Saturday, June 17, 2017

Interlude: Swan Song, or In My Time of Dying

A weird little coincidence struck me yesterday...

As we've seen, the last songs Jeff Buckley and Chris Cornell sang were songs most commonly associated with Led Zeppelin.

Cornell’s “sudden and unexpected” death right in the middle of Soundgarden’s U.S. tour that kicked off only last month is compounded only by the fact that his death was ruled a suicide, and while the 52-year-old musician outwardly showed no signs of depression or suicidal tendencies, the final song from last night’s sold out show at Detroit’s Fox Theatre: a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying”. 
And this: 
When Buckley entered the water from the trash-strewn bank, he was wearing jeans, a T-shirt and boots. He turned, grinning back at Foti, as he drifted in backward. When he was about knee deep, Foti remembers cautioning him: "You can't swim in that water." As Buckley continued, Foti repeated his caution: "What are you doing, man?" But Buckley smilingly reclined into the slate-gray water, singing the chorus of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" as he backstroked into the channel.
In 1974, Led Zeppelin started their own record label called Swan Song. 

The term swan song comes from an ancient belief that swans will sing a beautiful song just before they are about to die. 

Now we're treading into dangerous waters here, no pun intended. There's a temptation to cast too wide a net in search of symbolic connections, which, as they pile up, can tend to have a numbing effect. Plus, ancient mythology is so enormous that you could probably dig out a connection for whatever you like if you're not rigorous about it.

And there's still the open question as to why we would see so much symbolism and prophecy - practically to the point of overkill - attached to what most people might see as an historical footnote.  

So let's then establish that we're specifically looking here at the "swan songs," the very last performances by the people in question.

So with that in mind let's look at the very last line of the last verse of the last song on the last Cocteau Twins album- or if you prefer, their swan song. The song is "Seekers Who Are Lovers" and the line goes like this: 

"So send Lucifer into Hell."

The song is- you guessed it- yet another of Elizabeth Fraser's love letters to Jeff Buckley*, in this case a little note explicitly reminding him how amazing she thought the sex was.  Which is probably why nearly all of her performances of the song were extremely passionate, in her very strange way.

Then there's this :

Love, on the tip of it/ The old river's lack of other sweet sex†/ So sweet/You are a woman just as you are a man
The last line there corresponds to Buckley's self-identification of a "chanteuse with a penis," a reference to his interpretations of torch songs by singers like Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf. Which, of course, it's also entirely compatible with his role as a postmodern incarnation of Attis. 

And then there's that "river" reference again.

This in turn then corresponds to the more recent death of one of Buckley's closest friends (and posthumous spoeksman) just a few minutes away from Belle Isle on the Detroit River, which is itself closely associated with a Native American variant of the Siren myth.

Note also the connection of these fertility gods we've been looking at to rivers:

Adonis sprang from a tree; the body of Osiris was concealed in a tree which grew round the sea-drifted chest in which he was concealed. Diarmid concealed himself in a tree when pursued by Finn. The blood of Tammuz, Osiris, and Adonis reddened the swollen rivers which fertilized the soil.
But there's another connection between these ancient fertility gods and Lucifer; all of them were sent into the Underworld.  

And the way to the Underworld was traditionally the River Styx.


Bearing in mind that Buckley died on the eve of an explicit Osiris ritual in Memphis, remember that the consort of Osris (who drowned in the Nile River) is Isis, whom "The Greeks conceived of (her) as a corn-goddess, for they identified her with Demeter. In a Greek epigram she is described as 'she who has given birth to the fruits of the earth,” and “the mother of the ears of corn.'” 

Similarly, Attis was identified closely with corn:

  Like tree-spirits in general, Attis was apparently thought to wield power over the fruits of the earth or even to be identical with the corn. One of his epithets was “very fruitful”: he was addressed as the “reaped green (or yellow) ear of corn”; and the story of his sufferings, death, and resurrection was interpreted as the ripe grain wounded by the reaper, buried in the granary, and coming to life again when it is sown in the ground
Corn-- and subsequently Cornell-- both derive from the Latin cornu, meaning "horn."

The closest Egyptian analog to goddesses like Isthar and Aphrodite is actually Hathor, whom Isis would eventually syncretize with, and who was commonly depicted as wearing horns. She has an interesting origin story: 

In the Story of Re, she was created by her father Re as "Sekhmet" as a destroyer of men, who were disobedient to him. Later Re changed his mind, but even he could not stop her from killing men. He then disguised beer as blood and when Sekhmet became drunk, she could no longer kill and was known thereafter as Hathor, a goddess of love.
Jeff Buckley's eventual swan song- which Chris Cornell was closely involved in producing- was the collection Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk.  It included the song "Morning Theft", commonly assumed to be a documentation of Buckley's reunion with Fraser sometime around the recording of 'All Flowers in Time Bend Toward the Sun'.


There's been an ongoing controversy over the Swan Song label, which depicts an angel or winged man in the throes of death. One side of the debate claims it's a depiction of Icarus and others claim it's actually paying homage to Lucifer, and that the image is a depiction of his fall from Heaven. 

The painting is in fact an adaptation of a sketch by 19th century painter William Rimmer entitied "Evening, the Fall of Day." Some have argued that the image is a depiction of Apollo, but we don't see the chariot here which was associated with him when he absorbed the aspects of the Titan Helios.

So I think the Lucifer interpretation is probably closest to the mark. "The Fall of Day" is most probably a reference to Phosphoros the daystar, whose name is the Greek equivalent of Lucifer. Note that Jimmy Page had recently recorded the Lucifer Rising and later used a similar image for the release of the soundtrack.

Plus, Jimmy Page. 

What we also need to remember here is that Led Zeppelin's first use of the Swan Song logo was on the first side of the first disk of Physical Graffiti. And the last song on that side is Chris Cornell's swan song,  'In My Time of Dying'. 

The album also has a strong link to Jeff Buckley:

"When I was 12, I decided to become a musician," Buckley says. "Physical Graffiti was the first album I ever owned. My stepfather [who lived with Buckley's mother from 1971 to 1973] bought that for me."

But wait! There's more: Swans were closely associated with the love goddeses of the ancient world, particularly Aphrodite. 

As we saw, Elizabeth Fraser- in what seems to be her only foray into cosplay ever-  explicitly portrayed herself as a rising Aphrodite (0r Atargatis) in the video for 'Bluebeard'.

That single was released in February 1994. Fraser and Buckley met in March. At the time Fraser was in the midst of an ongoing personal crisis and seemed to experience a meltdown when the band performed 'Bluebeard' on The Tonight Show, going into full-WTF alien mode.

That meltdown was taped the same day Chris Cornell's friend Kurt Cobain died, which was called a suicide at the time.

And just to throw out another creepy death omen, Jeff Buckley would have a fling with Cobain's widow shortly before he died.


Lucifer also links us to another prophecy we recently looked at- Fraser's retelling of the myth of Narcissus and Echo, "Mud and Dark" (again, Jeff Buckley was swimming near Mud Island in the dark when he drowned). From The Aeon Eye blog:
Like Icarus, the archangel Lucifer is said to have fallen because of his pride and vanity over his own beauty and power, much like the myth of Narcissus. This supreme spirit of evil who was once radiant, but who because of his sin of pride fell from heaven into darkness and became Satan, saying: “Non serviam: I will not serve,” and thus brought upon himself the everlasting wrath of God.  
There's also a strain of the Narcissus daffodil called "Lucifer." 

And there's a Daffodil Hill in Memphis.

The mind reels.


NOTE: It's also important to remember that Icarus- whose sin was disobedience- actually died by drowning.

The lyric "His poor essence" may in fact be "His Pur Essence," a reference to the fact the Fraser may have realized that she seemed to call Buckley by his given name - Scott Moorhead- in "Summerhead" (read:"S.Moorhead") in between the songs "Essence" and "Pur" on Four Calendar Cafe. 

That album was recorded while Buckley was still doing club gigs in tiny dive bars in Manhattan. They wouldn't begin their relationship for at least another year.

† Erroneously listed as "sweet scents" on some lyric sites.


  1. Chris,

    It might amuse you to know that, as I invoked this blog entry, I turned on the radio and was serenaded with - you guessed it - Led Zep, a concert cut from the collection _Alive And Kicking_. The song? "Good Times, Bad Times". Got to love these little "coincidences".

    1. Hows this for a coincidence, I just looked up "'Bluebeard on The Tonight Show" on You Tube. It starts with Leno's introduction of the group then cuts to a wide angle shot of the band as the music begins. The camera then draws in on one guitar player for a close up. The guitar he's playing looks blood stained and spattered. Why is he playing a guitar that looks like that? I assume this show was recorded prior to the discovery of Cobain. A rather chilling coincidence that this aired the same day Kurt was found.

    2. Very much so. I remember watching that performance when it aired and being shocked by Liz's performance. There was something deeply wrong going on that day in general.

  2. Synchronicity or mere coincidence? This morning over at RealitySandwich (occasionally worth checking out) I read a neat little excerpt by a gentleman named Hank Wesselman wherein he recounts a rather intense encounter he had with Sekhmet during an early morning temple tour in Egypt. (She was inhabiting a graven image of herself at the time.)

    This made me recall a conversation Gordon had on his podcast with P Levenda during which Gordon mentioned the Egyptians drawing the spirits down into statues. And then you mention Sekhmet Herself in this post.

    In your creative work have you ever felt yourself to be taken up like an instrument in the Muse's hands? Beyond an idea just popping into your head, I mean. Like, being inhabited by the Spirit. It's one thing to have Her whispering in one's ear. It's got to be another thing entirely to have Her controlling one's movements. Or, for that matter, to realize too late that one has been cast in a dramatic reenactment of a myth.

    It's like these people audition for the role without knowing it, as if by their very acts of curiosity or their works of art they make themselves available, and set the drama rolling forward. And given that their names are so often appropriate to the tale, it has the feeling of Doom, unavoidable tragedy. Were they named specifically for this reason, so it would all make sense in retrospect? Because the naming of Names kind of seals it, doesn't it. Not mere coincidence anymore, but Synchronicity, or Fate. Not simply the wrong place at the wrong time, but the Right place at the precisely Right time, and the gods call you by name.

    I expect to be really creeped out when you get to the UFO part of the story. I'm pretty sure you won't let me down.

    1. I was wondering the same from my experience, one not nearly so dramatic or detailed, but I felt possibly channeled in hindsight when I discovered the term years later. I wrote a short story in school about the haunting of the rooms in which Lincoln's conspirators met to plan his murder. It followed pretty much how the real story played out, but after the story just told itself I worried my teacher wouldn't accept it it because all we'd been taught up to that time was that J. W. Booth acted alone or at least nothing of conspirators was mentioned.

      Could be that it even skipped my attention, but the I had to submit the story because it was very good and I did so having felt like I was cheating myself as well as my teacher. I had to know if it had the ring of authenticity I felt as my hand felt guided by whatever supplied the words and ideas. This kind of thing happened several times when I was very young and seemed to only occur when I chose to write about events of what one would consider a paranormal nature, as though someone were aiding my understanding of a truth of a chosen topic.

      Chris, you have a remarkable nose for sniffing the mythical repetition playing out in culture today. I don't mean to take any credit away from you for that, but I do wonder if you you sometime fell you're being led yourself just because it's al some very natural to us as well.

    2. A great example of what you talked na about is Martin Luther King, otherwise known as MLK. MLK is the Semitic spelling of malik or melech which of course means King. Did his parents know that? Maybe but I kinda doubt it. That's destiny at play. And is their a greater example of a true king of his people? Weird.

    3. I think artists that get into these deep mythical tangles audition for the role quite deliberately, fully aware of what they are doing, for their own personal reasons. And the names, yes, sometimes it's their own names that make them explore a particular role, but other times they pick an artistic name that fits the role they wish to play.

      In the case of other people, they may get into a mythical reenactment fairly unconsciously (I know it happened to me). But with artists, I'm pretty sure it mostly happens deliberately.

    4. A friend informed me that there's a telling of the Pandora story where Hermes advises her not to open the jar because "nothing good ever comes from the gods."

      I'm working on another addendum where I want to go back into these prophecies because they are so specific - as if the symbolism surrounding the events- that it's simply impossible to say this isn't exactly what it looks like after you sort through all this evidence.

      But here's the thing- we have these prophecies based on the handful of songs Fraser wrote in recognizable English. What about all the songs she wrote in her invented language? What prophecies might she have hidden in those? And did she start writing in this language because she somehow sensed she was being used as a conduit?

      But as you'll see I can't help but wonder if something is leading me around by the nose as well.

    5. Wondering a little about Fraser's use of 'non English'. (Full disclosure, not a fan of Cocteau Twins, etc, but Massive Attack's Teardrop is a beautiful song, really haunting, and Fraser's voice fits it perfectly. I liked some of the Seattle sound stuff, but never really got into Nirvana or Soundgarden intensely. But I appreciated their really energetic stuff. Breed, My Wave, Kickstand, Spoonman. I'm more of a Pearl Jam listener, and even a lot of their stuff has passed me by.)

      According to the Internet:

      Glossolalia, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “ecstatic utterances,” is the uttering of unintelligible, language-like sounds while in a state of ecstasy. Glossolalia is sometimes confused with xenoglossia, which is the biblical “gift of tongues.” However, whereas glossolalia is babbling in a nonexistent language, xenoglossia is the ability to speak fluently a language the speaker has never learned.

      Would you happen to know if E Fraser was using glossolalia as a sort of rhythmic or poetic device, or to hide things in plain hearing (so to speak), or was she possibly taken up in ecstacy? I wonder if anyone has asked her about this?

      There was a band I enjoyed very much back in the 2000s called Ekova. Their vocalist, Diedre Dubois, sang a lot in 'invented' words. The other two band members were male. I believe one gentleman is Algerian, while the other is Iranian. Some of their music sounds, to me, very much like the accompaniment to a Dervish spinning in place, getting caught up in ecstacy, (for example, The Chase just gets faster and faster and faster).

      As Maria writes above, sometimes artists make themselves available to a very specific flow very deliberately. But it looks like, sometimes, the current is faster and stronger than expected and pulls one down to very deep places.

    6. Well, sometimes it was glossolalia but what it usually was is a secret language she would construct out of other languages. Check out this video for more information.

  3. Maybe some "coincidences" are just "Black Swan events" in hindsight?
    "The black swan theory or theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. The term is based on an ancient saying which presumed black swans did not exist, but the saying was rewritten after black swans were discovered in the wild."
    Black swans are native to my homeland (and Gordon White's homeland) Australia (Oz).

    1. Well, they say time is just an illusion and that everything is actually happening at the same time. We just sort it all out with this chronology business.

  4. Hi I stumbled across your blog a few weeks ago...someone posted a link on a Chris Cornell fan forum. First off I am really blown away by your writing! The content is really fascinating.I am a huge believer in synchronicity and also a music geek. I had no idea Cornell was so close with Jeff Buckley. I am a fan of both of them.Strangely enough I'm also a Cocteau Twins fan. I had no idea about the connection between Fraser and Buckley! I also wondered why she stopped doing music!

    1. Which forum is that, Stargazer. I'm curious to know. And yes, this is a story a lot of people don't know about. And it's also a rabbit hole that seems in fact to have no bottom.

  5. Sometimes I wonder if these hidden rituals are enacted under our noses precisely because of the secular nature of music & entertainment in the current era. Almost as if that association that music & drama had to ancient worship of the gods resurrects itself precisely when culture is so bereft of that connection to what was once sacred. & of course, the gods (or whatever they might be) demand sacrifice in return for the object lesson.

    1. These forces have been around a very, very, very long time. Who knows what they truly are and how they choose to express themselves. Or why. But they were there as soon as we started singing songs and telling stories so they own the turf.

  6. Really interesting connections. Being a fan of Cornell's in the UK, I was struck by some other coincidences. Not sure if you picked it up but Chris Cornell died the same day as Ian Curtis' death by hanging in Macclesfield near Manchester, England at 77 Barton Street, just down the road from where I live. Hard to believe that two of rock's most notable and brilliant poets of the dark side would die on the same day in similar circumstances (hanging) 37 (3x7, 777) years apart. The 'suicide' meme was also present in the Manchester bombing 4 days after the death date of Cornell/Curtis when a suicide bomber blew himself up at an Ariana Grande concert on Monday the 22nd May, killing a number of children. 7 days before this event, infamous Manchester child killer Ian Brady died after years of seeking an assisted suicide. Many remarked on the prevalence of '22' in the Manchester attack-it was even remarked upon in mainstream reports-and as it happens, Morrissey and Marr (I've always thought of the 'Grace' album as a splicing of The Smiths and Zep) wrote their first song on 20-2-84 about Brady and his victims called, 'Suffer Little Children'. New Order, of course, rose seamlessly from the death of Curtis/Joy Division and had a huge hit with 'Blue Monday', released 7-3-83. Seattle and Manchester possibly share a number of similarities: North Western cities, a bit grim and bleak, thriving arts/music scenes etc. I also noticed that Oasis released their first single a few days after the death of Kurt Cobain ushering in a new era of Manchester music which has been revisited in the aftermath of the arena attack with the songs 'Don't Look Back In Anger' and 'Live Forever' being pushed back into the public's consciousness. Didn't want to get all Zach Hubbard on you but it's impossible not to look at the numbers as the synchro-coincidence-math types are so ubiquitous and are now a part of how we now 'consume' events.

    1. Definitely aware of the Curtis connection and I don't think it's an accident. I don't know what was going through Chris Cornell's head but I'm still not shocked by his death. Again, he was very open about his depression. People who don't know how it works think it's something you can snap yourself out of but unfortunately it doesn't work that way.

      Very interesting synchs here. I'd need time to sort through them and see if they were connected but there does seem to be some kind of synergy at work.

    2. The day after the Manchester arena event, the local paper, The Manchester Evening News from which the Arena takes its name and sponsor (most of the victims were girls/women at the MEN arena) printed a candle on its cover with the ready made headline, 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out', a song about having a romantic death wish (some may simply call it murder-suicide). Other Smiths songs/album titles suddenly take on an uncanny resonance: 'Louder Than Bombs', 'Panic', 'Death of A Disco Dancer' and 'Pretty Girls Make Graves'. What was taken as morbid humour is now entirely drained of (what was always) the uneasy humour. Reading your essay again and continuing to mull all of this over, prompted the thought that a number of albums are classic 'Swan Songs': Pink Moon, Closer (which could mean 'the closing chapter' as well as 'to be closer'), Strangeways Here We Come, LA Woman etc. Chris Cornell's final album sounds like a classic (and conscious) Swan song and 'Grace' is obviously notable as being both a debut and Swan song simultaneously. In fact, I find myself hearing the crafting of that very idea in its sound and lyrics but then questioning my projecting such meaning in hindsight. I suppose that the Beatles invented the idea of the consciously crafted swan song with 'Abbey Road' which even presents a mock funeral on the cover with John as the minister, Ringo the undertaker, George the gravedigger and Paul the bare footed corpse as they 'cross to the other side'. Rock's first conspiracy theory was also born in that gesture i.e. 'Paul Is Dead'. The North West of England's (albeit from Liverpool, Manchester's rival city) most famous band acting out a Hiram Abiff death ritual in North West London, the central Masonic 'hero' a proto-Christ like figure murdered by three 'ruffians' for refusing to divulge his secret knowledge.

    3. It feels as if these things are all sitting there, staring at us, waiting for us to notice them. I wonder if it will be AI that will finally dispose of our notions of causality and naturalism. It will be AIs that crunch all the data and reveal we live in a sentient universe.

  7. To add to the thread of intended coincidence, at Cornell's funeral, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park sang "Hallelujah" at the Hollywood Eternal Cemetary which is surrounded by a small reservoir of water.

  8. Hi Chris,

    When I first saw the "Swan Song" label all those years ago, I always thought that the figure with the wings was Icarus.

    Particularly, by his body position and gesture, this describes to me that he was in the moment he realized he was too close to the sun and that his death was imminent. That moment. Freeze frame. Swan song.

    Maybe in the end, its the fear of success sustained by this nagging notion that in spite of your fame and fortune, you are bound for death. Momento Mori.

    But more so than simply a reminder, perhaps its part of that embedded program of energy that gets tapped so often by Dionysian performers at a certain age and a certain point in their path if all the trips in the traps are properly set off.

    Like Bram Stoker wrote in Dracula: “Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!” In effect and in transition of their flight to fame and to plummet from the sad height---what music they make, indeed.

    1. The candle burning half as long principle. Death gives live meaning and makes compelling stories for us. I think a lot of these people come to realize they have been chosen to be servants, no matter how rich or famous they become. It keeps a kind of clock ticking in their minds.

  9. You have me thinking about fortune cookies and how it's not so much as the messages inside them but how the can resonate, although of course you have to believe they can resonate and understand the wise words at times and their parallels. Great work. My father was born on the 11th, passed away at 11pm and was cremated at 11am on the 11th (as the hurst arrived late due to the road being blocked). I'm not sure if he was born at 11am too but I wouldn't be surprised if he was. Not only was he cremated on the 11th but it was the 11th of September, 9/11, something he read a fair bit about and my sister had a baby on the same day as his cremation. I'm not a numerologist but I couldn't help but notice that and find it odd, I don't think anyone else noticed it though. He passed away on 21/08, another 11, I don't know what to make of it if anything.

  10. Just a quick note regarding the Swan Song logo - while there is often an attempt to tie it to Lucifer, Robert Plant previously and as recently as 2003 has gone on record stating that they chose it for the Apollo reference (God of Music and Poetry, also healing and plague) and then modified it to more of an Icarus based imagery for the record label. He became visually annoyed by a fan at the 2003 event that suggested any reference to Lucifer and/or Satan. Most Art history personnel do believe Rimmer's drawing was of Apollo. I cannot recall their original reasoning for that.

  11. Repost:

    And here's another riposte to your theory.

    I think you're reading too much into that Tonight Show TV performance. It isn't any more, nor less, chaotic (and Liz doesn't seem any more, or less, disturbed) than any other 1994 tour performances. (Compare the Late Show TV appearance)

  12. Then the Daffodil Hill may explains this, or maybe not. As you may well know, TCV is the super group made of JPJ (of Led Zep), Grohl (former Nirvana) and Joshua Homme whose wifey Brodie is BFFs with Clove, Synchronicity abounds.

  13. His death for me is mistery. I don't buy the oficial story. For me he was led to kill himself or he was murdered.

    But honestly... I've read the whole thing and I don't know what's your point here. What's your main idea here? I couldn't find one.