Who Was ‘Suzanne’ in James Taylor’s ‘Fire and Rain’?
Today, we delve into the complicated background of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” specifically who “Suzanne” is in the song.
This is “What It’s All About,” a new feature that explains what certain notable songs were written about, provided that the song wasn’t written about a famous person (in which case that’d be a Meta-Message).
Few hit songs have confused people quite as much as James Taylor’s hit song, “Fire and Rain,” because Taylor actually wrote the song over a relatively long period of time, where he would pick the song up and put it back down before returning to it again. As a result, the song is a mish-mash of things that Taylor was dealing with during his first year as a professionally signed musician (being the first artist to be signed to the Beatles’ Apple Records).
The line “Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you” was therefore a reference to Taylor’s friend, Suzanne Schnerr, who died by suicide while Taylor was in England recording his first album. Taylor went six months after her passing before learning that she had died, because his family and friends decided he needed to concentrate on recording his album and didn’t want to distract him with the bad news. That’s rough, right? And so naturally, while it didn’t affect a song on his first album, it naturally had an impact on his SECOND album when he found out about it.
Secondly, the song deals with Taylor’s drug addiction and depression at the time, which led to him being hospitalized (again, this was over a course of a number of months, hence it being so split up that way).
Finally, the song deals with Taylor’s frustration and fascination with the fact that he was getting famous (while, of course, not yet actually making any money, in part because he was hospitalized when he first album came out, so he couldn’t promote it properly), something that he had attempted with a previous band, The Flying Machine, but never quite panned out. Hence, “Sweet dreams and Flying Machines in pieces on the ground.”
So the flying machines in pieces on the ground line, couple with Suzanne appearing to be dead, has long led people to believe that Taylor was writing about a woman who died in a plane crash, but that, of course, was not the case.
Okay, folks, I’m sure you have songs where you’re curious as to who they were written about, so drop me a line at my all-new, all-shorter e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll see what I can find out!
1 thought on “Who Was ‘Suzanne’ in James Taylor’s ‘Fire and Rain’?”
I had heard and believed the myth about the plane crash origin. When James Taylor guessed starred on The Simpsons, he played “Fire and Rain” to comfort Homer, Buzz Aldrin, and another astronaut who were stuck in a space shuttle that was in danger. When the show featured a bit about the “flying machines in pieces on the ground” lyrics, I was amazed Taylor could join in with what I thought was a joke about his old girlfriend’s death by plane crash. Years later, when I read about the true origin of the phrase, it made a lot more sense.