I heard that friends of James Taylor in college flew his girlfriend in as a surprise, but her plane crashed–which is what “Fire and Rain” is based on. Any truth to that story?
Only a little. “Fire and Rain” was inspired by the death of a female friend, Susie Schnerr–but Taylor never went to college, Schnerr wasn’t a romantic interest, and tragically, Schnerr committed suicide. Taylor’s friends didn’t tell him she had died until six months later, because they didn’t want to rattle him while he was recording Sweet Baby James–hence the song’s line “They let me know you were gone.” Taylor wrote the first verse of “Fire and Rain” in his basement apartment in London, the second verse in a New York City hospital where he was hospitalized because of his heroin addiction, and the third verse in a Massachusetts psychiatric clinic.
(Excerpted from the 2006 book Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?: Music’s Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed, published by Three Rivers Press, written by Gavin Edwards.)