Kris Kristofferson has actually penned some of the many memorable text in country androck music history, and also yet he has actually gone on document as saying he would choose theopening lines of a tune he didn’t write to be supplied as his epitaph. Together is the powerof Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on The Wire,” a song that ruminates top top theimpossibility of flexibility in a civilization rife v tethers.

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The motivation for “Bird on The Wire” come from Cohen’s time in the ’60sliving on the rustic Greek island of Hydra. When he an initial arrived there, the islanddidn’t even have electricity, yet Cohen quickly witnessed the construction oftelephone poles in this idyllic place. Therefore there in reality were birds on the cable to fireup the songwriter’s imagination, simply as there were “drunks in a midnight choir,”since the island was additionally known for bouts the late-night revelry.

Judy Collins actually videotaped the tune in 1968 before Cohen’s very own versiona year later on his 2nd LP,Songs from A Room. On the album, Bob Johnston, who was recognized for his occupational on Bob Dylan’s landmark mid-60s albums, cameaboard to produce, and also the strings he used to “Bird on The Wire” coat Cohen’stale in simply the best amount that tenderness and also light.

Cohen’s music has constantly been catnip because that artists in search of cover material,and “Bird ~ above The Wire” has actually proved particularly fertile ground, perhaps due to the fact that it’sone the the Canadian bard’s many elastic melodies. In enhancement to Collins’ beforehand take,there have been great performances that the tune by countless notable artists,including Fairport Convention, Joe Cocker, The Neville Brothers, Tim Hardin, andK.D. Lang, amongst many, many others. Even Johnny Cash sang a brooding versionthat lugged the song’s darker aspects to the forefront.

Yet no one of these interpreters locates the song’s main point quite too asLeonard himself, especially in that initial studio version. In the verses, hestaggers v the slow-moving tempo like one of those tipsy singers he mentions. That inthe middle sections, once that famously deep voice follow me to its humble limits,that the vulnerability and also genuineness that the song’s protagonist emerges.

Not that this guy is there is no his faults. These space made level by his admissionthat “Like a beast v his horn / I have torn anyone who got to out for me.”Those disastrous flaws room redeemed somewhat by his intentions to perform better:“But i swear by this song / and also by all the I have done dorn / I will certainly make it all upto thee.”

The use of the archaic “thee” and references to knights and ribbons suggestsa gallantry and also charm that most likely wins this male admiration even for all the damagethat he is done. His inner struggle is do clear later in the song by the comparison ofthe beggar accusing the of greed and the pretty woman accusing that of reticence.


As is the instance with countless Cohen compositions, “Bird ~ above The Wire” is neverquite a finished product. When he performs that live, Leonard regularly toys v thelyrics to bring heretofore hidden nuance to the surface. Because that example, the originalversion has the lyrics “If I, if I have actually been incorrect / ns hope you understand it was never to you,” arguing that the character’s treason may have actually been first andforemost to his own ideals, v all those around him merely suffering collateraldamage.

In concert, Cohen alters things approximately a bit: “If I have actually been not correct / It’sjust the I thought a lover had actually to be some kind of liar too.” the variation place theblame top top the character’s ignorance much more than noþeles else.

The currently that never ever change, the exact same ones the enraptured Kristofferson andso numerous others, space the ones the bookend the song: “Like a bird on the wire / Likea drunk in a midnight choir / I have actually tried in my way to it is in free.” In take care of Rasky’s1979 bookThe song of Leonard Cohen — Portrait that a Poet, a Friendship, and aFilm, Cohen talked around the line worrying his character’s search for freedom.

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“It’s as explicit as you have the right to get,” Cohen said. “It mitigates a kind of arroganthuman statement, which is ‘I’ve do the efforts to it is in free’ – fine everybody tries to it is in free.‘In my way’ rather modifies and also softens the idea, and likewise includes thepossibility the failure. Due to the fact that you say, girlfriend know, follow to my very own light andin my means I’ve tried, and also I’ve messed it up like everybody else, yet that was theeffort.”

Leonard Cohen created in the liner note to a 2007 re-release ofSongs FromA Roomthat the tune was “simultaneously a prayer and also an anthem, a kind ofbohemian ‘My Way.’” The to compare to that Frank Sinatra standard falters a bit,however, ~ above closer inspection. After all, “My Way” is around a man who simplywills self to triumph. By contrast, “Bird on The Wire” admits that the humanspirit’s struggle against inherent frailties and also external pressures regularly results infutility. It is all ideal though, because, together Cohen therefore movingly observed, it’s the effort that counts.