Leonard Cohen pays respect to Canada in L.A.

With the Grammy Awards about to honour Leonard Cohen, the 75-year-old Montreal legend decided to pay respect to his home country during a party at the Canadian consul general's residence in Los Angeles on Thursday.
Leonard Cohen, seen performing in 2009, was the guest of honour at the Grammy Awards gala at the Canadian Consulate in Los Angeles Thursday night. ((Chris Pizzello/Associated Press))

With the Grammy Awards about to honour Leonard Cohen, the 75-year-old Montreal legend decided to pay respect to his home country during a party at the Canadian consul general's residence in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Cohen, clad in a dark suit with his trademark fedora shading his eyes, climbed onstage alongside a group of other artists at the gathering — held annually in honour of Canadian Grammy nominees — before making a brief speech to the cheers of a grateful crowd.

"My great grandfather, Lazarus Cohen, came to Canada in 1869, to the county of Glengarry, a little town in Maberly," Cohen said.

I thank Canada for the opportunity that was given me to work and play and flourish.

"It's customary to thank people for the help and aid they've given. On this occasion, because of the great hospitality that was accorded my ancestor who came here over 140 years ago, I want to thank this country, Canada, for allowing us to live and work and flourish in a place that was different from all other places in the world.

"So I thank Canada for the opportunity that was given me to work and play and flourish…. Thank you, friends." 

While Cohen made only a brief appearance at the party, his presence carried weight with the other attendees.

"It's nice to be up there with an icon," said Steve Wood of Alberta powwow dance group Northern Cree, nominated for a fifth time for best native American album, who stood next to Cohen onstage.

Cohen will be honoured on Saturday with a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy, which puts on the Grammys.

The celebrated musician and poet, oddly, has only ever won one Grammy and it wasn't for one of his own albums. He earned a trophy for contributing vocals to Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters, which won album of the year in 2008.

The group of Canadian Grammy hopefuls who attended the poolside party on Thursday could then potentially match Cohen's tally at Sunday night's 51st Grammy Awards.

Nominees in attendance included Montreal trip-rock band Beast and producer David Foster, whose brief visit was long enough to brighten fellow nominee Melanie Fiona's night.

"I was very excited to meet David Foster," said the beaming Toronto singer, who's up for best female R&B vocal performance. 

"I got to meet him as soon as I came through the door."

The showcase featured performances from Toronto hip-hop artist K'naan, St. John's, N.L., indie-rockers Hey Rosetta and Vancouver singer-songwriter Dan Mangan.

Lanois in the spotlight

While Cohen might have been considered the guest of honour, it was producer Daniel Lanois who was the life of the party.

Clad in a black leather jacket and snug jeans with a pair of sunglasses obscuring his eyes, a smiling Lanois arrived toward the beginning of the party, happily chatting with anyone who approached him. When asked by a reporter if there were any stars he was hoping to meet at Sunday's gala, he shrugged and said "Satan?" before laughing and clarifying that he was only joking.

Producer, musician and singer Daniel Lanois, pictured in 2005, gave an impromptu performance with his guests, Emmylou Harris and Trixie Whitley. ((Mike Cassese/Associated Press))

Later, he hopped onstage unexpectedly for an impromptu after-show bonus performance with his guests, country legend Emmylou Harris and singer Trixie Whitley. It was one of the only moments during which a chatty crowd composed of musicians, Grammy organizers, industry folk and journalists actually fell silent.

And for Lanois's finale, he rode into the balmy night atop a motorcycle, pausing to wave to a cluster of valets and party-goers who were lingering around the driveway.

Lanois has won seven Grammys. He isn't directly nominated this year, but he produced and co-wrote several tracks on U2's No Line on the Horizon, which is up for three awards.

He said he thinks the Grammys are moving in the right direction.

"I think they're catching people on the rise rather than waiting for people to get to the top," he said.

"Because when we're on our way up, that's when we need the most help. So it's nice when you can get someone complimenting you and encouraging you as you're building your career."

Meanwhile, Pierre Cossette wasn't far from the minds of many attending the party. The Valleyfield, Que., native — considered by most to be the father of the Grammy Awards — died in September.

A collage of photographs of Cossette stood next to the stage, along with a TV screen looping a slide show of Cossette pictured with stars including Celine Dion and Will Smith.

Cossette's wife, Mary, spoke in his honour.

"My very deepest gratitude and thanks for honouring my husband, Pierre Cossette, who spent his life loving music and encouraging music of all kinds to be written and recorded and produced and thereby making the world a happier place," she said. 

"His greatest pride was his Canadian heritage."