This article is from the James Taylor FAQ, by Joel Risberg (email@example.com) with numerous contributions by others.
From William Palmer (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Something I heard about this line goes like this: JT had a girlfriend
that he was really focusing on. Some friends decided that she was a
bad influence on him, and convinced her to go away for awhile. They
bought her a plane ticket, she got on the plane, and en route, it crashed
and she was killed in the accident. She was the 'sweet dream', and the
plane was the 'flying machine'.
From Jonathan Abramowitz (email@example.com):
The real story behind "Fire and Rain", as I understand it, is that some
friends of James' were going to surprise james by bringing his
girlfriend, Suzanne, to one of his concerts- unbeknownst to James.
According to the story, Suzanne's plane crashed ("sweet dreams and
flying machines in pieces on the ground") on her way to see the concert
and Suzanne dies (Suzanne the plans they made put an end to you").
From Carrie Schwanke (firstname.lastname@example.org):
"Fire and Rain" was written about a friend of JT's, Suzanne. They met
when they were in Austin Riggs for heroin addition. They became very
close *friends*. After JT was released, they spoke on the phone alot,
helping each other out ("hours of time on the telephone line"). Suzanne
was supposed to be released, but committed suicide very close to her
The line "Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground" refers
to JT's past--and the breakup of his first band (Flying Machine).
From Ellen M. Roberts (email@example.com):
Actually, the song is sort of a mini-trilogy dealing with three
bad times in his life.
Verse I -- in 1968 -- making his first record. A friend of his
died -- her name was Suzanne and he got to know her when she was
at Austin Riggs with him. She had some surgery and didn't come
through it. (Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you).
He also refers to her in the refrain: I've seen lonely times
when I could not find a friend, but I always thought that I'd
see you again. At the time of Suzanne's death, his friends didn't
tell him because they felt he was too strung out to handle the
Verse II -- refers to the NYC drug scene
Verse III - refers to leaving NY to escape heroin.
The flying machines in pieces on the ground refers to his original
group breaking up after being together only a bit more than one
From Ken Kwartler (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Quoting Flying Machine drummer Joel Bishop:
James wrote it after the album was pretty well done. There was this
friend of my brother's - we both really liked her, and she had killed
herself six months before. No one had told James - they were afraid I
guess. One night late we got drunk, and I told him because I'd wanted to.
In a week and a half, he had that song written.
Quoting JT in a 2/18/71 Rolling Stone article:
The first verse was a reaction to a friend of mine killing herself. . . The
second verse of it is about my kicking junk just before I left England.
And the third verse is about my going into a hospital in Western
Massachusetts. It's just a hard-time song, a blues without having the