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House of Tudor 

Sci-fi filk singers, a still-flying Byrd, and the infectious Dengue Fever

Wednesday, Aug 28 2002
Upon first seeing it, I thought the word "filk" was a misprint. Having been decisively corrected, I now realize the ignorance and misfortune of my pampered social bubble. Filk, as a plural noun, are songs about science-fiction and fantasy adventures; songs about science-fiction and fantasy fans; songs about other filk songs, filk singers, or the overall phenomenon known as filk; or songs about anything with a tangential association -- such as NASA, computers, jousting, or the Society for Creative Anachronism. For example, take these lyrics (please): "I met a man in a spaceport bar/ A brief respite on a distant star," sung to the tune of the Beatles' "A Taste of Honey"; or "Dungeons & Dragons and trapped secret doors/ Rangers and fighters and mages and dwarves," sung to the tune of "My Favorite Things"; or, worse yet, "Onion Rings to feed them all/ Onion Rings to find them/ Onion Rings to bring them all/ And in the darkness bind them," intoned by Tolkien fans. Of course, not all filk is parody; most of it, I have been assured, is original music and "brilliant" poetry of "epic" proportions. There are, in fact, filk clubs, filk recordings, filk publishers, filk conventions, and filk awards (called the Pegasus). Some say the "filk track" scheduled for this year's World Science Fiction Convention is large enough to be considered a full convention in its own right. How lucky are we? The convention's bounty includes over a dozen well-known filk singers, an instrumental jam, novice filk slots, the Pegasus Awards Circle, and a musical memorial for recently deceased Worldcon Chair Bruce Pelz (better known as the Elephant of Fandom). And while we're there, we might as well attend the intergalactic tai chi class, ogle the scantily clad geeks in the masquerade contest, follow our intuition in the Zen treasure hunt, argue about time travel, learn to generate story ideas using tarot cards, gather dating dos and don'ts from the GamerGrrls and GeekGrrls discussion panel, sit in on a few lectures like "Alien Sex" and "Beer in Zero G and Other Challenges of Space Manufacturing," and shake hands with Hugo Award winner Vernor Vinge, the mild-mannered mathematician whose dark depiction of cyberspace, True Names, predated cyberpunk by several years. Worldcon will be held Thursday through Monday, Aug. 29-Sept. 2, at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center (Market & San Carlos streets, San Jose). Downtown location and dates coincide with the annual Labor Day Tapestry Fair, so parking will be a bitch. Tickets are $15-85 for a day pass; registration is required at

Somewhere between his contributions to five Byrds albums and his work with the Flying Burrito Brothers (on everything from drums to banjo), Gene Parsons radically affected the sound of the Eagles, Metallica, the Rolling Stones, Arlo Guthrie, and Led Zeppelin. Nowadays Parsons makes a living from his Mendocino home, by producing the string-bending device he and Clarence White invented to turn the electric-guitar sound into one of pedal-steel. When Parsons isn't busy toiling in his steam-powered shop or wrenching on his motorcycles, he sings songs with his wife, Meridian Green, daughter of folk legend Bob Gibson. Parsons and Green sound the way porch swings feel: breezy and unassuming, with lots of history and warm laughter. Gene Parsons and Meridian Green perform on Sunday, Sept. 1, at Cafe Du Nord with Mover opening at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 861-5016.

Last September, after months of arduous rehearsal and hours of phonetic study of foreign lyrics, Mono Pause finally appeared onstage in its latest incarnation: the Thai pop band Neung Phak. Only Phak's female singer -- the irrepressible Diana Hayes -- boasted a hereditary connection to the material (despite her Pennsylvania rearing), but musical proclivity more than compensated for ethnic reality. In fact, the distance between the facts and the infatuation is what made Neung Phak's music -- a combination of twee-voiced pop, cartoon jazz, Thai traditionals, and avant-electro palpitations -- an aural pleasure worth repeating.

Oddly enough, soon after the sonic globe-trotters stepped from the stage at that show, someone told them about a similarly styled Los Angeles group called Dengue Fever. An Internet search revealed more than an infectious disease transmitted by mosquitoes: Dengue Fever is the brainchild of Farfisa organist Ethan Holtzman and his guitarist brother Zac (ex-Dieselhed), in collaboration with saxophonist David Ralicke (Beck/Brazzaville), bassist Senon Williams (Radar Brothers), drummer Paul Smith, and Cambodian pop star Chhom Nimol. (Before relocating to Long Beach last year, Nimol was often invited to sing for the king and queen of her native soil -- a task that left her with lavish formal gowns and a knowledge of traditional Khmer dancing.) While I may prefer Hayes' flossy vocalizations to Nimol's shriller pitch, and Neung Phak's shimmering tones to Dengue Fever's salty riffs, I can't help but enjoy these originative, shape-shifting musicians, especially considering how, live, they've chosen to re-create the wild '60s compilation Cambodia Rocks! in its entirety. You might ask yourself if it's some bizarre miracle of creative kismet or just a wall-eyed coincidence that two West Coast groups decided separately but almost simultaneously to explore the world of Southeast Asian pop, but it's probably better to just revel in the easy-listening innovation. Dengue Fever performs on Sunday, Sept. 1, at the Make-Out Room with Little Fuzzy opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are $6; call 647-2888.

About The Author

Silke Tudor


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