I didn't know him well, but Al graciously agreed to be part of my little newcritics experiment of a couple of years back and his presence at some of our New York gatherings was generous, friendly, and low key - though the humor could sometimes be appropriately biting.
Al was on the way to his father's funeral in Virginia when he suffered a sudden aortic aneurysm and underwent several surgeries in an attempt to save his life. Sadly, they did not succeed.
Heartbreakingly, Al's mother has posted this comment to the Jon Swift blog, unmasking the true identify of her brilliant son - and yes, he was a blogging super-hero to many of us.
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)
Al Weisel was the political poser's worst enemy as Jon Swift, but he was also a good guy to hang around the pub with and commiserate over New York's shrinking freelance rates. Gone all too soon, he'll be truly missed by many.
UPDATE: There's a Facebook group.
UPDATE II: Fine remembrances online - Jason, who knew him best among our group, because he knew him youngest. Please stop by his place and leave a comment; here's a bit:
In the nearly 30 years that I knew Al I didn't see him much--once or twice a year maybe, during some decades less, during some decades more. My sense of Al was that for him intimacy and emotion were never easy but there was something about our rare occasional conversations that I cherished deeply, and it was precisely the easy intimacy that results from sharing life events during those tender years when the vulnerable parts are all exposed no matter how well we think we're hiding them. I know that is the kind of friendship I'll never have the chance to develop again, so on a purely selfish level I'll miss Al more than probably he would have known.
Speaking of hiding things-- keeping secrets, was definitely one of Al's most treasured inner pastimes. For years, literally years, he would remind me with agitation about something I had written in the early Internet days to the effect that we've basically given up our privacy in the modern age anyway so why concern ourselves with protecting it online. Privacy, even secrecy, remained for Al a deeply cherished notion. I've been reading many of the blog posts eulogizing Al's Jon Swift persona. I know Al was proud of Jon Swift, perhaps a little frustrated by his inability to make it pay off in a kind of Matt Drudgey way. He certainly was gleeful about poking fun at conservative group think (sometimes the line between his parodies and the non-parodic statements of actual conservatives was indecipherable), and his malicious, gleeful, nervous laugh will be sorely missed. But I keep wondering, reading the Swift mourning, how many personae Al really had and who among his family, friends and lovers actually knew all of Al?
And James Wolcott really captured the Al Weisel that some of us came to know from New York gatherings of writers:
I met Al/Jon at the New Critics parties that Tom refers to, and he was a quietly intense guy, not in a bad way, but with a driven quality enabled him to devour all sorts of conservative craziness and alchemize it into comedy set-pieces dense with specifics but never losing their coherent purpose. There was always a "through-line" to his longer posts that had the electric hum of a third rail.
He was also the co-author of a lively book about James Dean and the making of Rebel Without a Cause, Live Fast, Die Young. I didn't have the sense Al/Jon lived too fast, but he definitely died too young.
Watching the spreadin profusion of links and tweets and comments this afternoon, it's amazing how many lives Al Weisel touched in his quietly intense way - mainly through the gift of his writing.
UPDATE III: Other heart-felt posts that should be read and commented on by friends in the blogging community:Blue Girl