One of the greatest love songs ever made is one that was never supposed to be heard. Thrilling, isn’t it? During their brief yet intense romance sometime between 1994-95, Jeff Buckley and the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser crafted their heavenly duet, “All Flowers in Time Bend Towards the Sun.” It was leaked after Buckley’s sudden death in 1997, and Liz, understandably so, despises this. “Why do people have to hear everything?” she vented in a rare interview with The Guardian. “It’s unfinished… I don’t want it to be heard.” It feels so deeply wrong to betray Liz and violate her privacy like this, especially after everything she’s given us. But the story behind “All Flowers in Time,” the story of Jeff Buckley and Elizabeth Fraser, is one of tenderness and tragedy–so rare yet so sincere that it’s bound to restore hope where it’s been lost, and then break your silly little heart all over again.
Jeff Buckley was born in southern California in November of 1966. Though he was estranged from his biological father, the jazz/folk/rock musician Tim Buckley, he inherited his versatile singing voice (and striking facial structure). Jeff’s only album, Grace, an alternative rock record, was released in 1994–near the tail end of grunge and the birth of britpop. If Jeff were to leave us with anything from his short time here on earth we are so fortunate it is the incredibly lush and personable Grace. Buckley’s cover of “Hallelujah” is simultaneously delicate and powerful–the lyrics roll off his tongue as if he had written each and every one. Likewise on “Mama, You Been on My Mind,” my personal favorite; I’ll never listen to the Bob Dylan original again (I never actually did). Not included in Grace, but Jeff also has an unreleased cover of The Smiths’ melancholic ballad “I Know It’s Over.” I remember playing that song in the car with my mum when I was in high school, and then a few days later, I caught her sifting through the clutter in my room, searching for my diary.
“60s are bullshit. 70s–almost big big bullshit. 80s–I don’t even need to tell you. Except for The Smiths.”– Jeff Buckley
Elizabeth Fraser, born in Grangemouth, Scotland in August of 1963, is perhaps the most transcendent vocalist of our time. Her lavish, winding vocals become so ethereal–so otherworldly–that it truly doesn’t even matter that you can never understand what she’s saying; she speaks her own divine language that we aren’t even worthy of understanding. Liz was a member of the dreampop pioneers, the Cocteau Twins, from 1979-1997, and contributed to the music collective This Mortal Coil in 1984 with her iconic cover of Tim Buckley’s “Song To The Siren.” Though Liz’s cover of his father’s song was well before she met Jeff, Liz had always been a Tim Buckley fan. So when Jeff came along, the pair were destined to ignite.
“He idolized me before he met me, and I was like that with him,” Liz explains in the BBC documentary Jeff Buckley: Everybody Here Wants You. “I just couldn’t help falling in love with him.” Little is documented of their relationship–they don’t even have a photo together–but their time spent together is often regarded as brief, intense and passionate. Liz has been keen to stay out of the public eye since the Cocteau Twins’ break up in ‘97, only making extremely rare appearances here and there. (How Oneohtrix Point Never… of all people… managed to lure Liz out of hiding… after she’s turned down practically everyone else… is beyond me.) Her account of their relationship in the documentary is the only instance where one of them speaks of it publicly. But truly, “All Flowers in Time” reveals far more intimate detail than any interview ever could.
Liz had a romantic relationship with her Cocteau Twins bandmate, Robin Guthrie, with whom she has one child. And due to their contract, Fraser had to work with Guthrie well after their break up. “I was having a hard time in the band I was in,” Liz said. “So to meet Jeffrey was like… I had all this color in my life again.” She goes on to explain how deeply personal and intimate they were with one another, often passing each other’s journals back and forth. In “All Flowers in Time” you can hear that fervent intimacy and chemistry in their laughter, hums and hushed voices. The pair acknowledges their inherent connection, and despite the pain in their past, they succumb to love and bend toward the sun; “All flowers in time bend toward the sun / I know you say there’s no one for you / But here is one.”
Liz and Jeff had parted ways before Jeff’s tragic drowning in the Mississippi River on May 29, 1997. They were both busy people–they had their own lives and responsibilities–and Liz felt like she could never fully get to Jeff, failing to “penetrate” him. Jeff even asks her in their song, “When will you wait for me, sweet willow?” But as it goes, Jeff ultimately started dating the musician Joan Wasser, and was in a relationship with her at the time of his death.
On May 29th, Jeff was in Memphis, Tennessee with his band to work on his second record. That evening, Jeff and one of his roadies went down to Wolf River Harbor, a channel of the Mississippi River. While his roadie stayed on the shore, Jeff went into the water fully clothed for a spontaneous swim. It wasn’t long until his roadie lost sight of him, and Jeff never came up to shore. He got caught in the wake of a passing tugboat and his body was found downstream a few days later.
Liz got word of Jeff’s disappearance while recording “Teardrop” with the British trip hop group, Massive Attack. She had already been writing the song about Jeff before she got the news: “Love is a doing word / Feathers on my breath / Gentle impulsion / Shakes me, makes me lighter.” It’s unclear how exactly the two had parted ways, or if they were unfinished just like their song, but Liz battled tremendous guilt following his passing: “I wish I had been more understanding–happy with a different kind of relationship. I missed out on something there, and it was my fault.”
The sweet, delicate and absolutely delightful Elizabeth Fraser had herself a hell of a few years in the mid-late 90s; she endured working with her substance abusing ex, saw it through until the Cocteau Twins’ break up and lost the man who made the world colorful to her once again. She practically vanished from the public eye after ‘97, turning down countless offers for both solo work and to reunite the Cocteau Twins. In 2005, the Cocteau Twins were due to reconvene and headline Coachella, but Liz suffered a nervous breakdown and backed out, stating that she had to remove herself from that part of her life. The Cocteau Twins’ third member, Simon Raymonde, was pissed–they would have all walked away with $2 million after the festival, leaving them financially secure for life. He did admit, though, that Liz and Robin would have killed one another the moment their set finished.
So, this prompts the question: is listening to, talking about and even writing about “All Flowers in Time Bend Toward the Sun” on critically acclaimed music blogs like this one, unethical? We call ourselves fans, but are we too far removed from the musician to humanize them and respect their boundaries? Do you listen to a record the moment it’s leaked or do you loyally hold out for the release date? Moral introspection aside, the world is simply a better place when it is graced with Elizabeth Fraser and Jeff Buckley’s interconnected harmonizing. They both deserve their right to privacy and intimacy just as anyone else does, but there’s something about the tone in their voices as they sing at each other that is so rare and so deeply unique, it is most heartbreaking to think about the world never knowing the kind of love that they had.