Molly Chronicles: Serotonin Serenade chronicles the public and private exploits of longtime Austin resident Jim Simons, a Movement lawyer in the late 60’s and beyond. Mr. Simons has many stories to tell: from the numerous and varied legal wrangles and the accompanying raucousness characteristic of the times to his personal struggles with alcohol and depression. Throughout, the book is a plainly written account of a life fully lived and flecked with indirections. It is also an insider’s look at Austin’s political scene in what many believe was the most exciting time of the last century, the late 60’s and early 70’s.
Why was it important for you to write this memoir? What prompted you to write it?
JIM SIMONS: It was important to me to write the memoir. I just started writing one day without knowing what it would be I allowed myself to write the whole truth of experiencing those years. The cases are the guts of the book but what my life was like during those years was a very important part of it.
Who is Molly and why is she so important?
JS: Molly was a 13 pound poodle-Yorkie mix. She was my daily companion as I went about concluding the cases of a 40 year law practice in my home office. I thought of her as staff, like a paralegal only a quadralegal. Molly was a dog we had for 18 and a half years and she was the gentlest living being I ever saw. She died as I wrapped up my long years of practice as though she had stayed alive to see me through it. Needless to say, my wife Nancy and I were very attached to this sweet little dog.
You write plainly about your indulgences in sex and drugs in the 60’s and beyond. How do you expect readers to respond to this candor?
JS: It doesn’t matter a lot to me how they “respond” but I know a lot of people tried/used drugs in the ’60s so they can relate to that experience. My problem was never with illegal drugs but with alcohol. The American Medical Association recognized alcoholism as a disease back in the ’50s. I have been free of alcohol and all other drugs for over 27 years and that has been one of my most liberating personal experiences. In modern literature writers have felt they could write candidly about sex, which I think is important to everybody. In writing just a truthful chronicle of the years when love and sex are so important to humans, I wrote with total candor, not thinking of publishing my accounts. I don’t apologize for this personal material.
How are your memoirs relevant to today’s political climate? Can your story provide insight to modern day seekers of social justice?
JS: Actually, that is a big reason why I sought to publish this memoir. We face a similar situation today with an illegal, immoral and brutal war on Iraq started with lies and deception and riddled with corruption. Bush and his cronies make LBJ and Robert McNamara look like mere playground bullies; they even pale Nixon in comparison. This war must be stopped as the Viet Nam war had to be stopped. Our country has crying needs as it did in the’60s and ’70s. Today even the election process is corrupted and compromised as we saw in the tainted (and inaccurate) last two presidential elections. It is controlled by Big Money interests. Both parties support the hegemony we practice abroad and serve the same big corporate donors. We have a health care crisis of monstrous proportions. Our civil liberties have suffered encroachments that may not soon if ever be repaired. The environment . . . . well, the list is long. I believe we face the kind of collapse the Soviet Union experienced in the near future.
You speak favorably of the Warren Court in your book. What are your feelings about the current state of America’s courts?
JS: I clearly state in the book that like the other two branches of our government the courts are not functioning as they should. So many years of right wing appointees to the federal courts has fundamentally altered the judiciary to the point that even well-settled principles of law are threatened, e.g. a woman’s right to choose established 34 years ago in Roe v. Wade.
Of the many Movement activists, lawyers and otherwise, with whom you’ve worked, who stands out as an inspiration and why?
JS: Texas lawyers Maury Maverick and Warren Burnett were my mentors and I write extensively about their fearless fighting for peace and justice in the courts for many years. Nationally, Dave Dellenger, a non-lawyer and one of the famed Chicago 7 defendants tried in the aftermath of the police riot at the Chicago Democratic convention in 1968, was a lifelong exemplar of giving one’s life to the pursuit of peace and justice. Lawyers Bill Kunstler and Arthur Kinoy were radical lawyers I relied on and worked with on some occasions. All I have mentioned here are deceased. Many folk musicians like the incomparable Pete Seeger have expressed much of the people’s inborn urge to be free and to allow others to live in peace. So many of my contemporaries could be mentioned in this regard that it would consume too much space. The struggle continues and I will be involved as long as I live.
In your book, you describe an unexpected victory in 1971 when charges were dropped for two enlisted men accused of starting a riot in Fort Hood, Texas and the success in getting Roky Erickson released from Rusk State Hospital. Which of your legal victories are you particularly proud and which ones were unexpected or against all odds?
JS: In a sense, all were unexpected. There are no easy cases of the type I had — fighting the establishment on behalf of activists and unpopular agitators for change. The acquittal of our client in the uprising at Wounded Knee in 1974 was the case played out on the largest canvas of history. The Wounded Knee cases were unquestionably one of the watershed events in the history of the Movement in the 20th century. We fought the case not expecting to win. When we did, it was a great triumph. Freeing Roky Erickson was the same but of course on a smaller, local stage. The cases in the chapter called FMS represent legal work of which I am very proud. The success of the efforts nationwide against the voodoo therapy of repressed memory of abuse through litigation and education was a major victory.
What was your greatest disappointment as a Movement lawyer?
JS: The demise of the New Left after the Viet Nam war ended caused by internecine bickering and fractious factionalism that resulted in some at least dabbling in resistance with violence was the greatest disappointment.
How relevant are the ideals of the radical movement today?
JS: The ideals remain relevant to today’s world as much or more than in the ’60s. The country and world are in even worse shape. Ending racism and achieving peace are still primary needs of the world not to mention addressing the great gulf between rich and poor and the need for social justice. Behemoth global corporations with indescribable wealth and power create a threat of global oligarchy. The threat is to the planet itself now.
You speak of a fondness for Austin in the 1960’s and beyond. How has the Austin political scene changed since your early activist work?
JS: Austin has become too big, too homogenous. The unique character it had when I came here in 1959 has mostly been lost. As everywhere, money dominates in our politics. The fight to stop greedy developers from ruining Barton Springs and the aquifer, destroying natural beauty and eco-systems, continues but we are losing now, big time.
You speak in your book about your battles with alcoholism and depression. Do you hope that your story can serve to inspire others afflicted similarly?
JS: I have told my story in many settings mostly to another person or small group and I believe it has helped others even as I was helped by those who shared with me. I did suffer from both diseases. AA was the answer for me to addictive drinking. I take a doctor prescribed anti-depressant to control depression with which I had several bouts back in the day, but none for the last 26 years. I believe strongly that people should know that depression afflicts more than 10 % of the U.S. population, tens of millions. It is a disease with a physical cause in brain chemistry which is treatable with meds like the one I take and others. There should be no stigma attached to depression anymore than to diabetes or ALS. The State Bar of Texas has recognized these facts and has a very instructive video on depression to encourage afflicted lawyers to get treatment.
What was the process of getting your memoirs published like?
JS: It was like hell. First of all, the publishers won’t talk to you or look at any material not submitted by an agent. The agents won’t even read the manuscript. I never got an agent. At some point I was lucky enough to find Plain View Press which has a history of publishing books by and about progressive and/or creative people.
What do you want readers to take away from reading your memoir?
JS: I want lawyers to know they don’t have to be prosecutors or corporate lawyers. There is an alternative. And one can be a lawyer without all the phony trappings that once adhered to the profession. The 3-piece suit, 8 to 5 work hours, pomposity are not required. And I want everyone to see that they can find ways of struggling for peace and justice. Giving up is not an option.
Having retired from your law practice, what are you working on now?
JS: A novel about a lawyer in Austin is mostly written but again I grapple with the hellish world of publishing. To date not one agent has even read it. Without knowing someone who can pull strings for you it is nearly impossible. Many great writers have come up against this. I do not imply my greatness, only point out the extreme difficulty of breaking into a closed shop. Even knowing a handful of published Texas writers has been of little help. I never had any idea it was such an impenetrable fortress to simply obtain fair consideration of a written work. I retain my law license in good standing. I am not certain the cure of swearing off legal work has taken.
Molly Chronicles: Serotonin Serenade can be purchased though Jim Simons’ website: boldmarauder.com