When Leonard Cohen said, “Music is the emotional life of most people,” it wasn’t just a pithy soundbite with a grain of truth, but a veracious belief that he candidly propagated throughout his career. Music is a boon, and Leonard Cohen’s work harnessed what is best about a lot of art in general: divulging hard truths with the sort of careworn beauty that triumphantly makes sense of human tragedy while offering up solace as it does so.
His discography might not be perfect, but because each record lives and breathes on this principle, there is always at least one moment to savour. His 1967 album Songs of Leonard Cohen might be one of the drabbest titles ever concocted, but the music contained therein is anything but. The album is an undoubted masterpiece, existing among the greatest of all time and ‘Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye’ sits proudly as one of the very best songs that the record benevolently offers up.
On his second record, Songs From A Room, Cohen opens proceedings with ‘Bird on the Wire’. Cohen has described ‘Bird on the Wire’ as a simple country song, and indeed that is how the track first debuted via the Judy Collins version. In many respects, it does have the straightforward heart of a country song, but its wayfaring ways betray its creator’s folk stylings.
The track, however, established a bond between the two artists and in this performance, it is clear that they are singing off of the same hymn sheet despite very different voices. The two tender artists complement each other like sonic strawberries and cream throughout the rendition.
The performance comes as part of Judy Collins’ live PBS TV concert from way back in January 1976. Collins had previously recorded a version of ‘Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye’ on her hugely celebrated 1967 album Wildflowers.
Collins introduces the song by saying: “I was looking through a journal just recently and realised with a shock that it was exactly ten years ago this month 1966 when I first met, through a friend from Canada, the great songwriter, novelist, poet and friend… a very wonderful friend and marvellous man, please welcome Leonard Cohen.”
Leonard then chimes in and paints a pastiche of the pair first practising the song together in a hotel in Newport prior to the iconic Folk Festival. They then dotingly make their way through the tale of star-crossed lovers coming to an end, and boy is it a wonderful thing to behold.