Esther Cohen, Leonard Cohen’s older sister, has passed away. She was unequivocally enthusiastic about life and beloved by everyone who met her.
Much of this video was first composed four years ago as a birthday tribute (one artifact of its original purpose still remains); there have been a few additions and deletions but the message is still the same – Esther was a delight.
Esther Cohen: A Life Of Enthusiasm
The soundtrack, chosen by Esther, is “Take This Waltz” by Leonard Cohen
Video by Allan Showalter
Credit Due Depaertment: Most of the images were supplied by Linda and Dick Straub, who also came up with the concept of the video. Some of the folks appearing in the video are Leonard Cohen, Emmylou Harris, Lian Lunson, Perla Batalla with husband Claud and daughter Eva, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Lily Lankin, Harry and Arlene Rasky, Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Leon Wieseltier, Zack Oberzan, Nick Cave, and Santa Claus.
This is another letter from the correspondence between Leonard Cohen to Redmond Wallis, a writer from New Zealand, who was Cohen’s friend as well as his fellow resident on Hydra. At the time this letter was written, Leonard Cohen was living in Montreal, and Wallis was at his home on Hydra. Other posts about the Cohen-Wallis correspondence are listed at the end of this entry and can also be found by clicking on Correspondence.
Steve is Steve Sanfield, a close friend of Cohen since they met on Hydra more than 50 years ago. A brief biography of Sanfield can be found at Warrior Poets.
Charmian is Charmian Clift, Australian novelist and wife of George Johnston. While Leonard Cohen was a close friend of the Johnstons, they did have the occasional row. In this case, Charmian had demanded of Wallis that household goods she had loaned (according to her) or given to (according to Cohen) Cohen be returned to her. Part of this letter is Cohen’s response to that demand.
Chuck and Gordon are an openly gay couple who were at the center of the artists’ group on Hydra.
Click on images to enlarge.
Other posts featuring the Cohen-Wallis correspondence:
Esther Cohen, Leonard Cohen’s older sister, passed away last night. She was unequivocally enthusiastic about life and beloved by many. Esther married Victor Cohen. Following a Cuban honeymoon, they traveled extensively, were regulars at plays, concerts, movies, and parties, and lived happily together until Victor’s death 19 years ago, Esther did research for McGill and for Colliers in New York.
Four years ago, I was privileged to have been invited by Esther’s close friends, Dick and Linda Straub, to participate in commemorating her birthday. At that time and on a a handful of occasions afterward, I had the chance to talk to Esther by phone on; each time I was charmed anew.
While a video celebrating Esther’s birthday may seem incongruent with the announcement of her death, this video montage of film and photos, supplied by Linda and Dick Straub, features Esther at her best, in the midst of those who loved her. Some may be recognizable to viewers: Emmylou Harris, Lian Lunson, Perla Batalla with husband Claud and daughter Eva, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Lily Lankin, Harry and Arlene Rasky, Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Leon Wieseltier, Zack Oberzan, and Nick Cave. The music is “Take This Waltz” by Leonard Cohen.
Today’s entry discusses Cohen’s unique songwriting skills as demonstrated in his specific implementation of the Snakes & Ladder trope in this song.
Snakes & Ladders In Popular Music
Leonard Cohen is not the only artist to have recognized the potential value of including an allusion to Snakes & Ladders in a song. The Lyrics website lists 69 songs that refer either directly to the “snakes and ladders” or a recognizable variant.1 (The same site also offers 6 lyrics matching “chutes and ladders.”) A representative sampling follows below. Rather than offer a necessarily tedious song by song analysis, I ask that the reader simply review these half-dozen selections as a basis for evaluating the pertinent lines by Cohen when considering my overview at the end of this post.
“Sin City” by AC/DC:
Ladders and snakes Ladders give, snakes take Rich man poor man Beggar man, thief Ain’t got a hope in hell That’s my belief
“The Hope And Anchor” by The Mekons:
The snakes and the ladders The sadder and sadder Lies between the hope and the anchor
“A Wolf At The Door” by Radiohead:
Drag him out your window Dragging out the dead Singing I miss you Snakes and ladders flip the lid Out pops the cracker Smacks you in the head
“Wreck of the Hesperus” by George Harrison:
Met some Oscars and Tonys I slipped on a pavement oyster Met a snake climbing ladders Got out of the line of fire (But it’s alright)
“This Year’s Model” by Elvis Costello:
Sparks are flying from electrical pylons Snakes and ladders running up and down her nylons Ready to experiment, you’re ready to be burned If it wasn’t for some accidents then some would never ever learn
Joni Mitchell even has a song entitled “Snakes And Ladders”2 with Don Henley from the Chalk Mark In A Rainstorm album.
Leonard Cohen Follows, Then Dances, & Finally Stumbles and Staggers
While comparing Cohen’s Snakes & Ladders lines to the Snakes & Ladders lines written by others is useful, it proves even more instructive to compare Cohen’s (final) Snakes & Ladders lines to Cohen’s (early) Snakes & Ladders lines.
The image below is a page from an early draft of “Closing Time” with the three sections containing “down the snakes and up the ladder” in red boxes3 (click on image to enlarge):
For convenience, a printed version of the handwritten words of the three sections containing “down the snakes and up the ladder” follows:
and I follow my companion
down the snakes & up the ladder
to the tower where the rescued hours chime
and she (holds) calls me & I dance her
down the snakes & up the ladder
to the tower where the rescued hours chime
and I hold her & I dancer
down the snakes & up the ladder
to the tower when the lonely (rescued) hours chime
A few pages later in the same notebook, we find the first two lines in their final form (and the third line approximating the final form):
Again, the pertinent lines are rendered as text:
And we stumble & we stagger down the snakes & up the ladders
And we stumble and we stagger down the snakes and up the ladders to the tower where the acid hours chime
Based on this corpus, I now take it upon myself to point out that …
Leonard Cohen Struggles And Staggers Within A Mythic Perspective
In each of the examples listed in the Snakes & Ladders In Popular Music section, the Snakes & Ladders metaphor is effective enough, but the utilization of the game’s title never rises above a simple, tidy signal that the Snakes & Ladders symbolism is in play.
The lines, “Ladders and snakes/Ladders give, snakes take” from “Sin City” by AC/DC, for example, start and stop with naming the game and summarizing the concept. Likewise, Joni Mitchell’s use of the metaphor, while more elaborate and extended, is nonetheless limited to the same elements, naming the game (“Still playin’ snakes and ladders“) and summarizing the concept (Get to the top and slide back down/Get to the bottom climb back up). Even George Harrison’s clever invocation of a sneaky serpent in the line, “Met a snake climbing ladders,” stays within the parameters of the Snakes & Ladders game.
Similarly, Cohen’s original choice of words in the early draft of “Closing Time,” “I follow my companion down the snakes & up the ladder” accomplishes no more than simply registering a reference to the game.
His next revision, “I dance her down the snakes & up the ladder” is more interesting, sparking the listener’s curiosity and imagination. It also recalls Cohen’s own comments to an interviewer about “The Future,” another song from the same The Future album.
Leonard Cohen: There will be phantoms, there’ll be fires on the road” — a return to suspicion, superstition, return to the tribal paranoia and the white man dancing. It evokes a scene of the end of things but with certain variations.
Interviewer: That’s kind of bleak, isn’t it, even for you?
Leonard Cohen: It would be bleak if it wasn’t set to a hot dance track.4
But “Closing Time” is skewed differently than its album-mate, “The Future.” Consider Cohen’s descriptions of “Closing Time” to interviewers:
[Closing Time is] that wild, or beautiful, or terrible time when things reach their maximum point of expansion, and then begin to contract. It’s the time we’re in.5
[Interviewer:]“Closing Time” — there’s such a kinetic feel to the song, both musically and verbally. In fact, I just jotted down, in some ways, it reminds me of a Bosch painting where it is, perhaps, the final dance: Blouses are coming off; people are changing partners; it’s the old closing time in a country bar. It’s got that “drinking-doubles-seeing-single” kind of aspect to it; but, the song is just brimming with that kind of kinetic energy.
Leonard Cohen:There’s a lot of activity in that song. I think that’s the way we experience our freedom today. It looks like freedom but it feels like death, it must be something in-between, I guess, it’s closing time. I don’t know about you, but I live a life that is totally consumed with ambiguity and conflict. I can’t get anything straight. Anything I embrace, you know, immediately the polarity manifests and I can embrace it with the same kind of enthusiasm or shame or indifference or whatever the emotion was that caused me to embrace the former. But, it’s this sense of the personal life that I’ve tried to bring to my songs. I think, for instance, when we hear public utterance today, like, the language of the politician or the leader. Whenever I hear a guy speaking, it’s like, hasn’t he heard the bad news? You don’t feel that anybody’s heard the bad news, that they know how people are feeling. I think everybody’s experiencing their daily life now as it looks like freedom but it feels like death. Closing time. The landmarks are down. The lights are out. The catastrophe has taken place. Don’t wait around for it, you know. So, what is the proper behaviour? What is the appropriate behaviour in a catastrophe when you’re holding on to your orange crate and the other guy’s floating by and you’re holding on to this broken flag staff. What do you do? You say, I’m Conservative? I’m Liberal? I’m pro-abortion? I’m against it? It seems to be completely inappropriate to the gravity of the situation; and, I’ve tried to create songs, now, that are appropriate to the gravity of the situation… where there’s no public utterance without the understanding that it looks like freedom but it feels like death and it’s closing time. Something’s gone down. You ignore it at the peril of your self-respect or of your possible rescue.6
One might dance – even dance gratefully – while considering the intellectual notion of a dystopic future. No one fox trots through life in the actual final days.
The imagery evoked by the words Cohen selected for the published version of “Closing Time,” “And we stumble and we stagger down the snakes and up the ladders,” precisely correlates with Cohen’s concept of the song. It is a compact, powerful portrayal of individuals contending together, however transiently, in a desperate effort to claim a bit of happiness within the restraints of their self-imposed intellectual, moral, and characterological restrictions and the explicit and implicit restrictions of social mores. It injects humanity into the metaphor, allowing listeners to empathize with their counterparts in the lyrics and inhabit the scene.
Finally, the line that completes the independent clause, “to the tower where the blessed hours chime,” loads into the mix the absolute limitations imposed by time.
The final result is Leonard Cohen’s elegant existential exposition:
So we struggle and we stagger down the snakes and up the ladder to the tower where the blessed hours chime
And that’s how Leonard Cohen has fashioned a few words alluding to a Canadian child’s game into a distinctively serviceable contemporary version of the Sisyphus myth.
Just another day in the iconic singer-songwriter biz.
E.g., these lines from “Melting In The Sun” by INXS:
Everybody’s got advice Take a snake take a ladder And this is what they call the life [↩]
Lyrics: Snakes And Ladders by Joni Mitchell
In a shopping mall
Finally met the perfect girl
She is all that matters
The only one in all the world
Like a Barbie doll
Oh love is snakes and ladders
Snakes and ladders
She Just to have and hold Is the perfect air-brushed angel Makes you hot just looking at her Stapled into all his braincells Like a centerfold Oh love is snakes and ladders Snakes and ladders
Get to the top and slide back down Get to the bottom climb back up Buy the townhouse Call the preacher Get to the bottom climb back up Get to the top and slide back down Get to the bottom climb back up Set up credit for the lovely creature The lovely creature
He On a corporate climb Set his sights on power for her On a silver platter He gave up happy hour for her Perrier and lime Oh love is snakes and ladders Snakes and ladders She In a handsome world Put her mind to social graces All the privileged chatter Setting pretty table places For the girls in pearls Oh love is snakes and ladders Snakes and ladders
Get to the top and slide back down Get to the bottom climb back up Buy the carphone, Call the broker Get to the bottom climb back up Get to the top and slide back down Get to the bottom climb back up Buy the wife a diamond choker A diamond choker
True love, true love, true love He’s so nervous New love, new love, new love When he’s with her Oh, he’s wasting away True love, true love, true love It’s so curious New love, new love, new love Just to kiss her To kiss her, to kiss her, to kiss her To kiss her, to kiss her, to kiss her To kiss her he has to shave
She In the gilded mirrors In the swing of fancy places Where the black ties flatter Started seeing other faces Young-fogie-financiers Oh love is snakes and ladders Snakes and ladders
See In the crimes of time How the seasons steal away How the rungs are shattered First you’re green then you’re grey Still the snakes unwind Still playin’ snakes and ladders Snakes and ladders
Get to the top and slide back down Get to the bottom climb back up Sell the vineyard Call the lawyer Get to the bottom climb back up Get to the top and slide back down Get to the bottom climb back up Gather garbage to destroy her To destroy her
Ladders, ladders, ladders The perfect girl Ladders, ladders, ladders The paper chase Love is snakes and ladders Ladders, ladders, ladders The social whirl Ladders, ladders The rat race Barbie doll [↩]
The red boxes were, of course, not part of the original notebook page [↩]
Leonard Cohen, in response to the question, “When exactly IS ‘Closing Time?” – Sony Online Chat (Oct 16, 2001) [↩]
Leonard Cohen’s The Future Interview by Bob Mackowitz. Transcript from a radio special produced by Interviews Unlimited for Sony Music, 1992. The transcript was prepared by Judith Fitzgerald. Retrieved July 16, 2014 from Speaking Cohen. Emphasis mine. [↩]
A Sitting With Leonard Cohen: Ladies’ Man Is Home, Not Dead
By Juan Rodriguez
The Gazette (Montréal): Jan 7, 1978
This 1978 interview, which took place at Leonard Cohen’s home in Montreal when he was 43, focuses on his collaboration with Phil Spector on the Death Of A Ladies’ Man album.1 Cohen, who was in some interviews caustic about the album, here is generally positive, declaring “There’s no doubt that it’s a little classic.” He is less sanguine about working with Spector, the author noting that “the sessions with Spector seemed to have terrified him [Cohen].” Also included in the article are Cohen’s thoughts on the “inevitable” separation of Quebec from Canada, a bit of name-dropping (it turns out Robert Altman and Michelle Phillips have made social calls on the Canadian singer-songwriter), and his work on his book of poems (here labeled “Death Of A Ladies Man” but published under the title “Death Of A Lady’s Man”).
In this interview, Leonard Cohen explains why Death Of A Ladies’ Man was issued by Warner Brothers rather than his own label, Columbia, saying “Columbia thought I was some sensitive poet who can’t be exposed to a wide public, a rare flower that could not bloom in the American pop landscape.” Columbia may have thought that but readers should be aware that the reason for the change in record labels for this album appears to have had more to do with Cohen’s and Spector’s lawyer, Marty Machat, fulfilling an obligation he had to Warner Brothers. See “We Were Drunk And Stupid” – Leonard Cohen On Death of a Ladies’ Man [↩]
One reference page with links to the best and most useful Leonard Cohen online resources: discography, concordance, articles, press coverage, humor, ...
Latest Addition: Symposium for English Language Jewish Writers - June 7th, 1964 (audio recording) Leonard Cohen is a provocative member of a panel discussing what it means to be a Canadian, a Jew, & a writer.
Leonard Cohen’s Elegy For Janis Joplin – Chelsea Hotel #1
This video features the first version of the song Leonard Cohen would later revise into "Chelsea Hotel #2" along with images of Leonard Cohen, Janis Joplin - whose liaison with Cohen at the Chelsea Hotel led to the creation of the song, the Hotel itself, and other associated people & places.
Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen had a fling in the 1960s that, for unspecified reasons, was short-lived, with Cohen instigating the parting.
It was then and is now a complex connection. In 1988, Cohen said, I'm still very friendly with Joni - I had dinner with her before the tour, and I have the same admiration for her as you do. But I think it was Noel Harrison who came up to me in the LA Troubadour and said "How do you like living with Beethoven?"
Do I Have To Dance All Night Surpasses 70,000 Views
"Do I Have To Dance All Night" was performed many times in concerts but was never released in the US.
As part of my crusade to popularize this song, I've cobbled together 2 videos - one for the semi-funky 1976 version with Laura Branigan and one for the 1980 more gypsy, less disco version - that kinda sorta fit the music.
As of Dec 19, 2012, the video of the 1976 version of Do I Have To Dance All Night has been viewed 70,152 times.
This Heck Of A Guy compilation includes unreleased Leonard Cohen performances over a 30+ year period.
Track List: Vol 1
1. Feels So Good (The Other Blues Song)
2. Book Of Longing
3. The Darkness
6. Do I Have to Dance All Night (1976)
7. Blues By The Jews
Track List: Vol 2
1. Red River Valley
2. Never Got To Love You (Duet with Anjani)
3. Can't Help Falling In Love
4. Ride Around
5. The Union Makes Us Strong
6. We Shall Not Be Moved
7. To Love Somebody
8. The Hypnotist (Poem)
9. Chelsea Hotel #1
10. There's No Reason Why You Should Remember Me
11. Streets Of Laredo
12. Do I Have To Dance All Night (1980)
Now, Another Other Leonard Cohen Album, the second collection of unreleased Leonard Cohen songs joins the popular The Other Leonard Cohen Album to offer fans of the iconic singer-songwriter a total of 3 CDs of musical treats. Another Other Leonard Cohen Album includes the following tracks plus liner notes by Sylvie Simmons.
1. Je Veux Vivre Tout Seul
2. Kevin Barry
3. Die Gedanken Sind Frei
4. Store Room
5. As Time Goes By
6. Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-on
7. Blessed is the Memory
8. Silent Night
9. Dead Song
10. Another Saturday Night
11. Ballad of the Absent Mare
13. The Butcher
14. Un As Der Rebbe Singt
15. Song to the Machines
16. If It Be Your Will
17. Thirsty for the Kiss
18. A Thousand Kisses Deep
19. I Tried To Leave You
20. Whither Thou Goest
21. Mr Cohen Must Be Going
Photos of or related to Leonard Cohen that fall into specific themes have been among the ongoing features at DrHGuy, HOAG's sibling site. Galleries displaying collected images of 3 of these themes are now available at
And We’re Still Making Love In My Secret Life – Julie’s Story & Video
... I never had a chance. I was - and this is the only word that fits - smitten. I still am.
She was smart and quick-witted, although it would take me 3 years to recognize that she was, in fact, much smarter than me, and then another 2 years to forgive her for that. She was also good-looking and unabashedly sexy.
And, we fell madly, irredeemably, unflinchingly in love.
Complementing the unlikely story of how Julie and I met, fell in love, and - 9 years, 2 husbands, 1 wife, and 2 careers later - got together to spend an outrageously wonderful 20 years together before her death, a video, set to the poignant "In My Secret Life" by Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson, is now available that evokes the role Julie, who died 10 years ago, continues to play in my life.