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All systems were go for our one o’clock guerrilla theater. The drivers picked the group up just after noon from Denver’s venerable Brown Palace Hotel, and drove five blocks to the south circle of the Colorado State Capitol where they were met and escorted through the basement to a holding room. The group milled about, drank bottled water and picked at flaccid snack trays — everyone except Hunter S. Thompson who was seated, drinking whiskey. Hunter and other notables were about to appear at a rally on the west steps of the Capitol to call for Lisl Auman’s release from prison. She was serving a life sentence without parole for the murder of Denver Police Officer Bruce VanderJagt.

My colleague coordinating the holding room, Jared Boigon, radioed up to me at my station on the Capitol steps, saying they were ready to go. I told them to sit tight. The crowd outside had not yet congealed and some of the media had not yet arrived. I wasn’t starting early. Too much was on the line.

On the second of three series of marbled steps leading up to the grand old Colorado Capitol building, there is a marker on the third step indicating exactly one mile above sea level. That was where I placed the podium. On that day, May 14, 2004, the gold dome of the Capitol sparkled majestically. Our makeshift stage looked out onto the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide to the west. The early May sun was burning uncharacteristically hot, like a spotlight from the sky.

Camera trucks girdled the rotunda, their long antennae arms standing at attention. The media was aflutter, readying cameras, checking microphones and lighting. People were stationed with homemade signs at Lincoln Avenue overlooking Civic Center Park and cars horns were honking as hundreds of people made their way up the hill to the Capitol steps.

They had come for different reasons, some to see Warren Zevon, some to see Hunter Thompson, and some who had a connection to Lisl Auman and her family. I gazed out on the odd mix: moms and dads, gonzo-heads, activists, cops, kids, lawyers, freaks, and star gazers. Most thought that Lisl Auman was unjustly spending life in prison without parole — except for a phalanx of police who now stood encircling the back of the crowd. Silent, arms crossed and feet spread, listening, making their presence known, their vibe felt.

Today’s political theater was unlike any I had organized in the past. In the basement were assembled some very interesting minds. In addition to Hunter S. Thompson, Warren Zevon and Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis, there was famed astrophysicist Timothy Ferris, former head of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Gerald Goldstein, former first lady of Colorado Dottie Lamm, Denver City Councilwoman Kathleen McKenzie, and presidential historian, noted author and Hunter’s literary executor Douglas Brinkley.

The stage was now set with Lisl’s family and friends encircling the dais. A huge FREE LISL! banner was strung tautly between two marble arches above as a backdrop to the podium. A few minutes after 1:00 p.m., I signaled down to Boigon to move the whole crew from the basement to the steps. The moment was ripe.

I moved from the hot and noisy outside near the podium and pivoted through the massive iron doors into the cool silent hall of the Capitol. Then I saw them coming. The group, twenty strong, turned from under the ornate rotunda stairs and through the marble hallways. As they approached, I told them to stop — and then went outside again. They grumbled, but as I had previously instructed, I specifically wanted to hold them behind the doors for just a moment, building the tension until it was almost ready to burst — both inside and out.

Now for the reveal. I loudly announced from the side of the dais, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the National Committee to Free Lisl Auman.” The Capitol doors flew open and the coterie emerged onto the west steps to thunderous applause and cheers. The cavalry had come.

Warren Zevon plugged in his guitar and everyone quickly took their places. Like a seasoned ringmaster, at the precise moment when the stage was set, Hunter yelled, “Okay Warren, hit it!”

Zevon, dressed smartly in a gray gabardine suit, started right in and belted out a heartfelt acoustic version of his most iconoclastic song, Lawyers, Guns and Money.

In the very real sense, here were lawyers, guns (in the form of celebrities and the cops) and money, and America’s foremost outlaw journalist. Perched aside a big marble column, I thought of how the song had become incarnate for Lisl Auman. Lawyers, guns and money had come to life in the most literal of forms.

Zevon finished, the crowd cheered and he said a few words: “The great tragedy here is still the death of Officer Bruce VanderJagt. But, you know, if we get our grief and our indignation mixed up with Lisl Auman’s punishment, then it’s not justice anymore, it’s a crime, and we’ll be committing a crime. I believe in our system, and I believe in American Justice. I was brought up to believe that I’m going to be judged too, and you know, the book says, ‘Blessed are the merciful.’ And I tell you what, I don’t want to stand before my father and hear, ‘What part of merciful didn’t you understand?”

Douglas Brinkley took the microphone as the moderator. He began, “Edmund Burke once said that ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,’ and anybody who looks at this case clearly and honestly will realize that Lisl Auman does not belong in jail.” The Burke quote had by now became our campaign’s de facto call to action.

I have done many events in my career. In each, there is always a special moment when you have prepared for everything in your power, when you can stand back on the side of the stage, take a deep breath and feel the satisfaction that, maybe, in the spirit of Desiderata, “the universe is unfolding exactly as it should.” Or as Hunter would say, “The fat is in the fire.” Leaning against the marble pillar, I had a mind-jolt. I thought for a moment about how I got to the steps of the Colorado State Capitol on this day. What was I doing smack-dab in the middle of cops, lawyers, a convicted killer, a rock and roll legend and a gonzo journalist?

Good afternoon, Matt, how have you been, my man? Great for you to join yourself for lunch at The Mediterranean in Boulder.  Great spot here on the patio with the sun shining.

I’m doing great. Thanks, TNB, for asking me to do my first-ever self-interview. This is a little strange—taking myself out to lunch—but I can roll with it. I just got back from the first part of my tour for my book <i>Dear Dr. Thompson</i>. I kicked it off in Los Angeles at the Chateau Marmont on May 20th, then San Francisco, Book Expo America in NYC, and then Washington DC at the Eighteenth Street Lounge, home of Thievery Corporation.

 

It is good to see you alone again. It’s been a long time since you sat down and asked yourself the really hard questions.

What are those? What is my favorite sandwich?

 

Remember the Hopi Prophecy you quoted so often on your run through the Grand Canyon last summer?

“Where are you living?

What are you doing?

What are your relationships?

Are you in right relation?

Where is your water?”

Yes… those questions. I’d say I’m living in a sweet little spot tucked against the Flatirons with my wife Kristin and my two children, Charlie and Amelia, and I’m living the dream in being able to publish a book and tell my story of how one little letter changed a woman’s life—and Hunter’s.

I’m working on banishing the word “struggle” from my vocabulary. My relationships are good and I also have a great crew of friends who continually push me to greater intellectual, emotional and athletic heights. We go on great adventures and have lots of laughs.


Tell The Nervous Breakdown how you got involved with Hunter Thompson and the campaign to free Lisl Auman from prison?

In 2001, I read about Hunter’s involvement in the Lisl Auman case and wrote him a memo outlining a public information campaign about the case. He called me back and said, “Hot damn, son. Let’s do a rally.” We then recruited Warren Zevon to come and play “Lawyers, Guns and Money” on the West Steps of the Colorado State Capitol to call for Lisl’s release. I became the campaign director and her family spokesperson. After almost a decade in prison she walked out a free woman.

I had first read Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail in high school in Lafayette, LA, which inspired me to become interested in politics. Hunter wasn’t necessarily my hero—those fell along the lines of my own father, John Wesley Powell, and Huey P. Long.  But if ever there was a person I wanted to enjoy a cocktail with, Hunter was right at the top of the list. After he died, Johnny Depp built a 153-tall Gonzo fist at the compound in Woody Creek where he shot Hunter’s ashes into the ether. Depp hired me to be the communications director and Owl Farm spokesperson. In that role I tried to extend Hunter’s legacy beyond just the elements of guns and drugs; he changed the face of journalism and was one of the most important writers of the second half of the twentieth century.

 

What did you take away from your experience of working with Hunter?

The ultimate lesson from Hunter would be to strive to achieve the highest, most perfect form of your own self. Hunter taught me to be my own person. What he seemed to really dislike was people trying to emulate him. Hunter wanted everyone to cover their own story, write their own book, and play their own song.  Swim the river, dance the dance. “Buy the ticket and take the ride,” he liked to say. Hunter recognized that when we are true to ourselves and our passions—in that space is where the magic happens.

The lesson in my book, besides the fact that we must abolish the draconian “felony murder rule,” is that we should all write our own letters, like Lisl did, or my memo to Hunter. Let’s stir it up and change somebody’s life. As the Hopi Prophecy also says, “Do not look outside of yourself for the leader. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

 

Speaking of the Hopi Prophecy, what about the last question, “Where is your water?”

Right now my water is down in the Gulf of Mexico. I was born in New Orleans and grew up in Lafayette. OnApril 22 I swam nine miles in Lake Pontchartrain with Glynde Mangum and Jonathan Bartsch to raise money to rebuild the New Canal Lighthouse—and then we went to Jazz Fest.

We swam with little dolphins at sunrise while bluesman and Treme actor Coco Robicheaux dipped his drink in the lake because he liked the saltiness it gave his Bloody Mary. He wore a big black top hat and fur leopard skin jacket and around his waist was a little antique Derringer pistol “just to keep off the sharks and alligators,” he said. He was our spiritual adviser on the support crew. Now, over six weeks later, plumes of oil are creating the worst environmental disaster of our time. We might be the last people to swim Lake Pontchartrain for a long time.

Open water swimming is my water and is in my soul. Right now my soul is with the entire Gulf of Mexico and its people.

 

What’s up next?

I’m off to New Orleans on Friday for an event at the Michalopoulos Gallery on June 5th with Coco Robicheaux for a special musical performance of the book. This won’t be your mama’s book signing, I can promise you that. Then I’m off to Lafayette; then Boulder on June 11 at Trident Bookstore; Denver Tattered Cover on June 15; Aspen Explore Bookstore on June 17; and Telluride Between-the-Covers on June 19, which just happens to coincide with the Bluegrass Festival. I will back to San Francisco for a literary event on July 12th and other points in between. Check out my website www.MatthewLMoseley.net for more tour dates.

Then there will be a reading and burning of the original manuscripts of the book at Burning Man in late August.

Okay.  Many thanks to The Nervous Breakdown, it’s been a great lunch (and where do I send that receipt for reimbursement again?).  I was, well, actually nervous about doing a “self-interview,” but it turned out to be an interesting experience. Hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did. My favorite sandwich, by the way, is a softshell crab po-boy, dressed.

Check please.