The first time I read John Saward’s column for VICE, I remember laughing so hard I had to stop to catch my breath. Here’s the opening paragraph from his piece “Why I Love Watching Ron Jeremy Fuck”:
To witness Ron Jeremy have intercourse is to witness a grizzly bear eat a flamingo, or an orphan try to break into a vending machine. He is a manifestation of the grotesque male id, jamming fingers and genitals into every orifice at every opportunity, doing all of these things simultaneously, not making sense, not following some plan, just a man bludgeoning the human body with his sexual impulses. It is like watching a chimpanzee try to open the package of an Xbox controller.
That’s just the beginning. The rest is just as densely packed with that. Upon finishing my teary-eyed second reading, I dropped whatever it was I was supposed to be working on that day and read everything else he’d published.
If you read VICE, you’ve likely come across something he’s written. He’s mostly known for his meditations on masculinity from his column “We Are Not Men” and, more recently, for his takedowns of various media/celebrity blowhards.
Probably his most popular post entitled “This American Bro: A Portrait of the Worst Guy Ever” appeared continuously in every one of my social media feeds the day it came out. One person who shared it said it was “required reading.”
But beyond sheer incisiveness and wit, the writing also has incredible heart. Last father’s day he wrote about his dad and this Valentine’s Day he wrote an essay on being in love: a series of descriptive scenes that were actually lucid in the same way your own philosophical arguments seem lucid when you’re talking about really impenetrable shit at the bar.
Easily my two favourite pieces, though, are about boxers. His piece on Mike Tyson is one of the best things VICE has ever published and his piece on Joe Frazier might be even better. After I read the Frazier piece I felt, for the first time, like I needed to tell the author how great I thought his story was. I emailed saying I wanted to be able to write like him and asked if we might be able to talk about his work, what he reads, etc.
His response remains one of the most cherished emails I’ve ever received. You can read it in full below.
In my early-twenties self-loathing had become a sort of recreational activity. I had just graduated from college and could not determine whether it was a period of growth or decay or stagnation. I suspect now that this is an affliction shared by many creative people (those who are immune to this are robots who need to be destroyed), but at that time I struggled to detach myself from it. I still wrote, but for purposes I could not identify. It was on the backs of receipts and in messages typed into my phone while riding the subway and on sprawling, unstructured Word documents. Writing was a messy, violent ejection of fractured ideas that I couldn’t assemble or refine.