James Taylor: "Fire and Rain"

Released in February 1970, James Taylor’s first hit single, “Fire and Rain,” defined the craft of the singer/songwriter. Recorded for his second album, “Sweet Baby James,” the song became a Top Ten single.

There have been so many interpretations of the meaning of “Fire and Rain” that Snopes had to separate myth from fact. Over the years, Taylor contributed to the confusion by telling different versions of what the lyrics meant. Taylor finally set the record straight in an interview with NPR. The song’s four verses describe different phases in Taylor’s life.

The first verse was about the suicide of Taylor’s friend Suzanne Schnerr, whom he had met in New York in the mid-1960s. Taylor told NPR:
At the time I was recording in England with the Beatles and my friends had sort of kept the information about this death from me because they thought, this is a crucial time for him, he’s doing his work and we don’t want to upset him or bring him down. So my friend Richard Corey told me about it, but he had known about it for a month or so before he mentioned it to me. So that’s where the “They let me know you were gone” comes in.
The second verse describes Taylor’s battle to beat his heroin addiction; he pleads with Jesus: “You’ve just got to see me through another day.”

The third and fourth verses involve his battle with depression. Taylor was hospitalized in Manhattan and at Austen Riggs, a psychiatric facility in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Besides his drug addiction and depression, Taylor also had to cope with his professional failures as a musician. When Taylor sings of “sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground” in the fourth verse, he is talking about the destruction in his life, but he also cleverly refers to the Flying Machine, a failed musical group from his past.

Though the song covers years of his life, Taylor told NPR that “Fire and Rain” did not take long to compose. Once written, it had a cathartic effect on him.
It did come very, very fast. But it was a great relief. That song relieved a lot of tension...

That part was hard, having the feelings that needed to be expressed that way but it was actually a relief like a laugh, or a sigh.


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