21 January 2007

Bird on a Wire

Well, the invitation I made in my last post has already elicited a very nice response from a young Iranian photographer Mohammadreza Mirzaei. His most striking images approximate silhouettes - dark, anonymous figures, often shot from considerable distance, against expansive, starkly, not-quite white backgrounds.

© Mohammadreza Mirzaei

While you should check out Mohammadreza's work generally, this particular image resonated with me immediately, reminding me of the Leonard Cohen song "Bird on a Wire." I have to say that the best version of this song I know is the hauntingly sparse rendition made by the late, great Johnny Cash on the first volume of his American Recordings (1994). It balances right there on the verge of hope and resignation. Here is the lyric as Cash sings it:

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

Like a fish on a hook
Like a knight from an old fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons with thee

And if I have been unkind
I hope that you will just let it go by
And if I have been untrue
I hope you know it was never to you

Like a baby stillborn
Like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out for me

But I swear by this song
By all I have done wrong
I'll make it all up to thee

I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch
He called out to me " Don't ask for so much "
And a young woman leaning on her darkened door
She cried out to me " Hey, why not ask for more "

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

There clearly is a theme of longing, of striving for redemption here. But that, of course, presumes some measure of forgiveness, even recognition, that others, for their own reasons, or due to their own incapacities, may well withhold. In any case, it is hard to know what the implied promise in the song might mean or to whom one might address it. Here is a remark that Cohen made in a 1988 interview, some twenty years after he first recorded "Bird on a Wire":
"There's a lot of songs that lose their meaning, you forget. I'm finding that out now, rehearsing the band. There are some songs I just can't get behind. Some are surprising me, songs I really thought I could sing, like "Bird On a Wire." I'm not sure it's necessary to say, "I swear by this song and by all I've done wrong that I will make it all up to thee." Either I've done that, or there's no point in making that promise again if I haven't. It's very hard to get behind certain lines"
So how do you get behind the lines that go round in your head when some things - to say nothing of "all" of them - simply cannot be made right? Is anyone beside yourself listening or even willing to? If not, are you merely replacing "thee" with "me" in your promise? Perhaps that is the best and only way to move ahead. A first step, at least.

[Should you be wondering, this post is for D, J & A - with love.]

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