Interview with Bob and Anne Passovoy, April 2000
Interviewer: Bill Roper
Warning: This interview contains lies, damned lies, and howling fannish lies. Buried somewhere within are nuggets of truth. Your mission is to find them.
Bill Roper: Weíre very fortunate to have Bob and Anne Passovoy as our Fan Guests of Honor at Chicon 2000. Theyíve been fixtures on the Chicago fannish scene for more than a quarter of a century now or some four fannish generations by my count. Is that about right?
Bob: You could say the same thing about a toilet.
Anne: I donít know any of these people. Judge, I never saw -
Bob: Actually, a fannish generation is about four to six years depending on whether they went to college, whether they learned how to read or whether they got into fandom through media. So if you figure from 1971 to 2000, thatís something like four to seven fannish generations. Of course, we werenít fixtures then.
Anne: Speak for yourself. I was filking way back when.
Bob: Thatís true. You were in fandom long before anyone believed I existed.
Bill: Also true, but why donít we save that story for the bio in the Program Book - since Iíve already written that section?
Bob: Anne was actually filking before we recognized it as filk. Back when we were in college there was a real greasy spoon café down in Champaign, the E-lite.
Bob: You could get away with just about anything there.
Anne: It was off-campus.
Bob: Back then it was mostly Allan Sherman songs.
Anne: I was just learning to play the guitar back then..
Bob: The very earliest beginnings of ďYour Mother Swims After TroopshipsĒ were in the E-lite Café.
Anne: I donít remember that.
Bob: Oh, yes.
Anne: Your memory is much better than mine.
Bob: Thatís because I make most of it up.
Bill: When did you first run into Juanita Coulson?
Anne: Iím not sure. That was back when singing wasnít thought much of at conventions because cons were for talking and singing interfered with the talking. There had been a whole bunch of people doing it at one time, but all of them had dropped out except for Juanita. We started singing together and then more people started. Then for a long time youíd find a room to sing in and try not to attract too much attention.
Bob: The whole thing with closed-door vs. open-door filks.
Anne: You either had a choice of being out in public and annoying the concom or hiding in someoneís room and annoying the fans who were trying to find the filk.
Bob: Filking didnít really become respectable until MidAmericon.
Bill: That was where I met you. Iíd convoyed across Missouri with the Coulsons to my first science fiction convention. I didnít know that many people there and I wandered into a room with Juanita and Anne singing. I thought this was a wonderful thing. But then again, I didnít know that many people to talk to.
Bob: We have pictures.
Bill: Iíll withdraw the comment. You know, this has been a rather disjointed interview so far.
Bob: Itís still searching for a theme. You could go rip heads off teddy bears for awhile.
Gretchen Roper: About now, Diane is reading this and wondering where the real interview is.
Bill: Other than filk, how is fandom different now than when you got in it?
Bob: Itís bigger. Itís younger. Itís noisier.
Anne: Lots more people who came in through media.
Bob: A lot fewer readers. Thatís really the dividing line between the people who we came in with and the people we see at conventions now. You have to understand that Iím a convention fan. I started out as a closet fan. Reading, not really realizing what a fan was, but cutting my teeth on Leinster, Norton, Heinlein and not knowing what a convention was. I got introduced to conventions in 1971 at a Worldcon and short circuited the progression that previous fannish generations had considered the norm. Thatís closet fan, because you were reviled for reading that crazy Buck Rogers stuff by your peers and parents. Then you get to corresponding fan. where you sent letters and fanzines to people that you met through the letter columns. Then you went to convention fandom to meet the people that youíve been corresponding with face-to-face. My generation was the first to really short circuit the process, getting into convention fandom and bypassing the correspondence stage. We were just ahead of the big influx of media fans. Star Trek was just getting started when we were in college. So itís all Bjo Trimbleís fault.
Bill: For organizing the effort to keep Star Trek on the air?
Bob: They used to have TV rooms at the Illini Union.
Anne: One TV for each channel. Except when Star Trek was on. Then all of the rooms were Star Trek and they were packed.
Bob: So Bjo saved Star Trek and suddenly there was this whole other route into fandom. Honest to God science fiction with blasters and ray guns. And the ones who could read eventually moved on to other stuff. Really, if you want to look at the cause of the size of modern fandom, you have to look first at media as being one of the big driving forces, because you started with Star Trek, which was the first modern science fiction series on television.
Bill: Now is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Bob: It certainly has supported a huge number of science fiction conventions. In the Midwest, prior to Star Trek, there really wasnít much going on. Don Blyly had just started the P-Cons, which were small. The Chambanacons didnít start until later. There was Midwestcon, which was a relaxacon. There were Octacons.
Anne: Which were pretty much by invitation only.
Bob: And Minicon up in Minneapolis. The convention community in the Midwest at that time was almost entirely APA or fanzine driven. Everyone had their own fanzine then.
Anne: Or was contributing to an APA, which produced a really big fanzine that way.
Bob: Then in the early seventies travel became easier.
Anne: I can still remember what a difficult time it was to get from Champaign to Chicago before the interstate highways were completed.
Bob: Pokey two-lane highways through little towns.
Anne: I had an incredibly boring experience driving that stretch once. Iíve carried a club in the car ever since and havenít had a lick of trouble since then.
Bob: Itís out in the car now.
Anne: Itís a sawed-off baseball bat.
Bob: We call it Irwin.
Bill: Wait a minute! Iím assuming thereís a story there.
Anne: Iím assuming that Diane is still looking for the real interview.
Anne: We have to make do with the memories we still have.
Bob: Most of them get better every time we tell them. Hanging around Bob Asprin tends to drift you in that direction.
Bill: And the story behind Irwin is?
Bob: Thatís a feeble attempt to try to regain control of the interview.
Bill: Itís the only hope Iíve got.
Bob: I donít know if we should let you put the full story of Irwin in here. Nobody knows who sawed Courtneyís boat, so why should anyone know about Irwin?
Bill: Because weíve been talking about it for nearly a solid page!
Anne: Suffice it to say that Irwin has stayed in the car and I have taken up knitting. Which was really neat the last time we flew because I expected to have to fight with airport security as I carried all these needles and scissors. Instead they waved the harmless little old lady on through while they X-rayed the rivets on Bobís jeans.
Bill: Speaking of Bobís genes. you have one of the major broods of second-generation fans in Chicago. What was it like, being parents in fandom?
Bob: Hard work, but worth it.
Anne: Remember that time when we went up to Minicon with Robin and the water was so bad she couldnít drink her formula and it gave her diaper rash?
Bob: We were fan guests of honor at a convention somewhere - Michigan. I think. We brought Robin and I think she was six weeks old. Quite young. Certainly pre-mobile. She rode throughout the convention in a sack on my belly. So talk about second generation fans, there she was being fan guest of honor. But there werenít kids around then.
Anne: It was later that a lot of the convention-running fans started having small children. And then they started having baby-sitting. I remember Iguanacon had baby-sitting and they got about 40 hours of work out of each of us because we had a place to park the kid. Robin took one look at this incredible room full of toys and said, ďBye. Mom. Bye, Dad. Donít hurry.Ē
Bob: Thereís not that much of a qualitative difference between one kid, two kids, and three kids.
Anne: By Chicon, we had the super baby-sitter, Katrina.
Bob: In a lot of ways, we found it cheaper to bring along a baby-sitter for the duration of the convention. Weíd park the kids in baby-sitting from time to time to let Katrina enjoy the convention, but sheíd make sure the kids got fed.
Anne: We were fan guests of honor at a convention once where they handed us a schedule and had booked us for about eighteen hours straight. We looked at it and smiled sweetly at them and asked, ďWhoís going to feed the kids?Ē The fan guest of honor liaison looked at us, looked at the schedule, looked at the three kids and said, ďOops. Carís double parked.Ē Then she vanished for the duration of the convention.
Bob: Eventually, they found a gopher of appropriate age to walk the kids to McDonaldís.
Bill: Recognizing that it might be best to go to the source on this, so how did the kids take to growing up in fandom?
Anne: They loved it.
Bob: The neatest thing was just the unlooked-for educational aspects.
Anne: After you went to the convention, thereíd be a few days of quiet while they assimilated all of this new information. Then thereíd be this huge cognitive leap and their vocabularies would triple, even after you cleaned them up. They learned whole worlds of inappropriate behavior not to emulate, just by watching. And children watch very intently.
Bob: Not to smoke. Not to drink. Snogging to excess. Itís easily connected with the physical wreck they saw the next day, so the issue of actions and consequences was right there to be learned in a milieu which offered no direct personal threat. Iím really grateful to fandom for providing that environment that allowed the kids to pick up those life lessons in a place that was always safe.
Anne: They had friends from all over the country.
Bob: They could be in a strange city and know that there would be somebody that you could trust 100% as a refuge - as long as you knew where the Huckstersí Room was.
Anne: The kids reach a stage of maturity where you can trust them with their own room key and they wonít let anyone in without a password. Youíd introduce them to their Uncle Hassan or their Auntie Blade and let them know that if they were in trouble they could go to them.
Bob: Being at conventions with the kids got them reading very early. It expanded their vocabularies way beyond the norm. And it got them very flexible socially so they could interact with their peers. The whole issue of a color issue or a race issue just wasnít there. It made getting along in real life easier. Of course. the hard part came when you went back to real life and the kids tried to explain what theyíd done that weekend and no one in Mundania would believe them.
Gretchen: Itís hard enough for an adult to do it.
Bob: Robin and Gillian say there are drawbacks. Their major complaint is that all of their best friends, for a while, were their parentsí best friends. They complain of being incredibly spoiled, because the grazing fields of boys their own age are flat, boring, and unimaginative.
Anne: Robin came home from school complaining that all of the boys are hard of thinking.
Bob: She said they couldnít think without moving their lips.
Bill: Thatís sad.
Anne: I think she got that from Terry Pratchett.
Bob: Robin will steal a good line.
Bill: Most fans will.
Bob: Chris hasnít had that problem because there are enough - as he puts it - major babes in fandom of his age to make his life rather more complicated than it needs to be.
Anne: Itís very funny to watch a kid try to hide under a bed thatís flat on the floor.
Bob: Fanning with kids is expensive, but itís worthwhile - not because it lets you go on fanning, but because of the advantages it gives to your kids, Itís a little disconcerting when you get a congratulatory gift on the birth of your child consisting of disposable diapers, each of which has been decorated by a different fannish artist. We still have the diapers.
Bill: Unused, I pray.
Bob: Yes. Itís dangerous to know artists. I broke my leg one summer playing softball and wound up in a full-leg cast. Then I went up to WilCon. Every artist who was there ended up adding something to the cast. So when I finally showed up at the orthopedic surgeon six weeks later, I told them that they werenít taking that cast off in their usual way. They were cutting it down the side and I was taking it with me.
Bill: Of course, other than filking, the thing youíre best known for in fandom is working for the artists running art auctions. I suppose they owed you some sketches.
Bob: I hadnít thought about it that way.
Anne: I suppose a number of old scores got settled that way.
Bob: Itís surprising how much of this turns out to be one Trimbleís fault or another, because I was taught how to auction by John Trimble.
Anne: So itís all his fault.
Bob: That part at least. The rest of it really just developed from an absolute inability to hold still, a natural bent for stand up and improv comedy, and just the fun of doing it and teaching it. The whole idea of the Midwestern school of auctioneering hadnít occurred to me until the last Chicon. At Chicon IV, I tried to get as many people together from as many schools of auctioneering as I could find. There was an Eastern auction, and a Southern auction, and only one auction with Midwesterners. It was me, and Larry, and I forget who else. We really hadnít started accumulating the terrific crew of auctioneers that we have now. But after that, it just took off. Everyone wanted to play. It certainly is a lot of fun.
Bill: Itís been very successful. The WindyCon art auction is the highlight of Saturday evening, even for people who arenít coming to buy art, but for the entertainment.
Bob: And the entertainment itself sells additional art that wouldnít normally get sold.
Bill: Oh, my God. I have seven pages of unsaved text! Hang on. (Pause) OK, go ahead.
Bob: For Chicon V, we did straight Midwestern. The whole business of the dress code was part of the entertainment.
Anne: It was really a reaction against the cavalier treatment the art was getting at some of the shows.
Bob: I remember at Noreascon, the auctioneer put out 20 gorgeous Kelly Freas cover proofs. He said, ďWeíll just set the price at 25 dollars a piece. If you want one, come up and pay for it.Ē I was a neo then, but I knew that this was an auction, and that just wasnít right.
Anne: The idea was to put in the effort to make the artist some extra bucks, then to get the artist paid in that calendar year. Heíd go out and tell his friends and weíd get a better art show.
Bob: The rest of it is just the fun of teaching. Youíll see auctioneers whoíll talk about how much art theyíve sold and how much a piece went for. I get to go to conventions and see an auctioneer around the Midwest or elsewhere in the country who Iíve trained and look at her and I can say, ďDamn, sheís good!Ē Thatís where the real egoboo is at.
Bill: And maybe thatís a good note to end on. Itís been great talking to you and Iím looking forward to working with you at Chicon.