“Tears in Heaven” is a song by Eric Clapton and Will Jennings, from the 1991 Rush film soundtrack. In an interview with Sue Lawley in 1992, Clapton said of the song, “There is a song that I’ve written for a movie, but in actual fact it was in the back of my head but it didn’t really have a reason for being until I was scoring this movie which I did a little while ago and then it sort of had a reason to be. And it is a little ambiguous because it could be taken to be about Conor but it also is meant to be part of the film.” Conor, Clapton’s four-year-old son, fell from a window of a 53rd-floor New York apartment owned by his mother’s friend on March 20, 1991. Clapton arrived at the apartment shortly after the accident.
The song was Clapton’s best-selling single in the United States and reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100. It won three Grammy Awards for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked “Tears in Heaven” 362nd on the magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”.
The years following 1990 were extremely turbulent for Clapton. In August 1990, his manager, two of his roadies and his friend and fellow musician Stevie Ray Vaughan were killed in a helicopter accident. Seven months later, on March 20, 1991, Clapton’s 4-year-old son Conor died after falling from the 53rd-floor window of his mother’s friend’s New York City apartment. He landed on the roof of an adjacent four-story building. After isolating himself for a period, Clapton began working again, writing music for a movie about drug addiction called Rush. Clapton dealt with the grief of his son’s death by co-writing “Tears in Heaven” with Will Jennings. Shortly after his single was released, he went on to the MTV Unplugged series and recorded a new version of the song. Unplugged topped charts and was nominated for nine Grammy Awards the year it was released. Clapton made numerous public service announcements to raise awareness for childproofing windows and staircases.
In an interview with Daphne Barak, Clapton stated, “I almost subconsciously used music for myself as a healing agent, and lo and behold, it worked… I have got a great deal of happiness and a great deal of healing from music”.
In an interview, Will Jennings said:
“Eric and I were engaged to write a song for a movie called Rush. We wrote a song called ‘Help Me Up’ for the end of the movie… then Eric saw another place in the movie for a song and he said to me, ‘I want to write a song about my boy.’ Eric had the first verse of the song written, which, to me, is all the song, but he wanted me to write the rest of the verse lines and the release (‘Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees…’), even though I told him that it was so personal he should write everything himself. He told me that he had admired the work I did with Steve Winwood and finally there was nothing else but to do as he requested, despite the sensitivity of the subject. This is a song so personal and so sad that it is unique in my experience of writing songs.”
Clapton stopped playing it in 2004, as well as the song “My Father’s Eyes”, stating: “I didn’t feel the loss anymore, which is so much a part of performing those songs. I really have to connect with the feelings that were there when I wrote them. They’re kind of gone and I really don’t want them to come back, particularly. My life is different now. They probably just need a rest and maybe I’ll introduce them for a much more detached point of view.” Clapton eventually resurrected both songs for his 50th anniversary world tour in 2013.
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