Leonard Cohen on “Famous Blue Raincoat” & “Bird On The Wire” as unfinished songs & why he released them anyway

Interviewer: What about “Famous Blue Raincoat?”

That was written on Clinton Street. I never felt I really sealed that song; I never felt the carpentry was finished. That song and ‘Bird on the Wire’ were two songs I never successfully finished, but they were good enough to be used. Also, with the poverty of songs I have for each record, I can’t afford to discard one as good as that. It’s one of the better tunes I’ve written, but lyrically it’s too mysterious, too unclear.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


Note: View photos of Leonard Cohen’s Clinton Street digs and surroundings at “New York is cold, but I like where I’m living” The View From Leonard Cohen’s 1960s NYC Apartment

Sincerely, L. Cohen by Brian Cullman (Details for Men, January, 1993). Originally posted Oct 10, 2014 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen explains: “Songs are… hospitable to different interpretations”

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I like austerity. I like it as a style. It’s the opposite of abundance. ‘Bird on the Wire’ is quite an affirmative song. It has an anthem-like sound to it sometimes. I’ve found that songs are quite hospitable to different interpretations. When you’re on the road for a long period of time, you tend to sings songs in different ways. You can bring a certain kind of nobility to a depressed lyric, or you can deliver a very affirmative statement like a lamentation. I’ve found there’s a certain emptiness to my songs that allows for a lot of interpretations.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen


From Conversations from a Room by Tom Chaffin. Canadian Forum: August/September 1983. Photo by Armando Fusco. Originally posted July 28, 2012 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

Leonard Cohen talks about the opening verse of “Bird On The Wire”

Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free

It’s as explicit as you can get. It mitigates a kind of arrogant human statement, which is ‘I’ve tried to be free’ – well everybody tries to be free. ‘In my way’ somewhat modifies and softens the idea, and also includes the possibility of failure. Because you say, you know, according to my own light and in my way I’ve tried, and I’ve messed it up like everybody else, but that was the effort.quotedown2

Leonard Cohen

From Harry Rasky’s 1979 book The Song of Leonard Cohen — Portrait of a Poet, a Friendship, and a Film, quoted in Behind The Song: Leonard Cohen, “Bird On A Wire” by Jim Beviglia. American Songwriter: July 25th, 2013. The complete, insightful article is available at the link.

Note: Originally posted July 25, 2013 at DrHGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric

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