Whatever Happened To Filking?

Written By: Randy Hall

Published: Issue 24


Let me start by apologizing for not being present and accounted for in last week's newsletter. My brand new, $2,000 computer, the latest and greatest in information technology, crashed more than a week ago, and it's STILL in the shop being fixed. I'm struggling along on my brother's laptop, which is very limited regarding such trifles as word processing, but it has the virtue of still being functional. Perhaps tomorrow I'll get my shiny new computer back, and it'll even be in good working order!


So where were we? Oh, that's right! Filking!


My first encounter with the fan phenomenon known as "filking" (a shortened form of the word "filksinging") was at an early Star Trek convention. Since I do a lot of proofreading and copy editing in my work, I scowled at the program I was reading and determined to let the person who put it together know it contained a HUGE typographical error.


Little did I know that I was only partly right. During science-fiction and fantasy cons in the 1950s, a few musically inclined fans would get together at night, after the programming for the day had concluded, and trade folk songs they performed with guitars or no musical accompaniment at all. It wasn't long before some of the lyrics were altered to include elements from the cons, such as space travel or even elves. When someone later tried to describe this activity, he or she accidentally hit the "i" key instead of the "o" on a typewriter, and the word "filk" was born. Scary what being just one letter off can do, isn't it?


But what exactly is filking? While most folks acknowledge that getting together and singing these entertaining ditties has become part of many fan-run cons, I was surprised to learn that there's actually some debate on its definition. Some filkers insist that their hobby is primarily coming up with entirely new lyrics and music, while most fans are more familiar with the practice of taking a well-known song and adapting its lyrics to something in Star Trek or other science fiction.


Here's an example of the latter. It's called "50 Ways to Kill an Ensign." (Sung to the tune of Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.")


The problem is something 'bout your clothes, she said to me,

The red shirt and the stripeless sleeves yell "I'm Security!"

And when you get down planet-side with Kirk, you'll get to see

There must be 50 ways to kill an ensign.



He takes a landing party down to find what's going on.

A couple of the bridge crew, and some extras come along.

And then before you know it, the "expendables" are gone.

There must be 50 ways to kill an ensign.

Fifty ways to kill an ensign.



Just step on a rock, Jock.

Get thorns from some plants, Lance.

A Horta can spray, Ray.

Just listen to me.

Clouds drink up your blood, Bud.