Random, Reflection

An Open Letter to Hawksley Workman

When I turned 21 I decided I would make an attempt to write a letter to each person of note that had a substantial impact on my life through their contributions to the entertainment and media world.

I did not accomplish this. I had the best intention, honest. I was going to write to Stephen Colbert and Johnny Depp, Hawksley Workman and Chantal Kreviazuk, and a handful of others who I could point to and say “Yes, you. You influenced my life. Thanks.”

But I am an adult now, and a married woman, and I ooze of confidence and free time (at least until Block Week begins.) And after perusing Twitter and catching a reminder about the new Hawksley Workman album (which I wait for with bated breath) I figured, hey, I have the ability to put words into sentences and stuff! Let’s do it! So here it goes.

Dear Hawksley Workman,

Sometime, many years ago, I was channel flipping and happened to land on Much More Music. I watched, bemused, as a young musician frantically ran around the screen, attempting to track down various instruments and place them on an ark. The truly glorious moment came when this young musician arrived only moment too late to acquire an accordion. He watched, sorrowful, from behind a store window. The accordion would not make it to the ark. Alas.

That was my first introduction to your music. It must have been around the time that Lover/Fighter came out, but I can’t recall what year that was. I do know that it wasn’t long before my first spinal surgery. I was busy burning cds of this and that, music that I fancied that could keep me entertained during the long and exhausting nights where O2 alarms constantly set off warnings and nurses didn’t understand the concept of privacy. We Will Still Need a Song was my first introduction to your music and, because I was an adolescent who walked on the dangerous side of life, I decided to randomly download (sorry) some of your other songs and add it to my playlist.

I don’t remember much about my time at the Alberta Children’s Hospital then. I remember being made to stand up and walk only hours after they had fused my spine from T1 to L4. I remember being fed strained oats. I remember not sleeping and hallucinating images on the ceiling tiles. I had some trippy dreams during that first surgery. The nurses were concerned about me getting tangled in wires so the discman never saw the light of day. It was only when we were finally home in Kelowna that I listened to the music I had compiled.

I was smitten with your music right off the bat. It was just rock and roll enough that it suited my angsty persona, but quirky enough that I felt like I was part of a special club for premium members only. The cool kids listened to Hawksley Workman and had their spines fused. I was part of the elite. Hell, in my little world I was the elite.

Over the course of the next five years I had four more surgeries, each time involving the removal of tiny bits of metal or Harrington rod that had shifted and were no longer conducive to my ongoing health. Each time your music accompanied me along the way. The second surgery involved more sleepless nights and CDs crammed full of every song I could get my hands on. Every holiday or special occasion involved me asking for Hawksley Workman CDs or gear or tickets, any little touch of music that I knew could instantly sweep me into a different world where if spines were fused, they were only that way because of tragic accidents or stories of ultimate heroism. The world your music created around me was vibrant, coloured by a blending of your stories and my experiences. I could slip into that place without a care. It was heavenly.

I saw you perform live for the first time at MacEwan Hall at the University of Calgary. I was only 19, if that, and had just moved back to Alberta with my mom. She got me tickets and came with me because I had, I do not exaggerate, exactly zero friends in the new city. It was wholly inappropriate for her to be there, and I wasn’t yet confident enough to join in the dancing, so instead she and I stood off to the side, as close to the stage as I dared to go, and stared in wonder as you performed. The throng of students, not much older than myself, surged to the music and laughed as you regaled them with your wonderful stories. The whole time I listened I felt my mind buzz uncomfortably, as if it was reminding me that this was the music that had rescued me from chronic pain and hospital stays and it was absolutely possible to now enjoy it in the current setting.

To this day I still have a specialty ‘Hawksley Workman Mix’ that I listen to when I am heading to meet with my surgeon, or to an appointment at the Chronic Pain Center. I can fully enjoy your music outside of that context now, but it still holds a special place in my heart for those particular occasions.

The second time I saw you live was at the more intimate setting of the Memorial Center in Red Deer. I went with my best friend, who I had a serious crush on at the time. We were only five or six rows from the front, and sitting in front of us was a gentleman who was wearing a hat that must have come from one of your first tours. I spent a solid fifteen minutes contemplating how I might steal it from him and escape without being caught. The best part of the evening was the fact that you were sick. Sorry, but that’s one of the only ways to begin this particular anecdote. You were sick and in between songs you would pop a cough candy and tell a story. Totally understandable. But about halfway through the set you were apologizing and explained you needed a candy.

I’m not sure what overtook me then. Probably the fact that my growing up with British Television taught me that what you were noshing on wasn’t a simple candy and I felt the need to remind you of that. So what did I do? I hollered “It’s a Fisherman’s Friends!” (And they are awful).

And thus began a lengthy story about you and your brother growing up and fishing out at the family cabin. It was amazing. I felt like a hero to the crowd. The story was brilliant and if I hadn’t shouted you just might have not told the story. I felt extraordinarily special. And Fisherman’s Friends are awful. Like, just flat out nasty.

I took a Canadian Media course at the local college and wrote my final paper on your music and the influence you had on the Canadian music industry. I got an A+, although it may have been the mix tape that accompanied the paper that really sold my professor.

Eventually I started dating someone, and our music tastes differed greatly. He has never disliked your music, but simply isn’t a fan. Where I listen to you, Regina Spektor, Tom Waits and Vienna Teng, he listens (and indeed continues) to funk and jazz. Still, it indicated to me that he was a keeper when for my first birthday celebrated with him he bought us tickets to see you perform at Theatre Junction in Calgary.

Last year we went and saw you perform The God That Comes at the EPCOR.

Last month we danced to What a Woman at our wedding.

I guess what I’m getting at, Hawksley, is that your music has accompanied me throughout my life, starting at the most pivotal point, and has been ringing in my ears for the last eleven years. There is no musician who has captured my attention in the way you have. No musician has ever created such an eclectic array of albums that I could place at certain stages in my life and say “Yes, this is who I was right then. This music defined me during that particular epoch.”

Now I find myself entering a new time of my life. I’ve settled into adulthood (although I still like poop jokes and enthusiastically demand waffles from my husband on the weekend), and it is with excited anticipation that I wait for this new album. It will be the soundtrack for the “Kathleen tries to be an adult really hard” part of my life and end, I suspect, around the time where “Kathleen has to give up wine for the sake of pregnancy.”

I really like wine, so I hope whatever album follows it is full of everything glorious about your music: references to booze, women, and witticisms about sharks and ketchup.

Thanks for the music,


Kathleen Sawisky

PS: Totally would have sent this as an actual letter, but unlike Stephen Colbert it is really, really difficult to find an address or anything for you.

12 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Hawksley Workman”

  1. Hi Kathleen,
    I recorded and mixed Lover/Fighter and am an old friend of Hawksleys.
    I’m sure he’ll read this and be moved as much as I was.
    Thank you.

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