Filk encompasses parodies, serious songs, original songs, traditional songs (yes, it really is a subset
of folk / traditional music!) ..... all sorts of things.
The name came about as the result of a typo. Lee Jacobs meant to type in "folk," typed in "filk" instead, and
that struck the ironic / funny bone of a lot of people ...... so it stuck.
Nick Smith puts it this way: "Well, it's sort of like folk music. It is a mixture of song parodies
and original music, humorous and serious, about subjects like science
fiction, fantasy, computers, cats, politics, the space program, books,
movies, TV shows, love, war, death...."
"Filk music started off forty or fifty 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 circles 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."
"Eventually, Filk songs were 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 at
conventions. At that point, song books and recordings started being
made. Over the last decade, 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 not musical,
you can still listen. Filk circles aren't pushy about requiring you
to play or sing. If you are only musical, but not a fan, no one will
hold it against you. Remember, we're in this thing for fun!"
He who sings prays twice.
-- St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas never heard William Shatner sing "Rocket Man."
-- Jane Mailander
Tom Smith said, "If I may so bold as to decry filk but defend filking, there is a lot of drek out there, sung by
people whose musical ability and training are, shall we say, not what they should be in a perfect world. A lot
of this stuff even makes it to tape."
"But there is a lot of good stuff out there as well, much of it professional quality -- Michael "Moonwolf"
Longcor, Barry and Sally Childs-Helton, Kathy Mar, and Decadent Dave Clement (and his group Circles in the
Grain) leap to mind. Others, such as Duane Elms, may not have the best voice, but write wonderful lyrics
and demonstrate ferocious musicianship."
"More to the point, filk is performed to entertain (at least in theory). ;) Filkers are having a good time
together; even the need of some folks to do a long, slow dirging lullaby at 2:00 am Sunday can't completely
"There are, to my mind, two types of filkers: those who are finding a new way to express themselves,
and those who at one point or another become aware of the needs of the audience to be entertained, and
work ever harder to meet those needs. The first group should be cherished; most of them get better, many
of them get good, and all of them get a release they need. The second group is also known as musicians,
and their musicianship is more practiced (that in fact being the key word here -- you gotta get to
Carnegie Hall somehow), their songs are both more accessible and more experimental, and they quickly
get away from (though almost never abandon) "the folk tradition," instead working in rock-n-roll, blues, New
Age, and even show tunes and opera."
"There are a lot of "definitions" to what is filk. It's not in the dictionary (not yet, anyway). For a long time,
I would tell people that it was 'science fiction folk music, but a whole lot more.' "
Filk is anything that filksingers sing.
And Michael Liebmann says, "What I would say now is that it is the folk music of the science fiction,
fantasy and horror genres, save the fact that it has gone beyond folk music, and it's gone way beyond
the science fiction, fantasy and horror genres. For instance, there are filk songs about historical events,
love, sex, trying to clothe baby, cats, dogs, the space program, the list goes on and on and on . . . . . . "
As far as musically, the filking community has spread its musical wings beyond simply folk and folk-style
music. There has been at least one opera written in a filky style, along with sea chantys, multi-part choral
pieces, rap music, rock music, again, the list goes on and on."
It's my humble belief that filkers today are carrying on the tradition going back to the Middle Ages in
Europe, when minstrels would travel from town to town, singing for the local serfs, telling stories, bringing
news, things like that. In the 19th century, it was people like Stephen Foster, who wrote 'O, Susannah' (if I
Since the start of the 20th century, it was people like Woody and Arlo Guthrie, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs,
Pete Seeger and Fred Small who do the same thing. And filkers? Well, we're the next step in that time-honored tradition. We're the ones who are recording history in a way that others aren't. We're the keepers
of the oral tradition. That's what I feel we do, and I feel we do it well."
Gary McGath writes:
At Philcon on Saturday, Karen Anderson (wife of Poul Anderson, who
couldn't make it to the con because of an inconvenient but not
life-threatening illness) gave an extremely interesting talk on the
early history of filk. The following is based on notes I took during the
talk, so it probably contains errors of detail. I hope none of these
pass into filk lore.
The term "filk," she said, came from a writer who created a spoof
article called "Science Fiction in American Folk Songs." She mentioned
the writer's name, but I didn't take it down.
Kay Shapero comments:
Lee Jacobs. Here's the boilerplate I keep handy on the subject:
Sometime in the 1950s, Lee Jacobs wrote a zine for the Spectator Amateur
Press Society, entitled "The Influence of Science Fiction on Modern American
Folk Music", typoed "Folk" as "Filk", and for reasons I can only guess at had
the whole thing deemed "unmailable" by Wrai Ballard, the OE. (Censorship was
a very real problem at the time - the PO could have serious fits if you tried
to mail anything risque.) The publicity from THIS move put the term "Filk"
into popular fannish circulation. The rest is history.
The above information culled from A WEALTH OF FABLE by Harry Warner Jr.
In the publication of this
article the Great Typo occurred. Karen Anderson decided that something
should be done with this term, so she and others started applying it to
parody songs. (The term has since shifted meaning to include fannish
songs with original melodies.) Gordon Dickson began creating "folk songs
of the future," writing his own music to some of these, including
collaborations with Poul Anderson. The Andersons did Tolkien settings
before Leslie Fish, including a setting of "Rimini" by Karen Anderson.
Songs which qualify as "filk" in both the early and modern senses go
back a long way. Filthy Pierre said that "It's a Long Way from
Amphioxus" was first published on a song sheet in 1940.
Other landmarks of early filk which were mentioned include the
collaborations of Bruce Pelz and Ted Johnstone, "The Orcs' Marching
Song" of 1959, the "Blues for a Red Planet" vinyl record, George
Scithers' early compilation of verses for "Young Man Mulligan/The Great
Fantastical Bum," and the Westercons which were the first to host filk
in any formal sense. Pelz and Johnstone may have been the first people
to get actual program time for filk, doing performances during
A couple of people mentioned that Gordon Dickson has done more for filk
than most people realized. He brought a number of people into filk and
gave them tactful advice on performance skills. He was one of the
earliest filk writers to create original tunes for filk songs; his tune
for Poul Anderson's "The Ballad of the Three Kings" is in Westerfilk.
The Dorsai Irregulars were also an important part of early filk. It was
also pointed out that Dickson isn't in the Filk Hall of Fame, and that
this ought to be corrected during his lifetime.
Since I (the author of this page) can't (and won't) set myself up as the Final Arbiter of what is and is not filk, perhaps a perusal
of these links will give you a better idea: