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Happy Hour Guide

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

Jillian Northrup
Silke Tudor.

God of the Flies
Arts gadfly Jonathon Keats tries to map the one true Lord on the genetic tree of life via fruit flies, prayer, and KGO radio

By Lessley Anderson

Matt Smith
Development Pressure
A look at ethics questions raised by the political activism of the Mission Housing Development Corp.

Night Crawler
Last Crawl
In which three Doggie Diner Dog Heads lead Silke Tudor cross-country, to a place that is not San Francisco but, even so, feels like home

Letters to the Editor
Week of Wednesday, August 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.

This beat takes its toll on a journalist, as intense and fatiguing an assignment as a battle zone. You can only do it so long. We met recently and talked about her ideas for book projects, and I could see the sunshine returning to her eyes. These are exciting times for Silke. I'll definitely be waiting to see what she does next. As long as she's not behind a reception desk. -- Jack Boulware, author and journalist

Silke Tudor has the most radical note-taking posture of any journalist I have ever seen anywhere. The first time I noticed it was at an Idiot Flesh show at the Transmission Theatre. The place was swarming with people, and I looked up at one point and saw her perched on the staircase, this elegant pixie, looking as regal as a lady on the front of a boat, still as a statue, except for her hand with the pen in it. That thing was flying. When she would reach the bottom of a page, she would flip to a new one with lightning speed, without ever averting her eyes from the action onstage. Now, Idiot Flesh was a pretty compelling band to watch, but I couldn't help turning my shit around and watching Silke do that thing she was doing for the rest of the night. If you ever run into me, ask me to do an imitation, because it's something that deserves to live on in homage.

I have to go deep here for a second and say that the fact that she is leaving San Francisco is a huge loss for us. It's a sucking void not only for the thousands of readers who live vicariously through her intelligent, detailed, funny columns, but for all the artists and instigators she wrote about. Everybody knew that to have Silke cover something you did was an honor, because her level of empathy and unique entry points into better understanding of the world are mind-blowing. She could find her way into a paper bag and then make you wish you had been in the paper bag last Saturday night, instead of at that other lame thing you went to.

One last thing: Here are the answers to the FAQ I always get when someone finds out I know her. Yes, her real name is Silke Tudor. Yes, she is hot. -- Beth Lisick, author and columnist

Silke Tudor is the kind of perfect, pretty-in-punk package that makes you wish you were single (if I weren't already happily married!): smart, sexy, sassy, savvy, sophisticated. But beyond all the alliterative accolades, she is simply a great person. I've never met someone so talented and yet so humble. We felt bonded, I believe, by our commonly bizarre, vagabond childhoods and "colorful" backgrounds that resulted in lifelong literary self-therapy. During all the controversy (and anonymous animosity) I inadvertently aroused when I led a boycott of the Ocean's Eleven remake three years ago, Silke was inspired to write a profile of my entire life for this paper, which went far beyond this silly stunt, delving deep into the stuff behind and beneath my B-movie, lounge-lizard facade, and I've never felt more honored.

When I was left somewhat baffled and depressed by an oddly insulting "hit piece" that appeared simultaneously from a Salon.com journalist also covering the "protest," Silke countered with this simple, and passionate, response, which seemed to sum up her own professional manifesto: "It's the humanity, the HUMANITY, that matters."

In all of her eloquently constructed pieces, she sought out and celebrated the heart and soul of her subjects, many of whom were pariahs, outcasts, and social misfits. Because she herself has such a compassionate heart and tender soul, she couldn't help but identify with them. My wife, Monica ("The Tiki Goddess"), appeared with her onstage as awards co-presenter at several Wammies shows, and she shares my deeply felt admiration for Silke on all of these many levels. The Bay Area will sorely miss Silke's wonderful work as a poetic journalist with a unique affinity for the cultural fringe, but not as much as Monica and I will miss her personal touch in our own lives.

Aloha, baby -- and don't forget to write! -- Will "The Thrill" Viharo, cult movie cabaret impresario

Silke is about the ONLY person whose cultural appraisals and judgments I 100 percent trust ... she has the most omniscient perspective of the most cutting-edge creativity in ALL areas of culture. I would love to have seen her write a history of the late '80s-'90s -- Artists by the Dock of the Bay -- even in A-Z encyclopedia format -- our memories are precious and really are all we have, and I fear that many truly great and amazing artists, concerts, shows, performances, dog-and-pony shows, et al. have been completely, inadequately documented. If only San Francisco had all the New York media ... well, then it probably wouldn't be San Francisco anymore -- everyone would be too self-conscious and reflexively always self-promotional, the way the too-many-rats-in-a-cage New Yawkers behave, 24/7.

Silke has an integrity, purity of perception, honesty, and ability to forthrightly voice her evaluations while somehow magically almost never offending anybody! Above all, her enthusiasm is, as they say, contagious. I've never been disappointed with an "act" Silke recommends. I'm glad that in the past few years she has been able to write essays on out-of-town cultural phenomena -- caravans, small-town fairs and carnivals, stock car races, whatever ... and her SF Weekly awards which she curated are always the best concerts of the year ... even if you had a million dollars you couldn't put on a better party! I'm still in shock that she's leaving us, and hope that she will "wise up" and return as soon as possible, although I fear the wisdom of that adage, "You can't go home again."

Silke -- world-class impresario talent with an all-too-rare genuineness, authenticity, true-to-her-instincts, cut-to-the-quick integrity ... she's a poet, really, and one with an unatrophied, deeply moral conscience. Personally, I don't think New York deserves her, but there we are ... life is full of tragedy! -- V. Vale, RE/Search founder

If I set my mind in reverse and shuttle back at high-speed review skimming over everything except the Silke stuff but briefly freeze-framing our experiences together, I end up with a slide show of adventures that would take a lifetime to explain. Yeah, she's wonderful. Yeah, she's a great writer. Yeah, her unique and astute observations are amazing. Yeah, she looks great in a towel. Yeah, she makes a mean meatloaf. But you already know all that. And she's leaving us ... ABANDONING us!!! So I ain't got nothing nice to say about Silke. As a matter of fact, let me tell you a closely guarded secret of Silke's: her middle name is Sunshine.

We'll miss you Silke Sunshine Tudor! -- Chicken John, club proprietor and provocateur

sfweekly.com | originally published: August 18, 2004

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