Monday, January 22, 2018

A Personal History of Filk, Part 2

For the start of the new year, I'm going to backtrack a little. I've talked about some of the contributors to the current filk scene in Featured Filkers posts, and I will continue to do so, but there is a wealth of classic filk floating around the Internet just waiting to be discovered by new listeners.

More specifically, I'd like to introduce you to more of my personal history of filk.

Hey, look, it's baby me with the Got Filk shirt. Yes, that's a Lego dulcimer. Behold. 
Photo by Rob Wynne. 

Aside from songs by Mercedes Lackey, there are lots of additional filk songs that I remember hearing for the first time. They're the songs that made me realize I had found my people. They gave me that warm, fuzzy feeling you get at a con, but now the feeling was portable. You may have noticed that my favorite classic filk song, according to my TFI bio, is one called "Merlin," written by Doug McArthur and sung by Kathy Mar. Incidentally, I thought for years that it was also written by Kathy Mar, but the lines start to blur very quickly in filk. Everyone covers everyone else, even more so than in popular music.

In any case, I did not discover "Merlin" at The Ohio Valley Filk Festival (OVFF) or Marcon, but rather in my college dorm room while visiting with a friend. It turned out he also liked filk, and I distinctly remember listening to this song on Windows Media Player, complete with those trippy visualizations from the mid-2000s.

It made quite an impression. 

What struck me about it was the cool alternate interpretation of a King Arthur tale, one that still retained the mystique of the traditional lore. It turns out this quality that I enjoyed so much is one of filk's defining attributes lately, namely, the tendency to fracture those fairy tales as hard as you possibly can. It's a wonderful thing, and it has shaped my own songwriting.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have little tunes like Heather Rose Jones' "Black Widows in the Privy," delightfully sung by Julia Ecklar. It's short and to-the-point, but nevertheless I remember it quite well. The juxtaposition of nasty lyrics with a fast, bouncy tune amused me for some reason. For what it's worth, dark humor is another notable feature of many filk songs.

 Like in this performance of “The Wreck of the Crash of the Easthill Mining Disaster” by Brooke Abbey, complete with props. Photo by Walter Korynkiewicz.

There are many other songs from my early filk days that I could mention, but I'll end with the topic of Rudyard Kipling. If you aren't familiar with this particular early 20th century writer, let's just say he was, among many other things, an extremely prolific poet who wrote in traditional verse. Filkers love him. That is to say, filkers love him. So much so, that writing music to Kipling's poetry and singing it in a filk circle is as legitimate as performing any other song that might pop up. I have even heard the verb "to Kipple," used in all seriousness during a circle, to refer to following one Kipling musical adaptation with another.


"Female of the Species" was the first Kipling poem set to music that I ever heard. It's a catchy melody written by Leslie Fish and sung by Julia Ecklar, and whether Kipling meant it to be complimentary or insulting is beside the point. What matters is that the fiercely feminist filk community made this song its own. Taking other entities, writings, media, what have you, and making them their own is often what filkers do best. Keep this in mind when we get to Part 3.

For now, discover ye some classic filk. That's an order. 


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