Aspen’s unique community takes time to tell tales

In search for communication, Matthew Moseley finds ‘we are so interconnected ... with a single click of a button, but people feel so isolated and alone’

Matthew Moseley reads an excerpt from his book, “Ignition: Superior Communication Strategies for Creating Stronger Connections,” at an event at the Fat City Gallery on Sept. 26, 2021.
Kaya Williams/The Aspen Times

Ostensibly, Sunday’s reading of Matthew Moseley’s latest book at Fat City Gallery was about communication: “Ignition: Superior Communication Strategies for Creating Stronger Connections” details the what, the why and the how of effective messaging from the perspective of the longtime professional strategist and consultant.

But really, it was about telling stories: tales, mostly, of Moseley’s work as communications director for Hunter S. Thompson’s funeral and of the community of changemakers still alive and well (and rather lively), many of them in attendance Sunday night.

“We are here for inspiration and communication,” said Aspen Mayor Torre, who has known Moseley for decades and introduced the author.

“What separates our brain from those of other species is our capacity to tell ourselves stories that give us the emotional cues for how to feel about something,” Torre read from a chapter of “Ignition” titled, fittingly, “Reason and Emotion in Stories.”

Connection, too, was a throughline in the conversation — and it really was more of a conversation than a reading, for all the anecdotes shared from a vocal audience that included friends of Moseley and Thompson including longtime Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis and criminal defense attorney Gerry Goldstein.

“Right now we’re in one of the great paradoxes of our time, in that we are so interconnected that we can talk from Germany to Japan with a single click of a button, but people feel so isolated and alone,” Moseley said in the tee-up to his own reading of a selection from his book.

He spent more than half a decade trying to understand that paradox while writing “Ignition,” a process that he can trace back to a speech he gave on “Gonzo communication” at Burning Man about six years ago.

“It was about how you would put yourself in the story, and that you weren’t just a spectator in life, that you were a participant, and that we had a responsibility to sort of be involved in issues of the day and around us,” Moseley said.

Sunday night’s gathering hosted its fair share of what one might consider life’s participants: Braudis, Torre and Goldstein were among a cohort of artists, musicians and other thinkers and creatives who hang with the Fat City crew.

(To be fair, there were some spectators, too — onlookers who slowed to a crawl while driving or riding along Cooper Avenue to get a glimpse at the lively long-haired crew attending a rowdier gathering than the typical book reading might elicit.)

Moseley’s subsequent work on “Ignition” involved more than two dozen interviews with experts to inform the book, including talks with Goldstein. Moseley also drew on three decades of his experience “on the front-lines of pretty high-stakes communication battles” to share lessons learned.

Among those battles was an effort with Thompson to free Lisl Auman from prison for felony murder, which sparked Moseley’s first book, “Dear Dr. Thompson: Felony Murder, Hunter S. Thompson and the Last Gonzo Campaign.”

“One thing that I’ve really learned, all of that was that the best leaders, the best mayors, the best friends are people who could understand how to articulate a vision and where they wanted you to go, what they needed you to do to be successful,” Moseley said.

When it came to Thompson’s funeral — the subject of the excerpt Moseley read outside the gallery Sunday night — the vision went well beyond the idea of the event itself.

“It was a chance to frame the author’s unique legacy and contribution to American life — it was the opportunity to tell the story of one of the most interesting and original writers of the second half of the century,” Moseley read.

Fat City Gallery and its predecessor, the Gonzo Gallery, have served as one place for those stories to be told (and retold, and told anew) said Patty Bellfy, who has worked with the gallery “on and off” for years.

The current iteration will close Thursday — Sunday’s reading was just one of a slate of events as gallery owner DJ Watkins wraps up the summer season and prepares to spend more time on other creative endeavors — but it’s unlikely that it will be the last Aspen sees of the countercultural community.

And besides, Moseley said, “The art lives, and that’s the most important thing.”