Leonard Cohen on the Genesis of Bird On The Wire

I’ve told various stories about that, but I don’t even know what the truth is anymore. “Bird On The Wire”… let me see what I remember. I remember that I tried to revise “Bird On The Wire,” I remember driving down the west coast of America, down the coast in the rain, thinking, there is something wrong with the lyric, there is something wrong, it’s very close to being a good song, but there is something wrong with it. And I rewrote it many times, and there are different versions around that I sang, and I remember driving and I was trying to figure out what was wrong with it.

I don’t remember the stories I’ve told about it now, and I don’t even know if they were true, they may have had some germ of truth, but I don’t remember most of my stories anymore. I read them in interviews or in books, and they sound familiar, and I kind of appropriated them from my own, not really knowing if they ever happened that way, but it was at Hydra, and they had put these telephone wires up, or electric wires that hadn’t been there before. And one went right across the window that I used to sit at and work at, and you know, I had come there with some myth of having lost, abandoned, the modern world, I thought I was living a much more authentic life, and suddenly there was this symbol of modernity straight across my window. My window looked out at a beautiful lane where there was an almond three in full bloom, and suddenly there were these horizontal violations of my perfect window, and of course, you know, I was angry and disappointed, but I knew there was no point in entertaining these kinds of emotions because it was useful and we could have light and telephones And while I was staring and having these conflicted feelings about the destruction of the perfection of my view, a bird came, and probably the wire’s first bird, because I think it had just gone up over night. And the bird just perched on the wire, as if they had been strung there for that specific purpose. And I believe, if I’m going to believe the stories I have read, because I don’t know whether it’s true anymore, I believe that that was the genesis of the song “Bird on the Wire.” quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


Leonard Looks Back On The Past (unedited interview for Norwegian Radio) by Kari Hesthamar, Los Angeles, 2005. Accessed at LeonardCohenFiles