Bird on the Wire (1969) – Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen 1969

Bird on the Wire is a song by Leonard Cohen from his 1969 album Songs From a Room. It is one of my favourite early Cohen songs and one of his signature tracks. Leonard was living on an island called Hydra in Greece which didn’t have any electricity and then suddenly they erected these telephone poles and wires and Leonard found himself staring at these wires and thinking how the modern world had caught up with him and he wasn’t going to be able to escape after all. Soon birds came to wires and that’s what inspired him to write the song. He said, Bird on the Wire was begun in Greece and finished in a motel in Hollywood around 1969.

Marianne Ihlen (who became the subject of Leonard Cohen’s 1967 track ‘So Long Marianne’) lived with Leonard on Hydra and related how she helped him out of depression by handing him his guitar, whereupon he began composing “Bird on the Wire”.

It’s a beautifully written song which is profoundly honest and simple in its delivery, but strangely Leonard had problems recording it, because he felt it didn’t sound ‘honest’ enough. So 4 days before the the final recording session, he asked for everyone to leave the studio except for essential staff. He said “I just knew that at that moment something was about to take place.” Leonard has described the song as a ‘simple country song’.

References:
1. Song facts – Bird on the Wire
2. Bird on the Wire – wikipedia

Like a bird on the wire,
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.
Like a worm on a hook,
Like a knight from some old fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons for thee.
If I, if I have been unkind,
I hope that you can just let it go by.
If I, if I have been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you.

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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Posted in Music
11 comments on “Bird on the Wire (1969) – Leonard Cohen
  1. bwcarey says:

    a great human soul, he has opened the doors to Heaven with his words, amen

  2. badfinger20 says:

    This was one of my introductions to him song wise. Great song.

    • I think it was one of my first songs of his as well. Funny, the song just reminded me of Bukowski’s ‘8 count’ which begins with birds on a wire, but the message couldn’t be any different from Leonard’s. LOL

      8 Count.

      from my bed
      I watch
      3 birds
      on a telephone
      wire.

      one flies
      off.
      then
      another.

      one is left,
      then
      it too
      is gone.

      my typewriter is
      tombstone
      still.

      and I am
      reduced to bird
      watching.

      just thought I’d
      let you
      know,
      fucker.

  3. selizabryangmailcom says:

    I know I’ve heard this song before….but I can’t remember where or how long ago.
    It made me a little sad.

    I like the fact that his little paradise is changing and he feels like he has nowhere to go to have “peace” but instead of the entire song being about him feeling sorry for himself, he confesses his flaws and asks people’s forgiveness for them. Very touching.

    Omg, Matt! I’m a total Bukowski fan! Okay, well, I shouldn’t exaggerate. I never got into his poetry. Only ready the novels. But this poem above and the ending….ha ha ha. So completely his voice in just a few words.

  4. I love your breakdown of Bird on a Wire. Yes, it can feel quite melancholy. But that’s Leonard…hehe

    That’s fantastic to read you’re a Bukowski fan. I’ve read most of his novels and some of his poetry. I know he had a big influence on Tom Waits.

  5. selizabryangmailcom says:

    Yeah, if a Luddite is a compute wiz, that’s exactly what I am, ha ha ha!

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