This is my tribe
March 29, 2003
At the Filk Hall of Fame Induction in 2003 we had no idea that the speeches given by Barry and Sally would be so eloquent and full of meaning. By sheer good luck, just prior to the banquet, Spencer Love had asked to tape the ceremony, and gave us a copy of the tape to transcribe. Barry and Sally have reviewed the text below and give their permission for its posting. We thank them and Spencer for sharing with us and with you. These speeches immediately followed the reading of the citation and presentation of the plaque honouring the Childs-Heltons.
We are well and truly and deeply, deeply honoured. And this is indeed an honour because it comes from the community. It’s a community that means a lot to us, obviously. In a culture that only treats talent as a limited commodity, we have broken all the rules that we have learned in our culture and we have managed to make for ourselves a community of creativity.
Being an ethnomusicologist, I professionally look at the way people use music in their everyday lives. I look at the way that music is expressive of a culture and all the many relationships between music and cultures. All of us were raised in a culture that said, “If you don’t have talent, then forget about doing any kind of art”. Forget about singing, about dancing, about doing any of those things, and we have to be acculturated out of it.
If you walk into a class of first graders and ask “How many of you are singers?” Every hand goes up. “How many of you are dancers?” Every hand. “How many of you are artists?” Every hand goes up. By the time you get to the sixth grade, there are going to be a couple of kids who either take dance lessons, or who are considered the best social dancers; so, when you ask that question, a couple of hands will go up. When you ask “How many of you are musicians?” only the hands go up for the few kids who are in band or in orchestra. By the time you get to junior high schools and high school, forget it. People do not want to even admit that they are being artistically expressive in any way, unless they do it really, really well (by conventional standards).
In a way, we’ve been robbed. We have robbed ourselves of the joy of making music, of dancing, of doing art. This [the filk] community has taken that and pitched it out the window and said, “We are making music because we love it, we need to do it, it feeds our souls, it feeds our community, it feed us as individuals.” And we do it.
One of the great joys for me in this community, is that I see people over the years growing as musicians and growing as human beings. That is not a small accomplishment in this day and age. So, just be aware that we’re doing something – I dare use the word revolutionary, but we are – we are taking back our right as human beings to make art. If the rest of the culture was doing this, it would be a very different and much better culture to live in. We are going places, we are doing things, we are reaching out, internationally at this point. So the fact that you’ve got an American and a German accepting for a Briton in Canada is not exceptional. Not in this group, it is not exceptional. So, just do be aware that what we are doing is extraordinary. It’s not normal, thank God. I wish it were more normal.
We have taken our right to be creative and to literally “play” in the best sense of that word. We invite each other out to play. And we do it. We do it with great joy, and we do it with great hearts. We do it with a lot of loving forgiveness for people who are still developing as musicians and may be a little painful at first to listen to. We see the growth, we see the value, we see the community, and I can tell you that as a musical subculture, – if you want to get really academic about it we are a musical subculture — I don’t know of one like it anywhere. And especially in this [social] culture.
In lots of other places around the earth, people are raised expecting to be artistic, simply because it’s something you do as a responsible human being. You do it like we get a driver’s license, we pay taxes, we get jobs, we hold down jobs. In other places around the world, you’re also expected to be a dancer, a musician, a wood carver, a batik artist, something, because it’s what a responsible full adult does. We have taken that back. We have taken that back for ourselves. I would like to congratulate all of us as a group for having the wherewithal to do that for it is no small feat.
Numerically, we may be a smaller group of human beings, than the one in which our creative culture is embedded, but who’s keeping score? I’m not. We’re taught to keep score. We’re taught to respect big numbers. We’re taught that what’s important is how many records a musician sells. We are taught to look at music as a product, that you buy and put in a machine, and allow to entertain you with a very clever technological trick that sounds a lot like a human being playing an instrument, but is not. And we forget that, until such time as we actually hear and see, and participate in events where people are actually entertaining each other, all night, the way humans have done since time immemorial: round the campfires, way back in our collective unconscious, the memories, the stories, the narratives, the ability of storytellers to take people elsewhere, to entertain other possibilities, and to come back with a refreshed sense of what is possible. That’s what we’re up to. And one of the great things about it is that, so far we’ve gotten away with it. (Laughter).
I think one of the reasons we get away with it, is that we recognize that every one of us in the room, participating in this mutual entertainment, is a creative being, a free intelligence, with every right to exercise creativity and to have that creativity be respected. It is so far away from the normal program that we learn growing up, that the world that some of us have come to see as “mundania” is supposed to be the only game in town. It’s supposed to be populated only by winners, the people who put the big numbers on the scoreboard. They don’t get it. I look at them with very mixed feelings these days.
I grant you that every folk culture — and we are a folk culture; we’re a culture made out of folks, not out of impersonal institutions — every folk culture must always begin with the two-year-old’s first magic word: “no”. I know what I am not. I know what I am not going to do, I know what I am not going to put up with, I know what I am not going to allow other people to impose on me as a set of limitations. And sometimes getting to that one magic word is difficult, because the paths are labyrinthine. And sometimes the possibilities are concealed from us, simply by the multiplicity of choices that are available in this particular, relatively affluent, part of the planet.
I’ve had two major ropes pulling at my heart ever since I was two years old. One is space travel, the other is music. And it wasn’t until many, many years down the pike that I realized that not only could I put them together, but there were other people who’d been putting them together for a long time, and having a wonderful time at it. I never realized that there was anything like an active filk music scene until I started doing a doctoral dissertation on folklore and technology and was doing a chapter on science fiction fandom as a technologically-oriented folk group. It was also a great excuse to attend cons. One of the first cons I actually wound up attending was your basic modest, entry level thing. It was a small local Star Trek convention, in Lubbock, Texas in 1978. And that was the first place I ever heard a Leslie Fish tape, and thought, “Wait a minute… Cool.” Listen to what people are doing, it was amazing. Of course, graduate school intervened and I didn’t really get a chance to try to become a practitioner until after I’d finished my doctorate.
The initiation scars, you know, are required if they’re going to let you into the ranks of the putatively normal. We all have them and we all use them appropriately. It wasn’t until that particular year that I came to think of a three-piece suit as the equivalent of a space suit. It’s equipment that you use to protect yourself in a hostile environment. And seen in that light I don’t mind having one. The thing is that that’s one of the essential talents that this entire culture has, this culture that we all belong to, this compact component of a larger system that is self-aware and has the inimitable, innate, highly individualized talent of flipping the ground and the figure and seeing something that is also legitimately there but that normally we do not see: the creative potential of human beings, the creative potential of ourselves. And just the sheer ancient fun of entertaining each other all night.
For this and for many other reasons, I consider the people of science fiction fandom to be my people, in the ancient sense that the tribesman will look at his tribe and say “These are my people”. That someone will look at his ancestors and say “These are my people” at his close friends and say “These are my people” You go where the welcome is. Home is where the welcoming heart is. And all I can say from that is thank you, and welcome home.