Bird on a Wire

Leonard Cohen:  Bird on a Wire

Quiz by Sharon Michiko Yoneda

Leonard Cohen with then partner, Marianne, on Hydra Island, Greece

 "Like a bird on a wire."

"Like a drunk in a midnight choir."

 "like a worm on a hook"

 "like a knight in some old-fashioned book

"I have saved all my ribbons for thee."

"Like a beast with his horn."

"I saw a beggar on his wooden crutch."

Hydra Island in Greece is where Leonard Cohen wrote "Bird on a Wire"

artist:  Leonard Cohen

songwriter:  Leonard Cohen

date released:  1969 by Leonard Cohen

"Bird on a Wire" has become anthemic for Cohen in his career.  The genesis of Bird was in Greece, on the island of Hydra where Cohen lived with his girlfriend Marianne.  

When he first arrived on the island, it was an idyllic existence without wires of electricity or telephones.  Soon the wires arrived and civilization caught up with Cohen.  Next came a bird which perched on the wire and sent Cohen into a tailspin of depression.  Sensing his mood, Marianne handed Cohen his guitar and Bird was born.

As a metaphor for his life, the birds were his fellow artists and friends who arrived on Hydra to fete Cohen.  Endless nights were spent stumbling up the stairs from the port of Hydra, drunk and singing, to his little cottage.  

Singer-songwriter, musician, poet, and novelist Leonard Cohen was born in Montreal, Quebec, in 1934.  His grandparents emigrated from Europe; his grandfather came from Poland and his grandmother, from Lithuania.  Cohen's father owned a clothing store in Montreal. As a teenager, Cohen learned to play the guitar and experimented with his voice as an instrument in reading his poetry.

In 1951, Cohen enrolled at McGill University majoring in Literature and specializing in poetry and fiction.  Yeats, Whitman, Frederico Garcia Lorca and Henry Miller were his early influences.

His first successful song as a songwriter was "Suzanne" which became a hit for American singer, Judy Collins in 1967.  In spite of his early success, international recognition eluded him; his recordings sold mostly in Canada and Europe.

"Bird on a Wire" followed a year after the success of "Suzanne".  Apparent within are Cohen's dualistic views of sin and forgiveness. Some literary scholars have explored the theme of "bird on a wire" as a metaphor for Jesus on the cross.   

In 1994, Cohen retreated from public life and entered a Buddhist monastery at Mount Baldy Zen Centre near Los Angeles.  In 1996, Cohen was ordained as a Buddhist monk.

In 2001, following his five-year seclusion at the monastery, Cohen returned to the music world and began to tour again around the world at the grand age of sixty-seven years old.  Leonard Cohen became the quintessential Renaissance man; his music soared to the top of the charts again.

In his lifetime, Leonard Cohen has received many prestigious awards and honours.  In 1968, he received a Governor-General's Award for his poetry which he refused.  In 1991, he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.  1993 saw Cohen receiving his first Juno Award for Male Vocalist of the Year.  Canada's highest civilian honour, Companion of the Order of Canada was bestowed upon Leonard Cohen.