Clapton wrote this about his four-year-old son Conor, who died on March 20, 1991 when he fell out of a 53rd floor window in the apartment where his mother was staying in New York City. Clapton had one other child at the time: His daughter Ruth was born in 1987, the year after Conor was born.
Clapton wrote this with Will Jennings, who has written many famous songs from movies, including "Up Where We Belong" from An Officer And A Gentleman
and "My Heart Will Go On
" from Titanic
. Jennings wrote the lyrics to many of Steve Winwood's hits and has also written with B.B. King, Roy Orbison, The Crusaders, Peter Wolf and many others.
He told Songfacts: "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 do to 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 wasn't sure he wanted this song to be released at all, but the director of Rush, Lili Zanuck, convinced him to use it in the film. "Her argument was that it might in some way help somebody, and that got my vote," Clapton said.
The song plays near the end of the film, which is about a narcotics agent who becomes an addict.
Clapton knew of Will Jennings from his work with Steve Winwood. Says Jennings: "Eric and Steve go back, they made that one record together years ago (with Blind Faith), and Eric followed all our writing from Arc Of A Diver, because he always kept up with Steve. We wrote an album called Talking Back To The Night that Steve and I did, and then the third album we wrote was the Back In The High Life album. So Eric knew about that, and he knew about the Crusaders things and the B.B. King things. He had said he always wanted to get together and write, so he called me for the film. Russ Titelman, who had produced the Back In The High Life album, was involved in the film, and that was the other connection."
Jennings revised the lyrics as Clapton and his band worked on it in the studio. They had no idea it would be a huge hit. Says Jennings, "It was furthest through from my mind, really. I was so involved in the sensitivity of the subject, and I didn't even think about that. I'm passionate about all the songs I write, but it was just in another place entirely, another category." (Check out the full interview with Will Jennings
Conor's mother is actress Lory Del Santo. She and Clapton began dating while he was going through a divorce with his wife Pattie.
After Conor's death, Clapton appeared in Public Service Announcements urging parents to put up gates to keep their children away from danger.
This won Grammys in 1993 for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Male Pop Vocal. Clapton was nominated for nine Grammys that year and won six.
Clapton played an acoustic version on his 1992 MTV Unplugged
special. The performance was made into a very successful album, featuring acoustic versions of "Layla
" and "Before You Accuse Me." The acoustic version was used a the B-side of the acoustic "Layla" single in 1992.
Clapton's 1986 album August is named for the month Conor was born.
In March 2004, Eric stopped playing this and "My Father's Eyes" in concert. While touring Japan in November and December 2003, he discovered he could no longer perform them. Said Clapton: "I didn't feel the loss anymore, which is so much a part of performing those songs. I really have to connect with he 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."
harvey - jackson, MI
Clapton wrote about this song in his 2007 autobiography: "The most powerful of the new songs was 'Tears in Heaven.' Musically, I had always been haunted by Jimmy Cliff's song 'Many Rivers to Cross' and wanted to borrow from that chord progression, but essentially I wrote this one to ask the question I had been asking myself ever since my grandfather had died. Will we really meet again? It's difficult to talk about these songs in depth, that's why they're songs. Their birth and development is what kept me alive through the darkest period of my life. When I try to take myself back to that time, to recall the terrible numbness that I lived in, I recoil in fear. I never want to go through anything like that again. Originally, these songs were never meant for publication or public consumption; they were just what I did to stop from going mad. I played them to myself, over and over, constantly changing or refining them, until they were part of my being."
In America, this is the highest-charting song Clapton ever wrote. He reached #1 with "I Shot The Sheriff
," but that was a cover of a Bob Marley song.
Maren Morris, Eric Church and the Brothers Osborne performed this at the Grammy Awards in 2018 in honor of the victims of both the Manchester bombing, which took place after an Ariana Grande concert, and the Las Vegas shooting, which happened while Jason Aldean was on stage at the Harvest music festival. Names of the victims appeared in displays behind the singers.