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’.