Blog Post · Folk Music · Spirituality and Philosophy

Filk the World

This week, through a series of seemingly random events I became aware of the work of Leslie Fish. As an Electrical Engineer, Computer Programmer and a Science-Fiction/Fantasy fan I was surprised that the whole phenomena of ‘Filk’ music had largely passed me by.

I suspect it was because most of my Science Fiction/Fantasy reading was done in secret in small-town rural Australia, which wasn’t exactly overflowing with Star Trek conventions. It was probably also because my parents largely viewed that whole ‘dressing up’ scene with Pentecostal Christian fear and loathing. Dungeons and Dragons was, after all, a sure-fire pathway to demon possession.

Whenever I travel for work, my partner writes Facebook posts outlining the mayhem that often ensues with our five children. In the posts, the characters from Star Trek are borrowed as stand-ins for family members. As I am the one staying home this time, I made a few posts in the same theme and a friend mentioned ‘Banned from Argo’ in a comment (I had facetiously mentioned Mos Eisley in the context of Star Trek).

I made a recording of this amusing, raunchy, Star Trek inspired song and was surprised to get a comment back from Leslie. As I do for most of the songs I record, I researched the background. This is how I became immersed in the history of this prolific and rich cultural treasure known as ‘Filk’.

The cynic would pass the genre off as parodies and fan-fiction of little consequence. They would be wrong. Leslie’s 2012 album, Avalon is Risen, is a triumph of thought and expression in so many ways. It goes well beyond ‘space songs’ and covers issues of social commentary, paganism and fundamental questions of humanity. Fortunately, this beautifully produced booklet that goes with the album is available from Prometheus Music.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, as the same things that drive authors and fans to the genre of Science-Fiction and Fantasy are the things that make them question our history, our present society and our future. People who have a subconscious instinct from birth that the religious dogma and history they are presented with in adolescence feels contrived and doesn’t come close to fitting our lived experience find themselves looking for something else.

While Banned From Argo is an amusing romp, I picked The Sun is Also a Warrior to cover for my YouTube Channel. I read this song as a well-written rebuttal to the rose-tinted views of pacifism that often accompany the ‘New Age’ movement. Our race is, by its nature, in violent competition with our environment and each other.

The other serious song of Leslie’s that I am in awe of and wouldn’t attempt to re-record is Hope Eyrie. Set to some appropriate images in this video, the song perfectly captures the momentous nature of our mission to the moon in 1969. The song frames the event as not just a technical flea-hop off our planet, but the momentous start of the journey which will take us to other galaxies and ensure our existence beyond the small window of time in which we will consume this planet’s resources. It has taken some 50 years, but we are now seriously looking at a manned Mars expedition.

I have always appreciated artists who write and perform their songs out of a genuine desire to communicate and change society for the better, as opposed to making money giving comforting narcissistic fluff to wealthy consumers. I would place Leslie in the same league as Pete Seeger, Alistair Hulett and Billy Bragg and it is sad that her influence isn’t wider. Leslie’s song Chickasaw Mountain, on Avalon is Risen, is a tribute / letter to Phil Ochs, one of the great genuine folk writers of the 1960s.

This interview with Leslie, by Aya Katz, gives a good overview of Leslie’s views and some background to her songs and career. You can read more about Leslie in her blog here or her website here. If you want to know more about the Filk scene, this compiled ‘history’ by Gary McGath makes for interesting reading.


9 thoughts on “Filk the World

  1. Hiya!
    Welcome to the world of Filk! I’m a filker in the UK, and I saw your video of your cover of Banned From Argo. I hope you investigate Filk further. There are filk groups on Facebook, and there are conventions dedicated to filk held annually in various countries, such as the US, Canada, the UK and Germany. And filk circles are often held at Science Fiction conventions as well as at specialist conventions such as Star Trek. I know there are filkers in Australia, although I can’t give you any details. But I’m sure they’ll find you! Welcome to the family!

    1. Hi Valerie, thanks for the comment. Yes I’ve already had a few Australian Filkers message me here and on Facebook, obviously a very friendly community. 🙂

    1. Hi Lee, thanks for the link. Does the zine still run? I have a few songs of my own that might fit the genre.

  2. Hi!
    Saw your cover of Banned from Argo. I also cover it. I’m a keen Leslie Fish fan.
    I’m a filker living in Melbourne. I’m also a harpist, and song-writer within the contemporary folk genre. I manage a page on FB called Melbourne Filkers. Look it up. Would love to meet at some stage and share songs. Where are you based?

    1. Hi Ann, I live near Canberra, but do often travel for work. Do Filker’s have regular ‘sessions’ like those for Irish Music / Singer-Songwriters?

  3. FYI: Almost all of the songs on Avalon is Risen were re-releases of songs on Chickasaw Mountain (a tape from 1986). Some of the older versions I like better, but that’s possibly simply because those were the versions I am used to. I do really love some of the newer songs like Arizona Sword though.

    I have some video of Leslie from the last CopperCon on my YouTube.

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