Focus on Fandom
Strange New Worlds Issue 8 - Apr/May 1993
In a Fine Filk
by Karen Ann Yost
Folk music is a traditional art form that celebrates and preserves the history,
customs, tales, and sayings of a people. Science fiction fans are a people unto themselves
and have their own unique form of folk music, called filk. Filk celebrates
the science fiction and fantasy worlds that appear in books, television, and movies.
People who write and perform filk are called filkers. In the early days
of science fiction conventions, filkers and their guitars were banned from the convention
program. In retaliation, the filkers would place signs in the hotel elevators announcing
their own gatherings, usually after midnight in a private hotel room. Today, filkers are
their own fandom. They host conventions devoted strictly to their music, such as ConCerto
on the East Coast and ConChord on the West Coast.
My personal introduction to filk came via my favorite fandom, "Blakes
7." When I first discovered this British science fiction show, I had very little
willpower: if something had the name "Blakes 7" on it, my money was gone.
I soon found myself the proud owner of an extensive collection of "Blakes
7" books, magazines, and mediazines. In the midst of this buying frenzy, I purchased
an audio cassette called Hip Deep in Heroes. I honestly did not know what to
What I received was a tape of sixteen filk songs based on my favorite BBC television
series. Its a wonderful tape, but requires some familiarity with the show to be
fully appreciated. So, I stayed far away from other filk tapes, fearing I would not
comprehend or enjoy songs inspired by other fandoms.
At Freedom City, a "Blakes 7" convention, the Fan Guest of Honor
was Julia Ecklar, a filker. No, no, I wasnt interested, but my friend Barbara
Galyean had other ideas. I ended up with a filk tape called Space Heroes and Other
Fools. Though I was unfamiliar with the books and characters that inspired the songs,
I could still tell that "Hanrahans Bar" was a pretty tough place, and I
could cry as two spacefaring lovers are joined in death in "Darkness."
Even so, I still did not consider myself a fan of filk. I did, however, become a great
fan of Julia Ecklar and collected two more cassettes, Genesis and Divine
Intervention. Some of the songs on Genesis are "The Escape" (inspired
by the movie Escape From New York), "Daddys Little Girl" (from the
Steven King novel Firestarter), and "For the Need of One" (Star Trek
II: The Wrath of Khan). The tape Divine Intervention includes a beautiful song
inspired by the film Ladyhawke and "Crane Dance," from the movie, The
These two filk tapes illustrate the progression of filking. Genesis is the more
traditional filk cassette; it was recorded on inexpensive, portable audio equipment with
only guitars, drums, tambourines, and spoons as musical accompaniment. Divine
Intervention, however, was recorded in a studio with full instrumentation provided by
fifteen musicians. But do not hesitate to purchase a home-produced filk tape or one
recorded live at a convention; if a cassette is offered by a reputable filk distributor,
you are getting a quality product.
If I have whet your appetite for filk, look around at your next convention; you will
likely find several dealers who carry filk tapes; or you could search for mail order
outlets. One distributor is Wail Songs (PO Box 29888, Oakland CA 94604, 800-866-9245).
Their catalog has detailed listings of available filk tapes, filk song books (called
hymnals), and upcoming filk conventions. And good news for budget-minded collectors: filk
tapes wont put you in the poor house. Most sixty-minute filk tapes cost between
$8.00 and $12.00.