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The Filk of Joe Hill [Nov. 19th, 2014|09:40 am]

On November 19th 1915, Joe Hill was murdered by the State of Utah for the crime of filking.

Taken at face value, it's an absurd statement. But there is a nugget of truth in it.

If a core activity of filking is defined as writing new lyrics to existing songs, where the new lyrics are purposefully set to resonate or being in dialogue with the old lyrics, then the Industrial Workers of the World was one big filking union. And Joe Hill was the finest filker of them all.

The True Fan Girl

This is my attempt to honour both Joe Hill and the girls and women who today demand their right to be fans, despite Gamergate, rabid weasels within SFWA, or people ranting about "social justice warriors". It's based on his original song The Rebel Girl.

And who still gets lots of crap when they do so, or even only make themselves known or present.

The Swedish version of the song is dedicated to Ylva Spångberg, Anna (Åka) Davour, and my wife Therese. It is based on Jacob Branting's translation from 1969.

Det finns många slags kvinnor i världen
det vet alla som sett sig omkring
Några går där i lyxen och flärden
ibland dyra och kostbara ting
Det finns kvinnor där yta är allting
och dom visas i Trean och Slitz,
men den kvinna som jag ser bredvid mej
är en fannisk tjej

Hon är en fannisk tjej, en fannisk tjej
i vår fandom gör hon sin egen grej
Hon är modig, stolt och glad
när hon går i våran stad
Vi behöver er, vi behöver fler
i fandoms science fiction-union
För all fanac den blir bättre
Med en fannisk tjej

Hennes händer må ha märkts av stencilfärg
hon bär kläder som hon kan sytt själv
Hennes hjärta kan slå för vampyrer
och rymdskepp och all vetenskap
Fandoms gubbar dom slutar med svamlet
när hon rest sej och gett dom en smäll
för den kvinna som jag ser bredvid mej
är en fannisk tjej

Hon är en fannisk tjej, en fannisk tjej…

(Lyrics have been changed since first posting, and scans much better now.)

Lyrics, notation, and chords. (I can't guarantee it's error-free, though.)

The English version is dedicated to Farah Mendlesohn, Mary Robinette Kowal, and my daughter Hulda. I'd like to express my gratitude to thnidu, who critiqued and improved both grammar, metric, and rhyming.

There are women of many descriptions
In this queer world, as everyone knows
Some are living in beautiful mansions
And are wearing the finest of clothes
Some are gorgeous to look at but empty within
As you find when you give them a whirl
But the woman I see beside me
Is a true fan girl

She's a true fan girl, she's a true fan girl!
To our fandom she is a precious pearl
She brings courage, pride, and joy
To all fannish girls and boys
We've had girls before, but we need some more
In the science fiction fandom of the world
For it's great to do some fanac
With a true fan girl

Her hands may be stained with mimeo ink
And she may have made her own dress
And her heart it's throbbing for vampires,
Spaceships, or scientific process
Rabid weasels in terror are trembling
When her spite and defiance she'll hurl
For the woman I see beside me
Is a true fan girl

She's a true fan girl, she's a true fan girl…

If you want to listen to Joe Hill's original, I can recommend the following three versions:

Since the song is not that well-known nowadays, here are PDF Notes and MIDI files (probably using Dickens' revision, sadly). I've also created my own set of lyrics, notation, and chords. If you find any errors, please let me know.

It's a Long Way to the Con Suite

Of course, my filking brain didn't stop there. In 1914, while in prison, Joe Hill was asked to write a song about the souplines for the unemployed in San Francisco based on It's a Long Way to Tipperary. After he received the notes and lyrics, he wrote It's a Long Way to the Soupline. Which I've now filked yet again.

Bill Brown was just a gopher guy like others at the con.
He got his gopher ticket when his shift in tech was done.
He was thinking of some hot food, and maybe some bordeaux.
But Bill heard everybody sing, no matter where he'd go:

It's a long way down to the con suite
It's a long way to go
It's a long way down to the con suite
And the food is bad I know
Good bye, greens and beefsteak
Farewell, fresh made fare
It's a long long way down to the con suite
But my food is there

Bill sang ose filk songs until the morning came.
Did his gopher duty while an itch drove him insane.
Stumbled with his ladder and crushed the sprinkler main.
As they went a-running all the fans sang this refrain:

It's a long way down to the con suite…

Now Bill learned his lesson, partly through this song:
Five hours's sleep, two hot meals will keep Billy strong.
A shower with his fangirl he can daily share.
Still the filkers nightly will sing of this affair:

It's a long way down to the con suite…

[User Picture]From: madfilkentist
2014-11-19 10:34 am (UTC)
Well, I don't know enough about Hill's case to say whether he was guilty or not; but assuming he was made a scapegoat, it seems more likely (going by the Wikipedia article) that he was killed for being a foreigner and an activist for an unpopular cause, and for exercising his right to remain silent. In 1916 a Lutheran pastor in Iowa was imprisoned for delivering a funeral service in Swedish.
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[User Picture]From: kjn
2014-11-19 11:14 am (UTC)
Yeah, saying he was executed (which I consider as state-sanctioned murder) only for writing songs might go a tad far, but songwriting was an important part of his activism, and I think it's unlikely that he'd be still remembered today if he hadn't also written his songs.
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[User Picture]From: thnidu
2014-11-19 02:36 pm (UTC)
I hadn't known, or had forgotten, that Joe Hill was Swedish, which of course puts kjn's filk and the whole background in an entirely new-to-me and meaningful context. Thanks for the info and pointer to the article, which I just read.

Edited at 2014-11-19 02:38 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: kjn
2014-11-19 04:45 pm (UTC)
And thanks again for your help!
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[User Picture]From: thnidu
2014-11-19 05:20 pm (UTC)
I've got LEARN THE SONG on my whiteboard, for Philcon this weekend.
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[User Picture]From: thnidu
2014-11-19 05:52 pm (UTC)
I started listening to Hazel Dickens's bluegrass version, but the scansion in the chorus seems to depart from the pattern in your lyrics, so later on I'll try one of the Swedish versions.
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[User Picture]From: kjn
2014-11-19 06:00 pm (UTC)
Yeah, she changed a lot in the chorus, but it might be that my lyrics still needs some improvement in its scanning.

Mora Träsk's version is probably the one that's most easy to follow (myself, I learned the tune during singalongs when I was 15 or so).

And then there's Janne Lærkedahl's English version, that uses Joe Hill's original chorus.
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[User Picture]From: thnidu
2014-11-19 06:16 pm (UTC)
it might be that my lyrics still needs some improvement in its scanning.
No, I just sang your lyrics while listening to Träsk's Swedish, and the match is almost perfect — allowing for routine oral-transmission variations, and the extension I suggested of v.1 l.5. I'm not criticizing Dickens's version, but it's different, and not helpful for this purpose.

(BTW, even apart from that, I found it a lot easier to sing your English lyrics along with a language I don't know: less distraction!)
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[User Picture]From: kjn
2014-11-19 06:26 pm (UTC)
All set, then!

BTW, Mora Träsk is the name of the band, not the singer.
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[User Picture]From: thnidu
2014-11-19 06:28 pm (UTC)

I may tweak a bit more as I work on it.

Edited at 2014-11-19 06:28 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: patoadam
2014-11-19 04:32 pm (UTC)

Thanks for posting!

Thanks to your post, I am finding out more about Joe Hill.

I'm particularly glad to find out about "Rebel Girl", as it is similar in spirit to Woody Guthrie's "Union Maid", part of the melody of which I stole for one of my own songs.
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[User Picture]From: kjn
2014-11-19 04:44 pm (UTC)

Re: Thanks for posting!

I believe Adler's book is the best current source about him - especially since he seems to be the first American author who really went to Swedish sources about his early life.

Personally, I think "The Rebel Girl" is the better song (and in its message), though both show a lot of the ambivalence that the early labour movement had about women (and, to be frank, still have to some degree).
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[User Picture]From: thnidu
2014-11-19 06:27 pm (UTC)

couple tweaks to It's a Long Way

• He was thinking of some hot food, and maybe some bourdeux.
→ bordeaux

• A shower with his fangirl can he daily share.
→ he can
> The inversion isn't ungrammatical, it's just not colloquial.
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[User Picture]From: kjn
2014-11-19 06:33 pm (UTC)

Re: couple tweaks to It's a Long Way

Thanks! (I really should filch that icon.)
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[User Picture]From: thnidu
2014-11-20 06:30 am (UTC)

Re: couple tweaks to It's a Long Way

Be my guest! but please credit it to stormsdotter, from whom I got it.
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