Taking a trip down memory lane as part of Far Out Magazine’s ‘From The Vault’ feature. We’re revisiting a very special rendition of Leonard Cohen‘s majestic hit ‘Bird on a Wire’ performed by the late great country legend, Johnny Cash.
‘Bird on a Wire’ was originally recorded back in 1968 during a session in Nashville and was included on Cohen’s momentous 1969 album Songs from a Room. The inspiration for the song spawns from a time in the 1960s when Cohen lived on the Greek Island of Hydra with his girlfriend and muse Marianne Ihlen.
At the time prior to meeting Ihlen, Cohen had been suffering from serious depression and severe mental health issues. As rumour has it, the song arose after Ihlen handed the Canadian his guitar and he promptly began singing ‘Bird on the Wire’ after looking out of the window and spotting a bird casually resting on the recently installed telephone wires across the island.
“I always begin my concert with this song,” Cohen once said of ‘Bird on a Wire’. “It seems to return me to my duties. It was begun in Greece and finished in a motel in Hollywood around 1969 along with everything else.”
While the track has been covered by a number of different icons of popular music, for us, it was the rendition performed by country legend Johnny Cash, one of the best-selling music artists of all time, which signified the most poignant association with the song.
Back in 1994, with Cash’s career slowing down after countless records being released with disappointing sales, the iconic country singer was approached by bigtime producer Rick Rubin and offered a contract with Rubin’s American Recordings label.
After years of complications with different producers, Cash had agreed to create his 81st studio album, American Recordings, which blended a series of his own songs combined with cover tracks, including takes on Kris Kristofferson and Nick Lowe.
The album was released to critical and commercial success and, with the help of Rubin, Cash has revitalised his career and confirmed the old age saying that class is permanent, form is temporary. Recorded entirely at Cash’s home and on an acoustic guitar, the success of the album saw the singer-songwriter tour the material without a band for the first time in years.
Below, we revisit a number of the tracks performed solo by Cash himself.