Some of you know that I do a bardic performance on one of the last days of War Week at Pennsic (if you don’t know what those 3 things are, stop reading and go Google something). I say I, meaning I and my beautiful wife, who’s waaay more talented than I (wow, 4 “I”‘s in one sentence; I am self-absorbed. Ooh, 5!). The performance is not a traditional bardic where everyone performs something, neither is it a traditional performance of SCAdian songs. You won’t hear “Born on the Listfield” from me, not the least because I don’t know it and it’s not put down in writing and I’d have to listen to it more times than I’d care to (which would be more than once) to learn it. Sorry, don’t like the song, hope we can still be friends, blahblahblah.
What I do perform are songs with my own lyrics set to other people’s music. It’s a form of filk, where popular songs are given modified lyrics (think Weird Al Yankovic). There is another kind of filk where the words are completely different from the original. This is a very period practice; new lyrics published and noted “To the Tune of Lord Whositz Bransle”. It allowed folks to sing along with a new words to a known tune. They called them “broadsides”; we refer to them as “copyright infringement”.
Another kind of filk borrows heavily on the original lyrics to make the song more funny, sad, poignant, etc. (again, Weird Al). I could explain how taking well-known lyrics and making them do different things heightens the impact, but it’s really just easier for us lazy folks (less to write).
Any filk is difficult to do well. You can quickly become trite, maudlin, or, worst of all, boring. There are certain rules that I try to follow, both before and after I’ve written something:
RULE #1 — if you can’t pull off a moving, wistful, sad or nostalgic lyric, one that makes knights cry before they’re drunk, go for comedy. All mine, at least the ones I’d perform publicly, are comedy.
RULE #2 — you have to use songs people know. I’ve done filks to great songs, only to realize that no one I know remembers or ever knew the song. I did a filk to an ELO hit from the mid 80’s called “Calling America”, but almost no one knows it. This one actually violated Rules #1 & #2; it flailed widely between hokey lines like “kingdom of golden light” and lines that translated as “meh”. And nobody knows it. “Calling Atlantia” = Total Fail.
RULE #3 — don’t steal other people’s work. Okay, since filk is by definition taking others tunes, this might seem odd. The issue isn’t changing someone else’s words and using their music, it’s profiting from them. Unrecorded performance is generally okay, but recording filks or performing them and charging admission, without permission, is theft. It’s also wrong and grounds for legal action, which leads me to a corollary:
RULE #3A — don’t fuck with Disney. Seriously, Disney owns a shit-ton of songs and music and defends their copyright — vigorously. Those bastards have legions of lawyers; like Roman legions. They will black-helicopter legal SWAT commandos down on your ass and you’ll end up paying for lost revenue, defamation, and the gas for the chopper.
Given my natural personality (some would say “jocular”; some, “jovial”, others, “asshole”), I stay away from mournful tunes. As I said, pretty much all my stuff is humorous, or at least attempts to be. Following Rule #2 is tougher. Being “of an age”, I know and love songs that many don’t know (I mean come on: I saw the Beatles live in concert). Songs that I know well enough to filk often were made hits by bands nobody’s heard of.
Recently, I premiered a filk to Elvis Presley’s “Little Sister”, called “Little Mistress”. I introduced it by saying, “this one’s based on an Elvis song”. Someone in the audience said, “Elvis who?”. Fuckin’ millennials.
I’ve also had the reverse experience. I did a number several years ago to Foster the People’s “Pumped-Up Kicks”. It was received well, but I was told afterwards that a lot of folks had to go find the original ’cause they didn’t know it. Fuckin’ Gen X’ers.
I have a file of failed filks, based on songs nobody knows that will never hear the light of day. They don’t work, and a lot of the humor is lost without everyone knowing the tune, especially since much of the funny is in changing the lyrics just a little, like my version of Puddle of Mud’s hit, “She Fuckin’ Banished Me”.
If I’m going to put this much thought and effort into these gems, ya’ll are going to have to meet me partway. I’m old and, while not exactly set in my ways, I am most familiar with the music from the 50’s, 60’s & 70’s (I’ve heard about music from the early 80’s, but as a result of the celebration of my first divorce, I have no memory of anything from that era. If any of ya’ll know of my whereabouts from ’79 to ’84, let me know. Just to keep my records straight). While I have, as mentioned, filked more current music, you should have a passing familiarity with the music of my youth, since, with the exception of my versions of “Bust A Move” and “MIB’s”, I don’t do rap. I also don’t twerk, but that’s dance and a different post.
All that being said, I humbly suggest that, for full enjoyment of my little ditties (get that musical reference? No? My point.), you need to become familiar with the hits of following, given in no particular order, except for the first two:
(Seriously, if you don’t know these two, you are a music barbarian and should be appropriately ashamed. They’re online; go and be amazed)
various Country/Western performers (Toby Keith, Kristofferson, and Tom T. Hall)
Foghat (that’s an in-joke you’re excused from getting [but I can totally see “Slow Ride” becoming Cooper’s “Lakeside”])
In closing, support our filking bards, expand your musical acquaintances (’cause good music really didn’t just begin when you were 10, nor stop when you hit 25), and while you’re up, get me another beer. Please.