American singer-songwriter and guitarist James Taylor, 8th July 1971. He is in London to perform at the Royal Festival Hall with Carole King. (Photo by Jack Kay/Daily Express/Getty Images)

Sweet Baby James…

Beloved folk singer from New England, James Taylor is considered one of America’s greatest songwriters. Popularly known for his song “Fire and Rain” as well as “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” there lies a heart-wrenching story behind Fire and Rain. Taylor is now an older man with a brilliant smile, and a head that lacks hair. Back in his so called “prime” which would be the 1970s, he rocks a mane of long black hair. Over the years, contrary to his head of hair, his vocals have not changed at all. As NPR stated, “Even in the saddest songs, it’s always had a kindly nature to it.” Although James hates to hear his songs on the radio and can’t stand to listen to them when they come on, he honors when he can sing it live for an audience. He guesses he’s sung it live well over a thousand times now and wishes he had an odometer that always read 999 anytime he would play it, that way the song would really hit home for every member of the audience.

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again

James’ Girlfriend Takes Her Life

Fire and Rain was initially wrote in 1968. Taylor was only 20 years old when he wrote the song, yet it hits upon three of the most defeating stories that played huge parts of Taylor’s life. The song starts with a verse dedicated to the loss of his beloved girlfriend at the time, Susanne. At the time of her death, Taylor was recording with The Beatles in England. Being such an important time in his musical career, her death was kept a secret for a month after it happened. This is where the line, “they let me know you were gone” comes from. Susanne was in a dark place, and it was decided by her parents that she be taken to a ward. She was secluded in an isolation cell and her conditions became worse than before her parents placed her there. Sadly, Susanne ending up taking her own life. Thus came the second line, “Susanne the plans they made put an end to you.”

Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone
Susanne the plans they made put an end to you
I walked out this morning and I wrote down this song
I just can’t remember who to send it to

Taylor’s Addiction To Heroin

The second verse hits upon Taylor’s addiction to heroin. “That was in New York, and that was when I came back to this country from London and was surprised that I’d picked up a habit. So I was physically very uncomfortable and having a rough time.” 

Won’t you look down upon me, jesus
You’ve got to help me make a stand
You’ve just got to see me through another day
My body’s aching and my time is at hand
And I won’t make it any other way

The Mental Hospital in Stockbridge, MA

Taylor had his first emotional breakdown at the age of 17 and wasted every last penny of his money when it happened. He recovered but later relapsed into a state of mental instability and brought himself back to a mental institution. The folk singer had taken himself twice to a mental institution. This song refers back to Austen Riggs Institution in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Taylor notes this verse to be more of an introspective nature than the rest of the song.

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
Well, there’s hours of time on the telephone line to talk about things
To come
Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground

James Taylor Performs Fire And Rain Live (1970)

 

Taylor has been asked by film companies to recreate the story of his life, but James politely refused their ideas saying he’s only trying to sing about the inexplicable death of a beloved friend of his. Despite how complex the song may seem, the writing process was very simple for Taylor, and he claims it was both creative and therapeutic. The song came quicker than he imagined, which was a beautiful thing in his eyes, as it released so much emotional tension for him. James strongly believes in externalizing your emotions in some way, whether through conversation, poetry, song, art, etc.

 

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Hollywood Kyle is the Digital Content Producer and Production Director of Mix 99.5 WJBR. Being a Delaware local, Kyle takes pride in his hometown and has had a love for music since a young age. Hollywood Kyle joins the Mix Morning Show for abstract thoughts and ideas during "Hollywood Kyle" segment around 9:40am Monday thru Friday.