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Bird On The Wire

by

Leonard Cohen



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Speaking of this song in a 1993 interview with Song Talk, Cohen explained: "It was begun in Greece because there were no wires on the island where I was living to a certain moment. There were no telephone wires. There were no telephones. There was no electricity. So at a certain point they put in these telephone poles, and you wouldn't notice them now, but when they first went up, it was about all I did – stare out the window at these telephone wires and think how civilization had caught up with me and I wasn't going to be able to escape after all. I wasn't going to be able to live this 11th-century life that I thought I had found for myself. So that was the beginning.

Then, of course, I noticed that birds came to the wires and that was how that song began. 'Like a drunk in a midnight choir,' that's also set on the island. Where drinkers, me included, would come up the stairs. There was great tolerance among the people for that because it could be in the middle of the night. You'd see three guys with their arms around each other, stumbling up the stairs and singing these impeccable thirds. So that image came from the island: 'Like a drunk in a midnight choir.'"
Ron Cornelius ran Cohen's band for four years. Here's what he told us about this song:
"Bird On The Wire is a classic in my book. Leonard has a home on an island in Greece called Hydra, and from his living room, there's an electric wire you can see, and that's where he got the idea. He just happened to mention that one night because me and a friend that was a road manager for him all over the world, Bill Donovan, we went and stayed a couple of weeks there but Leonard just went there to open the house up and then he split for Montreal and we stayed there by ourselves, he said, 'see that wire, that's the wire right there.' When I was their there still was not a gasoline engine on the island anywhere."
In 1990, the title was used for a movie starring Mel Gibson and Goldie Hawn - well, sort of; the song and movie were changed to "Bird On A Wire," which is how many people who cover the song do it, including The Neville Brothers, who sang the version used in the movie.
Joe Cocker, Willie Nelson, Joe Bonamassa, Tim Hardin and Johnny Cash have all recorded versions of this song.
Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen Artistfacts
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Comments (7):

A local musician recorded this song along with some other covers and originals. We became acquainted,and got to do some open mike and retiement home playing. The song became a favorite of mine--somehow the lyrics kind of stuck in my head. As I got to know my new friend better, it became apparent to me that it's really all about being misunderstood and asking those who may have been put off by your behavior to be patient with you and not just write you off.
- Tony, Eugene, OR
You know, i have always liked this song, but I never knew why. Now, I understand the lyrics. Wow.
- Jeff, Casa Grande, AZ
The line, "Like a bird on the wire,Like a drunk in a midnight choir I have tried in my way to be free."Is to be Kris Kristoferson's epitaph.
- Matt, kansas city, KS
This song was also recorded by Esther Ofarim, he was a favorite composer of his, and she sang many of his songs. You can hear many versions of her singing this song on YouTube.
- Betsy, Belle Vernon, PA
"Bird On The Wire" is about the desires of a person to be free from being influenced by what others might say. But we can't be truly free as we are bound to claim "personal accountability" for our actions and decisions.
- senorita, canada, Canada
ONE OF THE BEST COVERS WAS RECORDED BY JENNIFER WARNES
- rob, bath, United States
THERE WAS A TV FILM ENTITLED FIRST WE TAKE MANHATTON. IT FOLLOWS LEONARD TO HYDRA AND HE EXPLAINS THE ORIGINS OF THE SONG. THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR WAS HIS LITTLE GROUP STUMBLIN BACK FROM THE BARS AND TAVERNAS LATE AT NIGHT. HE STILL OWNS THE HOUSE THERE AND I REMEMBER HIM EXPLAINING ALL THIS TO HIS BACK UP SINGER JULIE CHRISTIANSEN AS THEY LOOKED OUT THE WINDOW AT THE SINGLE ELECTRICITY WIRE.
- rob, bath, United States
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