Celebrating Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser and the Good Things

LizFraserCocteauTwinsI first heard the healing voice of Liz Fraser when I was living in my college apartment with the green shag carpet. It was a two-bedroom apartment, that, for a couple years, I shared with a rotating cast of characters. The one constant at the building, besides the daily reliable hideousness of wall-to-wall green shag, was the live-in manager. She had the apartment next to mine, and she was a tough old lady. I remember her as “Betty.” (My memory might be wrong, but I’ll go with “Betty.”) Betty’s family, who were originally from the east coast, owned our building, and Betty did all the apartment clean-outs herself whenever a tenant vacated a unit. Her own apartment was immaculate, except for a huge yellow-brown stain on the exterior wall just outside her kitchen window. Betty liked to sit at her kitchen table and chain smoke cigarettes with the window open, even in the wintertime. She also liked to talk, late into the night, with whoever would come in and sit down for a chat. She always offered food, and she shared her cigarettes, if you wanted to smoke, too.

This was the life I was living, swaddled in green shag: going to school part-time, working at the school cafeteria, and interacting with the people I found around me.

The first time I heard Liz Fraser’s voice, it was summer. I had an early morning grill-cook shift at the cafeteria. My shift started at 5:30 a.m. I lived at the south end of campus, and my job was at the north end. So I would leave the apartment at five a.m. to walk to work, because I did not have a car. I would cut across campus to get to the cafeteria, and because the University was nestled against a tree-covered hill, I would often see deer, sometimes mothers with one or two fawns, out foraging in the early morning.

In my green-shag bedroom I slept on a futon, and, on a low table next to my bed, I had a clock radio. It was the kind of clock radio with red digital numbers and a shitty speaker built in. I had the radio set to the campus station: KUGS. Each morning, I woke up to KUGS. One morning, I woke up to Liz Fraser. She was singing the title track from the Cocteau Twins’ album ‘Heaven or Las Vegas.’ Her voice was like the visitation of an angel. So that morning, instead of getting up right away, I stayed in bed to listen to the whole song. Fraser’s singing made me feel things I didn’t even know I knew how to feel. I crave such experiences with music, but they never happen on demand. So for me, from that moment forward, Liz Fraser was a special person.

CocteauTwins-HeavenorLasVegasBorn in Grangemouth, Scotland on August 29, 1963, Fraser first joined the Cocteau Twins when she was only 17-years-old. Sometimes she sings songs with lyrics, and sometimes she sings only sounds, employing a style called glossolalia, which is akin to speaking in tongues.

Fraser is best known for her work with the Cocteau Twins, but since that band’s breakup in 1998, she has also collaborated with Massive Attack (including the band’s hit single, “Teardrop”), with Peter Gabriel, and she has also contributed work to the soundtracks of various films, including the track “Lament for Gandalf” from “Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring.”

When I found out that Fraser and Jeff Buckley had shared an intense friendship, it seemed like part of the natural order of things. Fraser had covered one of Jeff Buckley’s father’s songs, “Song to the Siren” when she appeared on a recording by 4AD’s This Mortal Coil. Both Fraser and Jeff Buckley possess an abundance of musical talent, and each of them have the ability, with their singing, to go beyond impressive vocal performance and dig into the soul of the listener. Their unreleased duet, “All Flowers In Time Bend Towards the Sun” is beautiful, free, and soul-shaking. The existence of a friendship between Fraser and Buckley even made me feel like I was part of the natural order, since I had first heard each of their singing voices in my green shag college apartment.

My current apartment faces east. One morning, a couple years ago, I woke up before dawn, unable to sleep. So, that particular morning, I watched the sun rise while listening to all of ‘Heaven or Las Vegas.’ Since that morning, I know that Liz Fraser will always have the power to re-introduce me to my own emotional landscape. She will always have the power to make me cry. But in a good way. What she does to me is a good thing.