Tag Archives: Bird On A Wire

Tim Hardin’s “Bird On A Wire” Is On Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox


Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox

Biggest Influence on My Music – The jukebox. I lived beside jukeboxes all through the fifties. … I never knew who was singing. I never followed things that way. I still don’t. I wasn’t a student of music; I was a student of the restaurant I was in — and the waitresses. The music was a part of it. I knew what number the song was.

- Leonard Cohen (Yakety Yak by Scott Cohen, 1994)

Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox: Over the years, Leonard Cohen has mentioned a number of specific songs he favors. Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox is a Heck Of A Guy feature that began collecting these tunes for the edification and entertainment of viewers on April 4, 2009. All posts in the Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox series can be found at the Leonard Cohen’s Jukebox Page.


Tim Hardin – Taken in Eugene’s WOW Hall shortly before his death

Gzowski[The recording of Bird On A Wire to be played next] isn’t the best version and neither is yours.

Leonard Cohen: That’s right

Gzowski: Whose is?

Leonard CohenTim Hardin’s is pretty good. … Tim Hardin did a very beautiful version of it. … Shortly before he died, he did that

Gzowski: … He used to be one of my favorites … He was drugged up all the time

Leonard Cohen: Yeah, I met him shortly before he died. He was all bloated up and swollen. I did get a chance to tell him how much I loved his songs.

- From the Nov 18, 1992 CBC Radio Morningside interview with Peter Gzowski

The Tim Hardin Photo

The photo of Tim Hardin was taken by Joel Davis aka BuckarooBob on on Flickr, who writes

It was the WOW (Workers of the World) hall in the Eugene, a town both Tim Hardin and I considered home. From the stage, he joked about the photographer in the pit and some of the social purists in the crowd began to boo my presence…apparently feeling that photography would infringe upon their enjoyment of the music. “Why would you booo the photographer?” Hardin asked, “he’s just working hard, doing his job.” I’d liked him before, I loved him now. Yeh. Yeh, boo birds.

So it was with sadness that I learned he died shortly after that show, in Los Angeles, California of a heroin and morphine overdose. Hardin’s songs are classics, “If I were a Carpenter”, “Reason to Believe”, “Red Balloon”, “Black Sheep Boy”, many gaining their greatest success when covered by other artists. Ironically, Hardin’s biggest hit may have been his own cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire.”

From Joel’s description and Leonard Cohen’s account of meeting Hardin, it seems that the two events took place with the same time period shortly before Tim Hardin’s death and that this photo of Hardin is a close approximation of his appearance when he and Cohen met.

Tim Hardin – Bird On A Wire

Leonard Cohen – Like A Crow On The Wire

A Brief Foray Into The Ornithology Of Leonard Cohen

Above him on the electric wires perched the first crows of the year, arranged between the poles like abacus beads.
– From Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen

Like a bird on the wire,
– From Bird On The Wire by Leonard Cohen

Happening onto the line from Beautiful Losers shown above, I reflexively called to mind the opening of A Bird On The Wire.

Now, observing warm-blooded egg-laying vertebrates characterized by feathers and forelimbs modified as wings1 roosting on above-ground power and communication transmission hardly qualifies as unusual or otherwise noteworthy these days. Spotting birds lighting on an early set of telephone wires on Hydra in the 1960s, however, was sufficient inspiration for Leonard Cohen’s Bird On The Wire.

Bird on the Wire began in Greece, when Cohen first arrived in Hydra, there were no wires on the island, no telephones and no regular electricity. But soon telephone poles appeared, and then the wires. I would 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 eleventh-century life that I had thought I had found for myself. So that was the beginning.Then he noticed that the birds came to the wires. The next line referred to the many evenings Cohen and friends climbed the endless stairs up from the port of Hydra, drunk and singing. Often you see: three guys with the arms around each other , stumbling up the stairs and singing these impeccable thirds. He finished the song in a Hollywood motel on Sunset Boulevard in 1969.2

Given Cohen’s penchant for efficacious stewarding of images and phrases, it seems possible he may have used the same event as the basis for the line of prose from Beautiful Losers and the more celebrated opening of Like A Bird On The Wire.

This is, as the following timeline of pertinent dates demonstrates, at least a chronological possibility:

  • September 27, 1960:  Leonard Cohen purchases  house in Hydra
  • May 1968: Version of Bird On A Wire, entitled Like a Bird and added to the 2007 remastered CD,  produced by David Crosby, recorded
  • September 26, 1968: Version of Bird On A Wire used in Songs From A Room recorded in Nashville
  • April 1969: Songs From A Room album released

OK, Leonard Cohen could have viewed lots of birds on lots of wires on Hydra over that nine year span and  come upon multitudes more examples of this phenomenon in Montreal and other locations before penning the text of Beautiful Losers.

And, yes, it’s difficult to construct a literary hypothesis that would ascribe any significance to whether the same scene or different events served as the origins of  those lines from Beautiful Losers and Bird On A Wire.

So, why write a post about the issue?

The Little Bird by Leonard Cohen

Well, because (1) it’s the kind of speculation in which ex-English majors indulge – and it follows that if an ex-English major who blogs about Leonard Cohen expends every minute of his blogging time indulging in this speculation, the need to post eventually supersedes the need for significance, and  (2) it provides a segue into a selective overview3  of  Cohen’s use of bird imagery in his songs.

While far from a comprehensive listing of avian references in Leonard Cohen’s songs (and omitting any such allusions in his poetry, novels, or art), the following instances suggest Cohen may preferentially choose tropes involving birds to arouse emotional intensity and evoke poignancy.  And that notion, if it holds up to a more comprehensive analysis, is significant.

From Anthem:

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.

From Story of Isaac:

Thought I saw an eagle
but it might have been a vulture,
I never could decide.

From Chelsea Hotel:

I don’t mean to suggest that I loved you the best,
I can’t keep track of each fallen robin.
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel,
that’s all, I don’t even think of you that often.

From The Great Event:

What a sigh of relief, as
the senile robins become bright red again,
and the retired nightingales, pick up their
dusty tails, and assert the majesty of creation!

From Nightingale:

Fare thee well my nightingale
‘Twas long ago I found you
Now all your songs of beauty fail
The forest closes ‘round you

From The Traitor:

But the Rose I sickened with a scarlet fever
and the Swan I tempted with a sense of shame
She said at last I was her finest lover
and if she withered I would be to blame

From Anthem:

Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

From Take This Waltz:

Now in Vienna there’s ten pretty women
There’s a shoulder where Death comes to cry
There’s a lobby with nine hundred windows
There’s a tree where the doves go to die

From Dance Me To The End Of Love:

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

From Hallelujah:

Yeah but I remember, yeah when I moved in you,
And the holy dove, she was moving too,
Yes every single breath that we drew was Hallelujah.

From The Gypsy’s Wife:

Too early for the rainbow, too early for the dove
These are the final days, this is the darkness, this is the flood
And there is no man or woman who can’t be touched
But you who come between them will be judged

  1. WordWeb []
  2. LeonardCohenFiles, which itself credits Various Positions by Ira B. Nadel []
  3. “Selective overview” is, in this case, defined as those examples that I could remember before the posting deadline. []

It’s Leonard Cohen & Udo Jürgens, But Who’s The Girl?

The Case So Far

In Leonard Cohen In Two Bird On A Wire Trailers,  a post  published here two days ago, I pointed out

Indeed, in the space of two brief trailers, Leonard Cohen sings portions of “Avalanche” “Bird On A Wire,” and “Suzanne,” leads his musicians and guests in a backstage chorus of “Do Lord” while serving them sandwiches, chats up Jennifer Warnes on an airplane (Cohen takes the window seat, which is still apparently his preference), swims laps, and hits on a woman accompanied by another fellow. [Emphasis added for purposes of today’s post.]

The video below automatically begins at the pertinent point.

Leonard Cohen Bird On A Wire Trailer

Then, in yesterday’s post, Leonard Cohen Comes On To Udo Jürgens’ Girl In Front Of The Camera, the “another fellow” was identified as Udo Jürgens, an Austrian singer-songwriter (more information about Udo Jürgens is available at that link).

Who Is That Girl?

The identity of the woman in the scene, however, was a mystery. I did indicate, in Leonard Cohen Comes On To Udo Jürgens’ Girl In Front Of The Camera, why it appeared that neither of  the wives of Udo Jürgens seemed likely candidates.

Now, however, another Heck Of A Guy reader has stepped up.

Bea writes:

The girl with Udo Jürgens and Leonard should be Doris Kunstmann, a German actress, unless I am very much mistaken!

Bea also included a link to further information about and photos of Doris Kunstmann:  http://www.steffi-line.de/archiv_text/nost_buehne/11k_kunstmann.htm. The Google English translation of this page can be found at Doris Kunstmann page – English.

I also found a couple of video clips which feature Doris Kunstmann during approximately the same time period as the 1972 Bird On A Wire documentary. Both videos automatically start at the point when Ms Kunstmann is introduced.

Derrick – Quattro colpi dietro la porta (1974)

Video from Derrickclub

Derrick – Tote vögel singen nicht (1976)

Video from Derrickclub

Leonard Cohen Comes On To Udo Jürgens’ Girl In Front Of The Camera

“It’s hard to come on to a girl in front of the camera.”

When Leonard Cohen Was Coming On

In yesterday’s post, Leonard Cohen In Two Bird On A Wire Trailers, I pointed out that,

Indeed, in the space of two brief trailers, Leonard Cohen sings portions of “Avalanche” “Bird On A Wire,” and “Suzanne,” leads his musicians and guests in a backstage chorus of “Do Lord” while serving them sandwiches, chats up Jennifer Warnes on an airplane (Cohen takes the window seat, which is still apparently his preference), swims laps, and hits on a woman accompanied by another fellow. [Emphasis added for purposes of today’s post.]

The video below automatically begins at the pertinent point.

Leonard Cohen Bird On A Wire Trailer

“Another Fellow” Identified

Thanks to a comment by Heck Of A Guy viewer, Rike, the “another fellow” has been identified as Udo Jürgens, an Austrian singer-songwriter born 30 September 1934, making him Leonard Cohen’s junior by 9 days.

According to Wikipedia, Udo Jürgens started his professional career in 1950 when he won a contest organized by Austria’s public broadcasting channel ORF by composing the song “Je t’aime.” In 1961, he wrote the Shirley Bassey hit “Reach for the Stars.”  After finishing 6th and  4th, respectively, in the  1964 and 1965 Eurovision Song Contests, Jürgens won the competition with “Merci, Chérie” in 1966.  That song became an English-language hit for Vince Hill, and  Jürgens’ own version sold over one million copies, earning him a gold disc from Deutsche Vogue.  Jürgens, who has written more than 900 songs and sold about 100 million units, still tours and regularly appears on television. For many years, the tabloid press have cast him as a womanizer, and several women have claimed that he is the father of their children.

And The Girl Is?

Update: A followup tentatively identifying the woman in this sequence has been posted at It’s Leonard Cohen & Udo Jürgens – Who’s The Girl.

Well, I dunno. I can only offer the following:

The documentary was filmed in 1972, and, according to the IMDB, Udo Jürgens was married to Erika Meier from 1964 to 1989.

Ms Meier, a former model, is now a successful photographer in New York. She and Udo have two children,  John Jürgens (born 1964), who is a singer, actor and DJ, and Jenny Jürgens (born 1967), who sometimes sang with her father and is now an actress.

The above undated  photo of Erika Meier is the best I could find this morning.

The IMDB also reports that Jürgens was married to Corinna Reinhold  from 4 July 1999 to 15 September 2006.

Udo Jurgens and Corrina 1987

The above photo was found at Sternonline along with this text:

Udo Jürgens with girlfriend Corinna at Vienna Opera Ball on 02/26/1987.  The couple is already married since 1999, confirmed the management of the singer. [Google translation]

Ms Reinhold, who is frequently described in the press as “a long time companion” of Mr Jürgens, bears, to my eye, some  resemblance to the woman in the video.   Sternonline, however, describes Corrina as being 43 years old when she married Jürgens in 1999. That would make her 16 in 1972.

Udo Jürgens Performances

Udo Jürgens – Siebzehn Jahr Blondes Haar (1965)

Video from fritz51119

Udo Jürgens – Griechischer Wein (1975)

Video from johnweege

Udo Jürgens – Medley (2009)

Video from fritz51181

Times Change

For the record, Leonard Cohen now sings a different song:

Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey,
I ache in the places where I used to play,
And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on.
I’m just paying my rent every day in the Tower of Song

From Tower Of Song by Leonard Cohen [emphasis mine]


Leonard Cohen In Bird On A Wire Trailer

Leonard Cohen and Jennifer Warnes - screenshot from Bird On A Wire

Leonard Cohen Swims, Sings, Seduces

Indeed, in the space of a brief trailer, Leonard Cohen sings portions of “Avalanche” “Bird On A Wire,” “Sisters Of Mercy,” “Passing Through,” and “Suzanne,” chats up Jennifer Warnes on an airplane (Cohen takes the window seat, which is still apparently his preference), and swims a lap.
Update: Follow-ups to Leonard Cohen “hits on a woman accompanied by another fellow,” featured in a second trailer,  have been posted at Leonard Cohen Comes On To Udo Jürgens’ Girl In Front Of The Camera and It’s Leonard Cohen & Udo Jürgens – Who’s The Girl

This is the trailer for  Tony Palmer’s “Bird On A Wire” documentary, which has just premiered  at the Krakow Leonard Cohen fan meeting, winning grand accolades. Its official release date is September 21, 2010. 1 For more information about the film, see Tony Palmer Q&A: The 38 Year Journey To Release His Leonard Cohen “Bird On A Wire” Documentary.

Leonard Cohen Bird On A Wire Trailer

  1. I see Amazon is promoting a release date of August 31, 2010 so apparently this DVD is available now. []

Roller Derby, Concert Conflict, Jennifer Warnes In Tony Palmer's "Bird On A Wire – Leonard Cohen"

Leonard Cohen Documentary Rediscovered

An excerpt from Tony Palmer’s film, “Bird on a Wire – Leonard Cohen,” which includes, along with other content, scenes of Roller Derby action (as visual background for Leonard Cohen singing “Avalanche”), a Cohen concert disruption, and a distraught Jennifer Warnes reacting to that disruption,  has been uploaded to YouTube.  While video from this film has been available at this and other video sites  for some time, this excerpt’s debut is significant because it presages the DVD release of the original work.

The story behind the re-discovery of the film is worth noting:

Leonard Cohen Bird On A Wire film due for DVD Release

Leonard Cohen has recently come out of seclusion once again to enthrall audiences the world over. In 1972 the celebrated British film director Tony Palmer made a film with Leonard Cohen entitled Bird On A Wire. Like many films from the era it was thought that the original print had been lost, however whilst researching in a foreign television archive a copy of the original print was found. This print, in numerous film cans placed on two pallets was subsequently shipped to the UK and arrived two weeks before Christmas. It is now a matter of Tony Palmer going through the canisters and assessing the condition of the film and deciding how to restore the print to a standard that is fit for release. It is hoped that the finished film now including much in the way of bonus footage will be ready for release on DVD in 2010. The discovery of the film means that fans will now be able to see this marvelous film from an important era in Leonard Cohen’s career.1

In his biography of Cohen, Ira Nadel describes the process involved in perfecting the film:

The world premiere of this feature film by Tony Palmer was at the Rainbow Theater on July 5, 1974, in London. The original version cost over 120.000 USD to produce, but Cohen was not satisfied. He spent six months in England editing and rearranging the film to show the deeper elements in music, the conditions that produced it, and his interaction with the audiences. It contains songs from albums as well as concerts, including those of Berlin, Vienna, Copenhagen, and Israel in March and April 1972. It is a documentary rather than an art film. Color, 90 min. (Ira Nadel: Life in Art, p. 111; Dorman & Rawlins: Prophet of the Heart, p. 279)2

The soundtrack of the film3 alone would be an impressive release:

The Music Crept By Us (poem)
Bird On The Wire
You Know Who I Am
Seems So Long Ago, Nancy
Sister Of Mercy
Famous Blue Raincoat
One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong
The Partisan
Tonight Will Be Fine
Passing Through
How We Used To Approach
The Book Of Changes: 1966 (poem)
Chelsea Hotel #1
Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye
So Long, Marianne

DVD Release Date

The DVD release is planned for “early summer” 2010.

From Tony Palmer’s “Bird On A Wire – Leonard Cohen”

Video from TonyPalmerFilms

Credit Due Department: I was alerted to this video excerpt by a post at LeonardCohenForum by jarkko

  1. From Voiceprint (Jan 6, 2010 []
  2. Found at LeonardCohenFiles []
  3. Found at LeonardCohenFiles []