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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, "Blake’s 7." When I first discovered this British science fiction show, I had very little willpower: if something had the name "Blake’s 7" on it, my money was gone. I soon found myself the proud owner of an extensive collection of "Blake’s 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 expect.

What I received was a tape of sixteen filk songs based on my favorite BBC television series. It’s 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 "Blake’s 7" convention, the Fan Guest of Honor was Julia Ecklar, a filker. No, no, I wasn’t 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 "Hanrahan’s 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), "Daddy’s 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 Karate Kid.

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 won’t put you in the poor house. Most sixty-minute filk tapes cost between $8.00 and $12.00.

Focus on Fandom articles
by Karen Ann Yost:

bulletIn a Fine Filk
bulletSF-Lovers at
bulletSaul Jaffe of SF-Lovers
bulletThe Comics - Science Fiction Connection
bulletScience Fiction Fans and Charity
bulletA Fan by Any Other Name - Fannish Slang and Nomenclature
bulletAcademia Explores the Final Frontier - Fandom Theses and Dissertations

Karen Ann Yost wrote a regular column about media fandom in Strange New Worlds from 1992 through 1994. Ms. Yost has been active in fandom for decades and has been a frequent panelist at MediaWest and Vidcon.


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