I was doing this long before I knew there was a word for it: Back at Immaculate Conception Catholic grade school, I would amuse my friends by writing alternate lyrics for the dumb little songs the Sisters of Providence, God love 'em (and He does) made us sing, out of those To God Through Music books, a couple of which I still have, sheesh. I even remember a few of them, but putting them down here wouldn't mean much: The songs were heavily dependent on a cast of characters who have long since scattered to the four winds, or, alas, to the Heaven they so fervently believed in and nagged us to work toward. Sole male lay teacher Mr. O'Malley, his imaginary wife Marta, his imaginary but eternally ravenous dog Bower (Mr. O'Malley tended to drop his Z's in a peculiar fashion) Sister Helen Agnes, Sister Marie Bernard, and numerous kids who were funnier than anything I ever saw on TV, bounced through lyrics that scanned perfectly (I would not release a song until the last syllable fell into place) and got more than one of us in trouble on more than one occasion...but I guess ya hadta be there.

This process is called filking, and the products are called filk songs. Why or who so named them I'm clueless, but I think the term came out of the science fiction fan community, who've been doing it way longer than I've been. I learned the term when I attended the Clarion SF Writers' Conference at Michigan State University in 1973. At that workshop we all tried to outdo each other with silly filks of recognizable tunes. My first effort there was called "Our Space Opera Goes Rolling Along", which as best I know is still sung in late night giggle-sessions at SF conventions around the world. I followed that quickly with "The Outer Space Marines," and soon afterwards the filk I am probably best known by, when its authorship is known at all: "The Zero-G Polka."

Then, in early 1976, I got the notion to do an entire filk opera, for God's sake. That year the World SF convention was in Kansas City, run by a committee who said and did a lot of outrageous things. For example, they wanted to thin out the crowds a little (SF Worldcons had been growing by leaps and bounds as the Boomers came of age, and were rapidly getting ungainly to operate) by going the elitist route, and discouraging the attendance of "fringefans," that is, fans who were more interested in fantasy, TV SF, Star Trek, Tolkien, and other borderline items that weren't SF in the Grand Tradition. So I imagined a sort of gang war at MidAmericon, between the Techs and the Treks, and took it upon myself to filk every single memorable song from West Side Story. To this day I'm amazed not that I didn't finish it--but that I got as far along as I did. In machine-gun fashion, one per weekend, I filked "The Jet Song," "Tonight," "I Feel Pretty," and what is in my own mind the most amazing piece of creative lunacy I've ever assembled: A 100% parody of "Gee Officer Krupke" that neatly summarized and skewered the entire fringefan issue. I tossed in a borrow from another musical, in honor of the Guest of Honor, Robert A. Heinlein, and filked "I Am I, Don Quixote" from The Man of LaMancha.

I think I burned myself out in the process, because I never did as well in the filk process after that. Since then I've written a handful of what I call "filk jingles," which are shorties that I create specifically to get one of those molasses-sticky melodies out of my head. These work well clearing my head, but they're not always funny enough to inflict on people who think everything I do should be as good as "The Zero-G Polka." (By the way, there is one more verse to that little gem that I have never sung aloud or never even written down, fearing as I have for many years that the political correctoids would stuff and mount my hemmorhoids on somebody's wall if anybody ever heard it. Once we're both dead and somewhere on Riverworld, look me up and I'll reveal it--and if anybody whines at that point it'll be my spear where the sun don't shine.)

Complete Filk Songs, of No Particular Cycle

The Songs from MidAmericon Story

  • The Tech Song
  • This Con
  • I'm a Trekkie
  • Gee Chairman Keller
  • I Am I, Robert Heinlein

Filk Jingles

In my time I've also done some poetry parodies of recognizable poems. I've done some parodies of obscure poems, too, but then people say things like, "Well, Jeff, I'm sure that's very funny...if I only knew what you were making fun of." It's no fun if nobody recognizes the original inside the parody. This is why I resist the temptation to filk songs from third-shelf musicals like The Most Happy Fella or Kismet, or mock poems by guys like Robert Lowell or Theodore Roethke, whom no one reads without a gun to their head anyway. By my own standards, only two of my poetry parodies are fit for public consumption, and these are shown below. If you don't recognize the originals in these, sheesh, you need a real education.

Q: Why don't sharks eat clowns? A: They taste funny.

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