Remembering a Fearless Voice

Steve Gilliard is dead. The news found its way into my inbox yesterday and two hours later I’d pored through as many online tributes, memories and reactions as I could find and still the news didn’t seem real. Because even though I hadn’t thought of him in a long time, hadn’t checked out The News Blog in several months, had only some notion that he had been very ill all year, I’m still feeling a little numb at the loss of what I now realize was one of the greatest influences on my life.

Most of the tributes you’ll read are by people who were longtime blog readers, exchanged emails with him on occasion or met a time or two. Probably 99% of them were not paying attention to Steve ten and a half years ago, when as a too-smart-for-her-own-good, socially awkward 18 year old I floated from USENET group to USENET group and found my way onto alt.showbiz.gossip. Unlike the current-day celebrity sites, here could be found intelligent discussion, cutting wit and the longest running flame wars known to man.

Among the sharpest, most bombastic voices was Steve, and I recognized this instantly. Who was this guy who spoke his mind, took wishy-washy people to task, refused bullshit and had little patience for fools? I had to know this complete sense of other for a sheltered college freshman living away from home the first time. Emails were exchanged where we talked about pretty much everything. Eventually ASG imploded and Steve moved onto Netslaves, where his writing introduced me to the delights and excesses of Silicon Alley, his passionate love for New York, military history and the then-current political machine. Through Steve’s writing I found myself getting an education in reality, and by learning how he saw the world I began to learn how to see how I could, too.

After years of emails and instant messaging, Steve and I finally met when I first moved to New York in 2001. And again, I must echo the tribute consensus that here was a gentle man, one who cared about his family, his friends and the nuggets of idealism in what was an increasingly confusing world. He was fascinated by my grad school work in forensic science and I can still remember hours upon hours of discussion of all manner of true crime cases, starting with the Andrew Cunanan spree chase in the summer of 1997 to the Green River arrest. For a time, he was my closest friend, someone I truly trusted emotionally and intellectually, someone I could bounce ideas off of but also know any advice I sought would be bullshit-free and against the party line that was my early 20s life.

But by the time I left New York the first time, we weren’t speaking anymore. More accurately, the decision was mine, for reasons I’m still not entirely certain I understand except to say the intellectual/emotional divide of a 24 year old is a lot greater than it seems. When I first heard he was in the hospital with heart failure, he reached out to me via a mutual third party, wondering what had happened. And I couldn’t respond. I didn’t know how.

Time passed and I would occasionally check in at the News Blog, especially during the Bernard Kerik mess because I knew he would have strong opinions and continuous coverage. I was happy to lurk and wished him well in my head. I figured, vaguely, that since I was back in New York we’d meet again in some context and I could finally apologize and wish him well in person, update him on how much my life had changed for the better, but if that didn’t happen, I was okay.

Now I’m not sure, and of course it’s too late.

But here’s the funny thing with voices like Steve: the live on through the written word, through those who read him voraciously or even sporadically. I can still remember years ago urging him to write a book – at the time, he was more interested in something tech-related, but his heart was in military history and politics. I hope someone will find a way to collect the best of his writings and make it available to his current and future readership. Because that way, he’ll never truly die.

For that, it’s not too late at all.