And Joni was convinced that “Bird on the Wire” was inspired by a painting she showed Cohen, an eccentric statement about not fitting in with her husband’s family. She thought Cohen would appreciate it.
I had this painting I did for the Mitchells. I was such a misfit in that family, and I did painting, which I showed to Leonard. In this painting, there are these sparrows sitting on a wire. It’s got a hot-pink background, and there are sparrows with peacock tails. There are all these fictitious birds. And there was one for each Mitchell, and one of them was hanging upside down. Guess who? I think that had some input on ‘Bird on the Wire.’ I showed it to Leonard. It was something I did on a Sunday about how I how I didn’t fit in. They were the first Yuppies that I met. They were pedigreed consumers. They all had the same education. They were brand-name people. A suit had to be Brooks Brothers. No, you don’t drink Canada Dry, you drink Vernors. Ice cream has to be Häagen-Dazs. Cars have to be a Chevy Corvair. Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and Danish modern furniture.They were so materialistic in such an unfamiliar way to me, and I didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about.
From Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe. Sarah Crichton Books (October 17, 2017).