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Au Revoir, Silke Tudor 

A brilliant columnist, cultural lodestar, and real friend leaves S.F. for NYC; we look back, trying to smile through our tears

Wednesday, Aug 18 2004
If I had never known Silke Tudor, I would never have had a member of the Porn Clown Posse sit on my lap. I wouldn't know the details of falcon hunting. I wouldn't have gotten to write headlines like "Girls Wrestling in Jell-O While Bikers Howl," or approve photo captions that said "Bitch: Mila Salazar's ass," because it really was important to publish a photo of Mila Salazar's ass, with the word "Bitch" upon it.

But forget about me.

If San Francisco had never known Silke Tudor, it wouldn't have known itself for most of the last decade.

During the seven years I've been editor here, I have watched Silke introduce this city to its least commercially viable and most interesting artists, its most committed adherents to the offbeat, its most fascinating obsessives, its funniest subversives, its strangest games, races, and other diversions, and its own best instincts. Her House of Tudor column told the city what to do over the coming week. In her Night Crawler column, she showed readers what she'd done over the weekend, making them wish -- desperately -- that they'd been there. In the process, she introduced whole, wide, unacknowledged or underappreciated swaths of performers and performances to wider San Francisco. More important, Silke introduced them with the respect they deserved, and, as near as I can tell, they responded by hugging her to their collective artistic bosom.

That's not to say that Silke ever went easy on anybody. Slight inflections in her precise, deadpan prose signaled the difference between the genuine and the fraudulent, the inspired and the self-promotional, with unerring and wicked subtlety.

For the most part, though, Silke chose to write about what she thought worthy, and it was hardly ever something you already knew about. It was almost shocking, the regularity with which she revealed, week after week, what was new and emerging in the cultural universe of San Francisco, and so what would be, in coming months or years, emergent in the culture of America. And she always made it seem so easy.

Silke covered the First Church of the Last Laugh (whose one and only patron saint is a little pointy-headed dude named St. Stupid), and "Fairy Butch's XXX Party," and the World Beard and Moustache Championships, and "Trannyshack," and the fifth annual S.F. Goth Naval Battle for Control of Stow Lake, and the very first Duct Tape Festival, and the Virginia City International Camel Races, and a depressing attempt to break the world gangbang record, and the Cyberbuss FhREaK Olympics, and, of course, the Power Tool Drag Races (which are exactly as dangerous and thrilling as they sound). As she did so, she brought an amazing array of characters -- from Chicken John to the Extra Action Marching Band, Heklina to the Devil-Ettes -- front and center in the San Francisco consciousness, which is where they belonged. This is to say nothing of the musicians and other performers she seduced to take part in the marvelous celebrations she arranged for the SF Weekly Music Awards and the predecessor gala known as the Wammies.

Over time, through her extraordinary writing and observational skills, out of the power of her own personality, Silke Tudor created a significant piece of San Francisco's current culture. She also developed from a good writer with connections to the city's underground art and culture scenes into one of the finest columnists in the United States. I never really expected the stuffed shirts anointed to judge the Pulitzer Prizes to give her one of their plaques, but I kept nominating her nonetheless, because as a matter of plain, technical, journalistic fact, she was better at feature columnizing than anyone in the country.

Beyond her journalistic talents, Silke is a caring and open person who has been kind to me personally. It is an indication of her inherent decency that she gave a year's notice -- yes, 12 full months -- that she was leaving the Weekly to go to New York. As I understand it, she has a book or two she wants to write there. I can't imagine the book she would want to write that America would not want to read.

There is no way to replace Silke Tudor -- not in one or three or eleventy-eleven years -- just as there is no way to give you a full sense of her character in the amount of space available here. Because I knew I would be insufficient to the task of memorializing Silke's time in San Francisco, I asked a few of her friends to help out. Excuse me, now, while I pass the keyboard, and go off to wipe my eyes.

In 1994, I was a columnist at SF Weekly and dropped by once a week to pick up mail, tiptoeing past a scowling young punker girl at the reception desk. This was a journey in itself, because her disdain was enormous, filling the room and running out the door to the street. I wanted to say, "Hey, it's OK, we all go in and out of it. Nature of the business," but I was afraid she might bite my head off. This was Silke Tudor.

Someone wisely moved her to editorial and gave her a column. The staff sighed with relief, and the city went on to fall in love with Night Crawler and House of Tudor. Over the years, Silke and I became friends and often bumped into each other at heinous and/or contrived events, sharing notes and insights about the ongoing San Francisco freak show. I think I may have even crashed on her sofa after a particularly vigorous New Year's Eve.

She always reminds me of a war correspondent masquerading as a society columnist -- a fearless punk rock tenacity combined with a delicate sweetness. If there were to be a poster for DIY journalism, Silke is the poster child, proof that there's still room for an eternally curious autodidact amidst the J-school clones. As producer of SF Weekly's music awards show, she excelled in drawing acts out of the woodwork that perhaps never sold millions of records but nevertheless represent the heart and soul of what continues to attract people to the city. She is the Queen of the Underground, discovering communities and networks and scenes, unearthing the Bay Area's natural resources before anyone has ever heard of them.

About The Author

John Mecklin


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