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Grieving in the Blogosphere: R.I.P Jon Swift

Before blogging became a profession with people bickering over font size and appearance, there was a world of largely unknown bloggers — many of them struggling journalists — who helped create the blogging art form that was less about politics and celebrity than about good writing, interesting ideas, and great satire.

One of the most artful was Jon Swift, an anonymous blog that satired conservative thinking and culture.  He was the blog version of Stephen Colbert, before Colbert even existed, as James Wolcott eulogized in Vanity Fair. Swift — who was anonymous even to other sites where he contributed–has died and news of his death comes in the most fitting way: in a comment on his blog, from his mother.

Swift was actually Al Weisel, a New York writer, who “drifted in and out of blogging, when real life accommodated or got in the way,” as Melissa McEwan at the feminist blog Shakesville put it.

Here’s what Weisel’s mom said in the comments of his final blog post, a post ironically about death:

i don’t know how else to tell you all who love this blog. i am jon swift’s mom and i guess i’m going to out him. he was al weisel, my beloved son. al was on his way to his father’s funeral in va when he suffered 2 aortic aneurysms, a leaky aortic valve and an aortic artery dissection from his heart to his pelvis. he had 3 major surgeries within 24 hours and sometime during those surgeries also suffered a severe stroke. we, his 2 sisters, his brother, his partner and his best friend since he was 9 years old were with him as he took his last breath. we have all lost a shining start who warmed our hearts, tormented us and made us laugh as he giggled at our pulling something over on us. he passed away on february 27, 2010. my beloved child will live on in so many hearts. i miss him more than i can say. if you are on facebook, go to organizations and join “friends of al weisel, unite!” it will give you just a taste of how special he was. farewell, jon (al)

Wiesel and his blog Jon Swift — which went largely inactive in March 2009 — is being remembered throughout the blogosphere in both progressive and LGBT circles, but also among his antagonists.

Here is his memorable take on how the conservative media deserves a Pulitzer for its coverage of the Obama campaign:

While the mainstream media has given Americans a very distorted picture of Barack Obama, portraying him as a thoughtful, intelligent, unflappable, decent family man who has the temperament and judgment to be President, the conservative blogosphere has been the only place where you can get the real story. Hampered by quaint, old-fashioned rules of journalism that require citing evidence and reputable sources, the mainstream media has failed to report a number of important stories about Obama and the conservative blogosphere has had to step up and do the media’s job for them.

One of the people who knew him in person — Jason Chervokas at the blog, The Astounding Trickster — described Weisel as a secretive type, which made anonymous, satirical blogging the perfect outlet. “I know I didn’t know all of him, but the part of him I did know I loved. In Al I had someone in my life who was as sharp, acerbic, judgmental and opinionated as I was but somehow, instead of setting us at odds it drew us together,” Chervokas said.

In the comments to the Chervokas’ memories is a lovely description of what certain kinds of people do, whether in real life or–in the case of Weisel–also in the blogosphere. It is by “Lance Manion.”

A group of us were walking up one of the East 50somethings towards Broadway and he was giving us his own private tour of New York City that included long autobiographical passages many of which I was pretty certain were tall tales he was making up on the spot. He was just so good at it and so fluid I couldn’t be sure which story was the truth, the partial truth, or a whopper. I had the sense, though, that he was putting up curtains, so to speak, to keep parts of himself hidden. But whatever he was withholding, he was still sharing one of the best parts, his sense of humor and his talent for entertaining — not in the showman’s sense, in the host’s sense. He was keeping us all drawn into the conversation as if around a campfire.

Jon Swift, R.I.P.

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