I’m as Puzzled as a Newborn Child; Tim Buckley’s Song to the Siren
I first heard Song to the Siren in the quite abstract 1997 David Lynch film Lost Highway, and this rendition happened to be an inspiration for Lynch’s and composer Angelo Badalamenti’s production of collaborating vocalist Julee Cruise’s first two albums. Accordingly, Badalamenti was highly influential on Japanese composer Akira Yamaoka’s soundtrack to the video game Silent Hill. Lost Highway’s soundtrack was produced by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, but he unhelpfully left Song to the Siren off the album, requiring a special import order of the 1984 album It’ll End in Tears in the days before youtube.
The voice and the melody of this song reminded me so much of Sanvean(I Am Your Shadow) by Lisa Gerrard (of the neoclassical duo Dead Can Dance), I was sure it had to be her. However, Lost Highway’s version of Song to the Siren was actually done by ‘gothic dream pop’ supergroup This Mortal Coil, coincidentally including Lisa Gerrard, but sung by Elizabeth Fraser of The Cocteau Twins.
Just to add one more convolution of intrigue to this amazing song’s story, it was written by oneTim Buckley, who tragically died of a heroin ovedose at age 28, leaving behind a young son named Jeff, who also died tragically from an accidental drowning at age 31, but not before leaving behind what is probably the most well-known version of Leonard Cohen’s massively covered classic Hallelujah.
Given that Song to the Siren was written in 1967, at least almost 30 years before the Lisa Gerrard stunner Sanvean, and that she was a member of This Mortal Coil, one can only assume she was influenced by it when composing Sanvean as well.
A straightforward reference to the sirens who tempt sailors at sea from Greek mythology, both This Mortal Coil’s and Tim Buckley’s version of Song to the Siren are posted below the lyrics. At this point the song is on it’s way to becoming almost as often covered as Cohen’s Hallelujah. Versions by both Sinead O’Conner and Bryan Ferry were released in 2010; other interpretations include The Czars and Charlotte Martin.
If this melody does not break your heart, then you don’t have one…