“Been walking my mind to an easy time,
my back turned towards the sun.
Lord knows when the cold wind blows,
it’ll turn your head around.”
Fire and Rain appeared on James Taylor’s album, Sweet Baby Jane, where it quickly rose to number three on the Billboard Hot 100 Charts. It was also near immediately covered by another artist that same year, Anne Murray, on her album, Honey, Wheat and Laughter.
The melancholic song has been described as having differing meanings and origins. James told the BBC in an interview that the song was about his own experiences in a mental institution, when he was a senior in high school, and about the suicide of a close friend. Years later, during a Story Tellers special on VH-1, James said the song was actually about several incidents during his early recording career. The second line of the song, “Suzanne the plans they made put an end to you,” refers to Suzanne Schnerr, a childhood friend of his who committed suicide while he was away recording his first album. He went on to explain that during that time he himself had fallen into a crippling depression over the failure of his album entitled The Flying Machine, which he credits the line “sweet dreams and Flying Machines in pieces on the ground” to. As he was wondering what to do with himself, Schnerr’s death drove him to see beyond his own worries and realize the transience of life and his need to get back to his old friends.
In other interviews and accounts, James has stated that the song is about his struggle with drug addiction.
In a 2005 interview, James was stated to credit Suzanne’s suicide, his drug and depression issues, and his own struggle to come to grips with fame and fortune, looking back at the road that got him there. It includes a reference to James Taylor and The Flying Machine, a band he briefly worked with before his big break with Paul McCartney, Peter Asher, and Apple Records.
For me, this song will always remind me of one of my dearest and best friends, and our lives, both together and as individuals. Growing up together we shared many things, both the trivial day-to-day, and the bigger things that leave scars and marks on your soul. We have held each other’s hands through deaths, births, weddings, divorces, falling in-and-out of love, surviving abuse, single motherhood, and the rough and tumble ways we grew up. For most of the thirty-something years we have been friends we have spoken to each other every day, and when that was impossible, we wrote letters to each other. This song, among an arsenal of others, has always held special meaning and significance to us. There is something within the song about surviving, about friendship, about devotion, and about living through everything and anything that feels like the stuff our friendship is made out of – something strong and beautiful, fragile and persistent, and forever.
Fire and Rain (live, 1970) :: James Taylor