The Truth Behind James Taylor's Fire And Rain

James Taylor is a bestselling singer and songwriter, a Grammy award winner, and a 2000 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, per He has sold over 100 million records, but there is one song of his that fans keep coming back to over and over. Taylor's hit "Fire and Rain" captures audiences with its sweet melody and beautiful chorus, but the song's melancholy lyrics have also led many people to wonder about the true meaning behind the verses.

"Fire and Rain" actually has multiple meanings, with each verse speaking to different struggles Taylor has faced in his life. The first verse of the song was written for a close friend, Suzanne Schnerr, who committed suicide while Taylor was working with the Beatles in London in 1968. Schnerr and Taylor previously worked together in the band The Flying Machine, per Story of Song. In order to avoid upsetting him and distracting him from his work, Taylor's friends kept the news from him for several weeks, until eventually, "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 `they let me know you were gone' comes in," Taylor told NPR.

(If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).)

Taylor referenced his struggle with drug addiction

The second verse is about Taylor's anxieties, particularly the discomfort he felt over his heroin addiction, upon arriving back in New York. In 1966, his Flying Machine bandmate, drummer Joel O'Brien, gave Taylor his first taste of heroin, which marked the beginning of the opiate addiction that he would struggle with for 18 years, according to Oprah's Master Class.

In early 1968, Taylor spent time in the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in what was then his second in-patient attempt to kick his drug addiction, per The New York Times. The third verse is a nod to Taylor's time there, but it's "not so much a specific one, it's just ... kind of [a] generally introspective kind of verse," he told NPR.

Despite the sad nature of the song, Taylor describes the experience of writing it as "a great relief," as he said to NPR. "That song relieved a lot of sort of tension ... There was things that I needed to get rid of or at least get out of me ... either by telling somebody else or by just putting them out in a form in front of me so that I could say, `There they are.'" The 1970 classic continues to connect with audiences, too. Although Taylor admits he does not like to listen to the song when he hears it come on the radio, he still enjoys performing it for fans, calling it a "communal process."