Greek by origin- did his level best to reproduce- note for note- Elizabeth Fraser's version of the song. At what was one of the biggest gigs of his career.

Of course, Michael himself recently died under circumstances that don't seem entirely transparent. There was a lot of mystery surrounding his passing, even if it was subsequently declared to be from natural causes. But Michael wasn't the only pop superstar to worship the Twins:
Madonna loved them, Prince wanted to sign them and Scritti Politti's Green Gartside said the vocally gymnastic Fraser was his third favourite melodicist of all time (behind Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson).


You can throw in Peter Gabriel and Boy George as well (George once said Fraser was his favorite singer). And yes, Prince was indeed a major Cocteau Twins fan.
Tictactoe is the tenth track on Prince's 36th album Plectrumelectrum (the first by Prince and 3rdEyeGirl). It is likely the track was recorded in February 2014.  
The magazine quotes Prince describing the recording of the track: “We recorded it in Bryan Ferry’s studio Studio One in London, after a night of partying for which the Cocteau Twins was the soundtrack. You can’t understand the words of Cocteau Twins songs but their harmonies put you in a dreamlike state.” 
Prince also died recently, at too young an age. Under circumstances that have inspired terrabytes of Internet speculation.

When the Levee Breaks, originally recorded 
by "Hoodoo Lady" Memphis Minnie

And just to add more fuel to the occult fire we have the Led Zeppelin connection to all of this. 

As you know, both Jeff Buckley and his best friend Chris Cornell sang Led Zeppelin tunes (or more accurately, blues standards commonly associated with Led Zep) shortly before they died. And Zeppelin's personal connections to Buckley are well-recorded:

One man who loved Grace was Jimmy Page. There was arguably no-one whose opinion Buckley valued more. He’d sung Zeppelin songs at Sin-é…One might even say there was a transference of Zeppelin energy taking place, a blessing or endorsement from afar, from the older men to the young. When Page and Buckley met, it was clear they understood each other on a profound level. 
“Jeff told me they cried,” says Chris Dowd. “They actually cried when they met each other. Jimmy heard himself in Jeff, and Jeff was meeting his idol. Jimmy Page was the godfather of Jeff’s music. A lot of people thought Tim was the influence on Jeff, but it was really Zeppelin. 
Less known is Led Zeppelin's connection to the Cocteau Twins- Robert Plant was/is a major devotee, saying in one interview "I wanted to be the Cocteau Twins". Then there's this, from a Twins interview:
Robert Plant went through a phase of raving about them in every interview he did. Liz doesn't tell me about the time she introduced herself to him, but Robin does. They had gone to see Echo & the Bunnymen. Liz, who was a little tipsy, spotted Robert Plant at the bar and tapped him on the shoulder. 
"Excuse me," she said. "I read that you really like the Cocteau Twins.""Yeah," the mousy-maned ex-sex god grunted. "I like them. Do you like them?"Mortified, she muttered her assent and slunk away.
According to another telling what she actually said is, "they're OK, I guess." Which is absolutely adorable.


Then death on a river. Bear in mind the person who wrote these remarkable lyrics was only 18 years old at the time they were recorded:

"The then shallow she Earth as we know it;
The then hallow she a sky for the sacred;
Stars in my eyes; stars in my face;
Womb in the belly; capital place..."

(Shallow Then Halo)

As mentioned before, Memphis was the capital of Egypt's lower kingdom. And Jeff Buckley was swimming in shallow waters when he drowned (the deepest point of the Wolf River Harbor is only nine feet deep).

Returning to 'Shallow then Halo' we see wings and feathers connected to the river. We also see the mention of fertile soil.

Winged water
Feathered river
Dirty rich soil
Strong and fertile

What's the significance of wings and feathers to a river? Well, considering this is the Mississippi, perhaps we need to look at the Mississippi state seal for a clue.

Ahh. Dream-logic at work.

Then the soil:
At Cairo, Illinois, the Ohio River flows into the Mississippi, doubling its volume and creating the point that divides the Upper Mississippi from the Lower Mississippi. The Lower Mississippi Valley is a wide and fertile region… As it flows in this southern region, the Mississippi deposits rich silt along its banks.
Now this odd use of "she":

"The then shallow she Earth as we know it; 
The then hallow she a sky for the sacred"

Wouldn't you just know it, the word sidhe is pronounced "she." In the context of the lyrics here it just happens that sidhe makes a lot more sense than she

Try this: "the then-shallow sidhe" (a spirit in shallow waters) and the "the then-hallow sidhe" (a spirit honored as sacred, re:"a sky for the sacred").

Here's the lowdown on one of the Siren's Celtic cousins:
In Celtic folklore, the leannán sí "Fairy-Lover" a beautiful woman of the Aos Sí …who takes a human lover. 
Lovers of the leannán sídhe are said to live brief, though highly inspired, lives.   
The leannán sídhe is generally depicted as a beautiful muse who offers inspiration to an artist in exchange for their love and devotion; however, this frequently results in madness for the artist, as well as premature death.
She also granted the power of prophecy.

The leannán sídhe is related to the more well-known Banshee. 
But only certain families of historic lineage, or persons gifted with music and song, are attended by this spirit; for music and poetry are fairy gifts, and the possessors of them show kinship to the spirit race—therefore they are watched over by the spirit of life, which is prophecy and inspiration; and by the spirit of doom, which is the revealer of the secrets of death.
Sometimes the Banshee assumes the form of some sweet singing virgin of the family who died young, and has been given the mission by the invisible powers to become the harbinger of coming doom to her mortal kindred. Or she may be seen at night as a shrouded woman, crouched beneath the trees, lamenting with veiled face; or flying past in the moonlight, crying bitterly...
And Jesus, here's a five-star money-quote if ever I heard one. It basically synopsizes this entire story:
The Banshee even follows the old race across the ocean and to distant lands; for space and time offer no hindrance to the mystic power which is selected and appointed to bear the prophecy of death to a family.  
Which would probably be a good time to drop this old bit of snarkery on you: 

All you need to know about the Cocteau Twins
 is that they make Siouxsie and the Banshees records, OK?

-- Melody Maker 10/16/82

Of course, the wild howling of early Cocteaux is more akin to the Banshee myth than Siouxsie's rather modest vocal range. But the influence is plainly there (the Scots seemed to be particularly found of the Banshees). Especially in early songs like "Speak No Evil", which offer more hints of that unexpected connection to witchcraft and the occult (bonus factoid: Fraser used to go around in outfits decorated with chicken bones):

My soul I sold
I can't forget to ask
There's nothing movin' it again
Wolf thirst said me

In that latter line, we also have a suggestion of death and a connection to water ("wolf thirst"). And just to remind anyone new to this conversation here:
Making a stop at the Wolf River channel of the Mississippi River, a fully clothed Buckley waded into the water and began swimming. 

“Probably,” Jeff chuckled as he fell into a back stroke, his shirt billowing around him as it filled with the shallow, temperate water near the shore.

Then Jeff began to sing “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin, joking about how the echo in the harbor made his voice sound like Robert Plant’s. He kept swimming further out. 



Those aren't all the clues to be found on Lullabies. 'Ark Lark' also has some as well.

Kicked all for my,
All for my, all for my

Charisma- divine gift- originally referred to extraordinary characteristics of the gods. In Christianity, charisma manifests itself in glossolalia and prophetic gifts.

Barking and Biting, amongst ourselves
Barking and Biting, amongst ourselves
Barking and Biting, amongst ourselves
Barking and Biting, amongst ourselves

We have references to a wolf (yes, wolves do bark) and water travel again.

Then this:

This Mockingbird, my lullaby
This Mockingbird, my lullaby 
This Mockingbird, my lullaby
This Mockingbird, my lullaby

Mockingbirds are
the state bird of Tennessee.


The band's next album would be released on Halloween 1983. With original bassist Will Heggie having quit, the duo needed to find a replacement. 
Although Robin and Liz hadn't specifically set out to find a new bass player, they certainly needed one, and happened upon Simon Raymonde in late 1983. Simon had been a member of the band Drowning Craze prior to his joining Cocteau Twins. 
"The Drowning Craze." Seriously.

Is there anything about this band that isn't a death omen? 
Asking for a friend.


The seventh (or eighth, depending on who's counting) Cocteau Twins album, Four Calendar Cafe, would follow a period of turmoil for the band as leader Robin Guthrie struggled with drug addiction and Fraser struggled with the lingering effects of childhood sexual abuse. 

It's not one of their stronger efforts but the b-side to the album's first single 'Evangeline' (a reference to an epic poem of doomed lovers) included Fraser's dissertation on the myth of Narcissus and Echo, the great fable of unrequited love and regrettable consequences:

Echo fell in love with the handsome narcissus
Narcissus struggles who heard walking
It was the nearest to perfection
"Is anyone here?" "Here here"
"Come, come, I will beg you."
Before I give you power over me
I give you power over me
And that remains her fate, always her voice echoes
Still repeating only what others have said 

 The details of the ancient Narcissus and Echo myth are eerily (there's that word again) consonant with the details of the modern Fraser/Buckley myth:
One day Narcissus was walking in the woods when Echo, an Oread (mountain nymph) saw him, fell deeply in love, and followed him. Narcissus sensed he was being followed and shouted "Who's there?". Echo repeated "Who's there?" She eventually revealed her identity and attempted to embrace him. He stepped away and told her to leave him alone. She was heartbroken and spent the rest of her life in lonely glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her. 
Echo was once celebrated as a great singer as well, eventually arousing the jealousy of the great god Pan.
The tale of Daphnis and Chloe is a 2nd-century romance by Greek author Longus...According to Daphnis, Echo was raised among the Nymphæ because her mother was a nymph. Her father, however, was merely a man and hence Echo was not herself a nymph but mortal. Echo spent her days dancing with the Nymphæ and singing with the Muses who taught her all manner of musical instruments.  
But the strangest thing about this song is its title.  It's called, apropos of absolutely nothing at all, "Mud and Dark." 

Which, yet again, also ties directly into an event that had yet to happen involving a man Fraser had yet to meet.
About 100 feet offshore is one of two massive cement pylons that support a monorail bridge to Mud Island. Buckley had just crossed past it in the growing darkness when Foti yelled that a small boat was approaching down the center of the channel, which the corps keeps dredging to a depth of some 9 feet.
Mud and Dark. At what point exactly do we drop the rationalist pose and accept the obvious?


As she enjoyed a relationship with Jeff Buckley, Fraser appeared as a mermaid coming out of a giant shell for the Four Calendar Cafe's second video, 'Bluebeard'. You know, because there wasn't enough Siren symbolism attached to her already.

But as fate would have it, nothing would ever be the same again. Fraser later said:

"My love addiction was worse than ever. I was maniacal. [Twinlights] is about that man. My last goodbye, as it were. I was too needy and he was too much of an avoidance person. Naturally."
Consequently, she gave some of her most disjointed, most unsettling performances for the 1994 tour and wound up hospitalized with a nervous breakdown. She was struggling with a force that was clearly winning.

Twinlights would lend two of its tracks to the video love-letter Rilkean Dreams, which as I never get tired of pointing out is practically a demo reel of death omens, starting with the opening montage of rolling rivers and underwater shots, all ending with a sunset. The group reportedly shot all the footage themselves.

The sun was setting when Jeff Buckley waded into the Wolf River on his way to his appointment with the Siren.
Gene Bowen considers it all: "The objective originally was just to go down there and —– you know, the sun was setting; it's beautiful here, with the breeze —– and play some music and sing. And then he just wanted to go in."
Now, there's been some speculation that Buckley was a suicide. But that interpretation doesn't fit the facts and those closest to him have all denied the possibility. He clearly seemed to be bipolar, but saying a highly gifted musician is bipolar is like saying a highly gifted athlete is physically fit. It comes with the territory. 

Buckley was waiting to greet his band members who had just flown into Memphis to work on the new demos he just completed. He went to the river with a friend, which suicides don't tend to do. He was swimming in shallow water and was only pulled under because of an unforeseen event. 

By all accounts he was in full manic mode, and as a reckless personality given to exhibitionism his sunset swim makes perfect sense. It was probably meant to be an interesting story to tell while promoting the new album, that before he started rehearsals on the new songs he "baptized himself in the Blues." It was a reckless move gone terribly wrong, all too common for that type of personality.

And then Hell came to Earth. If you've never watched this before watch it now.

UPDATE: My god, it never ends. It literally never ends. 

The Cocteaux released Moon and the Melodies in late 1986, which featured 'Sea, Swallow Me' and 'She Will Destroy You', among others. Then they released Blue Bell Knoll, which again is a reference to an old folk belief about a death omen. The bluebell is also known as Endymion non-scriptus. 

Endymion is yet another doomed mortal whom a goddess fell in love with:

 Wandering farther afield from the British Isles, the bluebell is associated with the shepherd boy Endymion.  The moon goddess, variously called Seline or Diana, fell in love with him and cast an eternal sleep on him so that she could enjoy his beauty alone, forever.
One of the key cuts on Blue Bell Knoll is 'For Phoebe Still a Baby'. Phoebe is another name for Selene. 

Plus this, from Moon and the Melodies:
The phrases "bloody and blunt" and "ooze out and away, onehow" came from Fraser's lyrics on the songs "The Tinderbox (Of a Heart)" and "My Love Paramour", both from the 1983 Cocteau Twins album Head Over Heels.
Love and violence again.