One of the last great club shows I remember seeing before I had children was The Weakerthans and The Constantines at Sugar nightclub in Victoria. Not long after that, I married my husband in Ontario, just two days after my mother had died of cancer, unexpectedly soon. At the end of the reception, my husband said “The DJ’s going to play a song for us.” The song was “The Reasons” by The Weakerthans, an indie band revered in Canada and part of the personal histories of so many. My new husband spun me around and around the empty dance floor on our wedding night. I was a wife and also a young woman without a mother. The song goes: “How I don’t know how to sing. I can barely play this thing. But you never seem to mind. And you tell me to fuck off, when I need somebody to.” A brilliant verse. And brilliant guitar chords, with the chorus: “I know, you might roll your eyes at this. But I’m so glad that you exist.”
I love Winnipeg’s The Weakerthans, with their inventive, evocative lyrics and haunting melodies. Their Reconstruction Site album is regarded as a masterpiece. I never dreamed I would be writing to singer-songwriter John K. Samson and asking for permission to use his lyrics in my first novel, Save Me, Kurt Cobain. I had avoided using any Nirvana lyrics in my story about a girl from Victoria who comes to believe Kurt Cobain is her real father, but in the final draft, I wanted to included a few lines from this song. (I won’t go into details except to say that it fit the mood and the time, which is 2006-7).
John K. Samson writes songs and poems and makes music. He doesn’t do Twitter, or even embrace email. So I wrote him a letter (!) in November of last year, including the pages of the novel in which the words appear. And then I put it in an envelope, and mailed it to a Winnipeg post-office box, and I waited. As we all used to do before email. And the more I waited, the more I realized how perfect that song was in the novel, how much I wanted to keep it in. And how much I hoped he said “yes.” More waiting. I emailed his record company representative. He does check his post box, they assured me, but gave me another email to try.
My editor in New York was waiting. It seemed that John K. Samson was touring, solo, around Europe. Was he annoyed that I had asked? That seemed unlikely. On December 12, I received an email from John K. Samson graciously granting me permission to use his lyrics, declaring “it would be a great honour.” And I include that experience high in the “I never dreamed” category of bringing a first novel to fruition. I never dreamed I would write to John K. Samson. And thanks to him for allowing me to use his wonderful lyrics in my book. I am so glad his songs exist. If you have never heard it, I encourage you to listen to The Reasons now.
“Very best wishes, can’t wait to read the whole book!” wrote John K. Samson to me, because sometimes your guitar heroes can be just that.