On researching filk

The first-day response to my IndieGoGo campaign for Tomorrow’s Songs Today has been great! It’s already at $400! Publicity is very important. If you know of a suitable opportunity to mention what I’m working on, please do.

The heart of this project is research, and different parts of filk history need different approaches. There’s the First Age, which members of First Fandom have written about. This is when important events leading to today’s fandom and filk happened, and you can find out about them in books like Harry Warner, Jr.’s All Our Yesterdays and Jack Speer’s Fancestral Voices. Not as much was happening then, and available information is focused on key events like early conventions and the naming of filk. For my purposes, the First Age ended around 1960 or a little later.

In the Second Age, there’s more living memory, but there’s also a lot more to dig through. Fandom started growing rapidly. Space satellites and the race to the moon got people really interested in science, and Doctor Who and Star Trek introduced more people to science fiction. There were more cons, more songs, more people doing things, and not every scrap is captured in books. A lot of the history is found in zines that were printed on cheap paper and are hard to find. I’m relying heavily on people’s recollections. Last week I had a 50-minute phone interview with Juanita Coulson, which gave me lots of valuable information. Margaret Middleton and Lee Gold have been hugely helpful through email, to name just two. I do have some zines, and I’ve gotten a couple of offers of scans of more of them.

The Third Age dates from about 1995, when the Internet took off. Here there’s hope of finding information on the Web. The Internet Archive is a wonderful thing, providing old versions of websites to look through. There is one little problem, though: Google and other search engines are filk-hostile. (I actually use Startpage, which offers better privacy and thus doesn’t try to “personalize” my results, but the search engine is still Google.) If you search for “filk,” it decides that “film” and “folk” are much more interesting topics. I’ve discovered Wow.com is much better at not using DWITYM (Do What I Think You Mean) than Google, but it’s still a matter of degree. Adding “-film -folk” to the search string helps some but can produce false negatives.

In the Third Age there are a lot more people who can provide answers, and in many cases I already know them myself, so it should be the easiest one to research. Right now I’m focusing on the Second Age, though the British filkers were very helpful this week in bringing my history of filk in their country up to date.

I really love doing this research, and the startling facts I come across really make it worthwhile. For instance, from All Our Yesterdays I’ve learned there were filk recordings before Leslie Fish, on a label called Vanguard (no connection to the later big-name label of the same name). Yesterday evening after going to bed, I wanted to check just one more fact, but finally got to sleep. Today I can check more.

Please continue your support by committing money and spreading the word. Filk deserves a well-documented history.

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5 Responses to “On researching filk”

  1. Bill Roper Says:

    You should see about doing an interview with Karen Anderson as well, if possible. She can fill in a lot of details about the songs that both Poul and Gordy wrote and sang during the early era of filking. (I’ve got a copy of Gordy’s Shoshonu here somewhere — and, of course, Gordy incorporated songs into his writing, especially about the Dorsai.)

    • Gary McGath Says:

      I’m working on it, just having a little trouble reaching her at the moment.

      You’re also on my list; I was just interviewing Mew and we agreed I should ask you about the Dinner Party.

  2. Richard Kabakjian Says:

    It was the dawn of the third age of filk-kind – five years after the Bayfilk-Consonance War.

    The NEFilk Project was a dream, given form. Its goal: to prevent another war, by creating a place where composers and parodists can work out their differences peacefully. It’s a rotating port of call – home away from home – for performers, hucksters, instafilkers, and listeners.

    Humans and punsters, wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand square inches of spinning function space . . . all alone in the night.

    It can be a dangerous place, but it’s our last best hope for filk.

    This is the story of the first of the East Coast filk conventions. The year is 1995. The name of the place is to be determined…

    • Gary McGath Says:

      More like 1990, actually.

      • Richard Kabakjian Says:

        I know, but you’re the one who defined the beginning of the third age… and it did take several years before NEFilk was actually born. ConCerto was pre-NEFilk, Concertino 1 was proto-NEFilk… besides, I just had to rewrite the B5 intro. Actually, it rewrote itself, then forced me to post it. I feel so violated.


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