If you attend SciFi Conventions or listen to Dementia Radio, you know who Tom Smith is. One of the great filk innovator, Tom is loved around the nation for his funny fandom tunes.
I sat at a booth in a Mexican restaurant, sipping coffee and pondering what was the meaning of Filk. I started to hear this weird, swishing sound. I looked around the almost empty restaurant trying to figure out what it was. There were me, another table of two and the staff at that lunch moment. It seem to get louder and louder and I glanced outside. It was a sunny afternoon and I noticed some odd think flying in the sky. It zoomed around so fast; I couldn’t make it out. The closer it got to the ground, the louder it got and I cold have sworn I heard trumpets in the background as he landed.
He stood proudly with his hands on each hip and protruded his chest. His head was held high and cocked to one side as he grimaced. “He looks like he has to fart or he just crapped his tights,” I thought to myself. He started to walk toward the restaurant. He was dressed in bold, odd colors I don’t think I’ve ever seen on any color pallet before and his cape was lime green. “Maybe he needs to use the bathroom,” I thought.
I sipped my coffee to the bottom of the cup, signaled for the waitress, looked out the window and he was gone. It suddenly felt like someone was standing at the end of the table. “Ah, the waitress with coffee,” I muttered. I turned my head and there he was.
“Do you have coffee underneath your cape?” I asked the caped one.
He just stared at me. I got nervous, didn’t know what to say or do. All I could do was let out this incredible sneeze. I opened my eyes and filker Tom Smith was sitting across from me. I looked around for the caped crusade man and nope, gone again. ‘Hey Tom, did you see a…… never mind,” I said.
Many of the filk and science ficiton convention community in the mid-west area know the brilliance of Tom Smith. While I was hanging out with Smith, he began my understanding in the teachings of Filk.
“I’m a jack of all trades in all areas,” Smith said proudly.
He began his filkness when he was hanging out with musicians at Windycon in 1979. He helped run tech for a show in the gameing room and shared filk with friends.
The waitress came over with coffee and she took our order. Fast forward to 1984 and Smith hung out with more friends and did Rocky Horror shows when the movie was a thing that was cool. The food was served and coffee poured.
“(I) Used to do a lot of Rocky Horror,” Smith said and crunched at hard shell taco. When he was young, he was very into science and dionsaurs. He read Dune at the age of nine. His mother was a singer and dad a dancer so he had much music and dance lessons and exposure.
“I used to love Louie Armstrong,” he said. “(I) wanted to play cornet.” He idolized Armstrong.
He learned to play the piano, accordian and lessons in tap.
I occasionally looked around the resturant and outside for the capped one. In 1985, he took the effort of teaching himself guitar. He bought the instrument and a lesson book and went with it. He surronded himself more and more with different aspects of sci fi that it became a love.
“As long as I’ve been sentient,” he commented on how long it’s been a love. He took influence from icons in the comedy field, such as Bill Cosby, George Carlin, and Robin Williams, and his heros, Chuck Jones and Jim Henson and fit into the filk skin he wears today.
Smith took his glasses off and leaned forward slightly seated in the booth. More water was brought for him and my coffee cup was filled again. He talked about importance in filk; filk is to performing for pay as writing for fan fiction is to writing for pay. He was trying to find solace in writing filk lyric and music. He put his glasses back on. He wanted to do something different than what’s been done already. He took out a CD of his he brought and pointed to each song on the back of it and talked about the background of them. I got lost in the creative spin he put on each song and the comedy behind it. Another part of filk that is vitally important is the comedy.
“If you’re going to do a comedy song, you have to be funny,” Smith said. “Not witty, not clever, make them laugh their asses off.”
His musical influences make a huge impact on his creative process. Legands like Allen Sherman, The Beatles, Frank Zappa, Meatloaf, Billy Joel, The Who, Steven Sondheim, and the soundtrack to Fantasia.
A mixed bag of colorful influences. And that reminded me to look if my colorful caped man was anywhere in sight.
Smith is smart about writing. Before he does a new song, he will research throughly to see if it’s been done or written already. If it has, he does it better. One talent he is very proud of is his ability to write very fast. How does one write a filker without being redundant or repeating with the song is that is being parodied?
“It varies with the song,” Smith started. “With a parody, it’s almost always a pun on the original; although it can be a variation based on the structure. “The Dread Ensign Wesley” has nothing, whatsoever, to do with the tune I use it for. On original songs, usually I get the thematic idea and start working out lyrics and a basic chord structure simultaneously. The melody is almost always last.”
One part of filk that Smith highlighted is you really have to listen to it to get it. “Rap music is heard, but not really listened to,” he commented. “If you don’t pay attention to the lyrics, it can become background music.” He added.
He does filk full-time. When he’s not filking around, he indulges in horror and fantasy. Harlin Ellison is a major influence in his life. He also mentioned Lovecraft, Tolkien, Lois Bujold, and Stephen King. He enjoys King’s non-horror writtings more; like The Stand and It. He spends time watching classic horror movies with legands Boris Karloff and Vincent Price. He doesn’t like slasher movies. He talked about his favorite horror movie moment is in the beginning of It, when the picture in a photo album winks at the guy looking at it. He does enjoy modern horror movies such as Hellraiser 1, The Changling and Vanhelsing. He praised one TV horror show, American Gothic.
“American Gothic is to horror what Babylon 5 is to Sci Fi,” he said and his eyes widened with excitement.
Smith get inspiration from just about everywhere. Ideas come all the time. One has to wonder, would he ever run out of things to write about/would it ever become random and boring.
He chuckled heartily, “No chance, no chance at all,” he commented.
He’s doing about a dozen more conventions this year. So perhaps you’ll see him filking around the con.
As I finished my coffee and Smith left, I sat back and relaxed. I gathered up my notes and looked out the window. And there he was again. Standing in the same spot, just smearking at me. He winked at me and waved. I looked closer and damnit, if he didn’t look just like Smith. I moitoned to him to hold on and made my way toward the door. As I got to it, he turned quick at flew into the sky. By the time I got outside, there was no sign of him or that anyone had been there. As I heard the waitress yell at me for not paying, I danced the pee-pee dance back inside. I payed and wondered was this just my imagination? Was this my excitement giving me hallucinations from interviewing Smith? Or was it to much coffee and my head was clouded with brew?
To see what the filk Tom is doing, roll over to www.tomsmithonline.com and click your way around. Maybe buy something.