What is Filk?

What is Filk?

by Nick Smith

Filk music is sort of like folk music, both in style and because it’s hard to define. It is a mixture of song parodies and original music, humorous and serious, about subjects like science fiction, fantasy, horror, computers, cats, politics, the space program, books, movies, TV shows, love, war, death, chocolate. . . or pretty much any combination of those, now that I think about it. There are Star Trek Christmas songs. There are entire songbooks of songs about the old Dark Shadows TV show.

The term “filk” was originally a typo in text intended for a fanzine, and author Poul Anderson’s wife Karen thought that it should be kept, because the music deserved its own name. Amazingly, it has stuck for over 60 years now, so I guess no one has come up with a better name for the stuff.

Filk music started off many years ago, at science fiction conventions, where people got together late at night to have good old-fashioned folk music song circles. Well, late night fannish gatherings being what they are, some folks got a little silly and started singing song parodies about their favorite SF books and authors. Fans started writing song parodies about themselves or each other. Some started composing serious songs about favorite topics. Some authors started composing original songs for their books. If the author didn’t list a tune, fans made up one. Sometimes two. Sometimes several. [As an aside, author Poul Anderson loved to put songs in his books, but as tunes chose the most obscure and difficult Scandinavian music, making him a great source of inspiration for fans who said “I can’t sing that, so I’ll make up something different!]

Over time, Filk songs have been written for just about every major science fiction or fantasy work. Some of them were actually good enough that people wanted to learn them, or just listen to them more than just once at a convention. At that point, cleverly coinciding with advanced technology like Xerox copiers and small machines that could record sound, song books and recordings started being made.

Also over time, Filk Music has reached the point where there are entire Filk Music gatherings, conventions, recording companies, and publications. Filk Music includes song parodies, original songs, and slightly musical poetry. It’s a fun way to indulge in a little musical creativity, especially if you are a science fiction or fantasy fan as well as musically inclined. If you are “only” a fan, but don’t consider yourself musical, you can still listen. Filk circles aren’t pushy about requiring you to play or sing. If you are “only” musical, but not yet a fan, no one will hold it against you…unless you want to perform Wagner’s entire Ring Cycle on your turn in the circle. Remember, we’re in this thing for fun!