Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Jordin Kare

My old friend Jordin was in hospital for heart surgery. His recovery was not going well, and now

Oh, alas.

I wrote about my friendship with Jordin when recounting my history with filking a couple years ago. But some of that could bear repeating.

Jordin appeared at UC Berkeley in the fall of 1978, a new grad student in physics fresh out of MIT. He'd been involved in the heavily-organized science-fiction fandom of the Boston area, and sought out such fandom as existed in the Bay Area. He tried out my on-campus club (I was a senior-class undergrad at the time); he became vice-chair of the Elves', Gnomes', and Little Men's Science Fiction, Chowder and Marching Society (the old-line East Bay fan group) for a while; but what most interested him was filking, the singing, composition, and collection of humorous and serious original songs and parodies about SF, fandom, and space exploration. Organized filking, as a fandom of its own and not just something fans occasionally did at parties, was just getting started in our area then. Jordin was used to organized Massachusetts filking, where they had things like the NESFA Hymnal, a full-scale songbook, and when he found that we were disorganized, yet had songs known not in Massachusetts, he formed the idea of a west-coast songbook. He proposed this at a local housefilk and asked if anybody wanted to help. Teri Lee and I volunteered, and that's how we became the three editors of The Westerfilk Collection. There turned out not to be time to compile it before the 1979 Westercon in San Francisco, though we did produce some songsheets then, and it came out the following year.

Ah, we had some great times creating that with the primitive technology of the time. The three of us did most of the layout on evenings and weekends in the Lawrence Berkeley Lab office, up the hill from campus, which Jordin did his physics work out of. Teri hand-drew the sheet music (yes, really), and I - who had the most secretarial experience - typed up all the lyrics on the finished sheets with one of the office Selectrics. Jordin kept the work organized. We had a lot of laughs and a lot of fun. There was of course much more than that - there was choosing appropriate songs and getting rights to them, organizing the contents, getting illustrations, and then printing and distributing, and Jordin was the principal in most of this, as well as the guiding spirit who kept it all focused on a vision.

Then it was published, and for years it was the basic bible of West Coast filking as it was intended to be. Jordin got more involved in filking. He learned to play the guitar, to sing (after a fashion), and to compose songs, some of them heroic ballads of human longing for space, and others corrosively funny. I could tell you of a lot of these songs, but others can do so more authoritatively than I, so let me just mention one, a parody to a hoary old folk tune (so you should know it) and one of his very first. Around the time these movies were new, Jordin expressed concern that, while there were a lot of songs about Star Wars, there seemed to be a dearth about Close Encounters. So he wrote one.

They'll be comin' to the mountain when they come
They'll be comin' to the mountain when they come
Devil's Tower is their mountain
For their taste there's no accountin'
They'll be comin' to the mountain when they come.

And many more verses equally silly.

Then I went off to grad school and eventually dropped out of filking. For a while I didn't see much of Jordin, but a lot happened to him. First he and Teri parlayed the success of the Westerfilk into Off Centaur Publications, the first major filk publishing outfit, even more important for its concert and studio tapes than its songbooks. Jordin actually recorded a couple tapes of his own songs. After several years of great success it all broke up in recriminations and lawsuits, sometime around 1987 (I was no longer around, but I'd known most of those involved, and doubt very much Jordin or some others were at fault), but Jordin kept on in filking.

But meantime he also got his Ph.D. in 1984, describing a method of automated search for supernovas - how exciting! - and began a career in high tech for some impressively well-funded startups. His specialty was laser propulsion of space travel, and he actually got some test rockets up. It expressed the same organizational skills he'd displayed in editing the Westerfilk and, more importantly, it was a step towards realization of the dream he'd expressed in his serious filksongs.

(Jordin's scientific papers all used the middle initial T., which he once told me he'd made up so that he would have one.)

By the time I saw Jordin much again, he was married to Mary Kay, a long-time fan and library cataloger (also my profession) originally from Oklahoma, and he was busy with his fast-moving career, shutting back and forth between the Bay Area and Seattle. He and Mary Kay lived in the Bay Area for a while, then they moved to Seattle because more of the work was there, then they decided they preferred the Bay Area, then they tried living in both places at once, then they moved back to San Jose. My relationship with Jordin had become a casual acquaintance, not the closer friendship of our Westerfilk days, but I'd see him at parties and he'd tell stories of working with Elon Musk and the like.

And then he needed to get his aortic valve replaced and

And we have lost a visionary - who strove to convert his visions into practice - and a creator and a wit and a friend.

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