NOW with Bill Moyers; 348; Judy Collins; Iranian-born author Roya Hakakian
You tonight on now a special hour the lives of two extraordinary women each shaped by the power of words. Judy Collins has been called the voice of the century, still popular
four decades after her first album. What did the loss of her son teacher about life? And why does her music continue to carry so much power? I think there's always a new story out there to find and tell, and I think that's what pulls me. And Roya Hakakian, an Iranian-born author who's written a bittersweet memoir of poetry, passion, and the intoxicating promise of revolution. It was the most hopeful time that I had ever witnessed in Tehran. We had all cast away our selfishness as individuals to embrace a bigger idea, which was the collective society. All that tonight on now with Bill Moyers and David Broncaccio, the weekly news magazine from PBS. Funding for now has been provided by Mutual of America,
our sole corporate funder. For over 50 years, we've put retirement and pension products to work for those in the public service. Now we're doing the same for the rest of America, Mutual of America for all of America, the spirit of America, and by the Park Foundation, the Orphala Family Foundation, the Bernard and Audrey Rappaport Foundation, the Herb Alpert Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and by contributions to your PBS station, from viewers like you. Thank you. From our studios in New York, Bill Moyers and David Broncaccio. Welcome to now. We take a break from the headlines this Thanksgiving weekend to spend a little time with two remarkable women. One writes with passion about her longing for justice in the land of her birth,
a country swept by revolution. The other is a household name right here at home. For those of us old enough to have experienced the 1960s David, her music still echoes in our memories. But Judy Collins has never allowed herself to be imprisoned in the past. The Chicago Tribune got it right. Quote, few singers have the kind of staying power repertoire that Judy Collins has. To paraphrase the late songwriter Woody Guthrie, from the Redwood Forest to the White House to the Gulf Stream waters, Judy Collins has made herself accessible to the likes of you and me. My wife Judith and I got to know her 15 years ago and became good friends when we were working on a documentary about the hymn Amazing Grace. Judy Collins had sent that 18th century hymn to the top of the charts when she sang it in 1971. So naturally, we ask her to sing it for the opening of our film. Amazing Grace, I'll sweet the sound that saved a rich like me. I once was lost, but now I am found.
Was blind, but now I see. As I said in St. Paul's Chapel, as you sing those words, I remember wondering, what does that word wretch mean to this beautiful woman with this magnificent voice? Some people won't sing that verse because of that term wretch. I wouldn't sing it any other way. I think wretch tells it exactly the way it is. The condition of wretchiness is the source of the condition of transformation. Look at all the stories in the Bible, look at all the stories of being at the end of the road and with no alternatives and no options. And suddenly, somewhere, from somewhere like John Newton who wrote that song Amazing Grace,
that inspiration for instead of death, destruction, disaster, and devastation, you're in the cloud singing hymns of glory. And he had been a slave traitor responsible for the lives of the slaves on his ship and when the ship crashed and he lived, he then became an abolitionist and wrote hymns for the rest of his life. He was having a good day on the other side of that shipwreck. So this is a story about a revolution in a human life? Yes. And that's what you believe in, isn't it? I totally believe in it. Raised in a place where the vision of salvation is ever present and the knowledge that when the daylight comes, you've always got another chance. I think that's embedded, it's ingrained in my life and in many, many people's lives
so that what sweeps you along, the sadness you feel, the depression you may feel, you are also what happens to you. You may not have too much to say about. What you do about it, you have a lot to say about. Judy Collins has always had a lot to say and for most of her life, she said it through music. She started piano lessons at the age of four and by 13 was an accomplished classical pianist. But the pressures of being a child prodigy led to a suicide attempt at 14 and then she turned to folk music. With her first solo album 40 years ago, her career took off. She made the cover of Life magazine in 1969. More than two dozen albums, six of them gold, have followed, winning her a Grammy and praise as the voice of the century. In public, there was the dazzling performer.
In private, there was the battle with drugs and alcohol, TB, hepatitis and divorce. But there was always that voice and songs she made her own. This will strike you as a naive question, but what is it that makes a good song? I'm asking the expert here because the range of your repertoire is so large from protests, songs like Masters of War, to amazing grace, to sunhimes, send in the clowns. I mean, just take that one song that all of us are familiar with. We've all heard you sing it. What is it that makes it a good song? I think it's because there's a mystery in it. People don't really know what it's about. But it always seems to be about something that pertains to you and you only, or me and me only. And when there's a mystery in that, in which you can identify yourself, isn't it rich? Are we a pair? I mean, everybody can relate to that. Me here at last on the ground, you in midair, where are the clowns?
We know you used to say in the old Vodville days, you know, sending the clowns, which was a theatrical answer to an act which has gone on too long. But there's a mystery in the lyric because you can find yourself in it. And people always say, what is it about? I have no clue what it's about. And about 200 people had already recorded it when I heard it. But I knew, I heard the song and I knew that it would fit into my voice. You know how you hear something and you know, you know it's going to be right for you. It's like trying on a coat or dress. You know, well, that would fit me. Even if I had to get it altered a little, that's the right, you know, it's the right style, it's the right shape. That's how that song feels. And I've worn that song in many different places and it still fits very well. A good song is one that's going to last forever, one in which people can find themselves and their stories.
And one in which you can find pleasure if you have to sing it 100,000 times. You own it, but everybody owns it. You own it and you give it to everybody. That's right. Was there one folk song that calls you to say, this is it, I have got to sing folk music? The one that reached me was a song called Barbara Allen, which Joe Stafford sang. And I heard the song and I said, that's it. And I got my father to rent me a guitar. And stopped playing the piano quite as seriously as I had been. Because I was one over. It's a love story, it's a story about unrequited love. It's hooked me, I mean, adolescents love stories about unrequited love. Can you sing a verse of it? It was in the merry months of May when the green buds were swelling. A young man on his desk bed lay for the love of Barbara Allen.
And then it goes on. He sent his servant to the town, sent him to her dwelling. My master's sick and he sends for you, if your name is Barbara Allen. And then it goes on and it ends badly. But it's a beautiful song that just swept me up. And I had to see it. Almost every song of yours that I, that's my favorite, is a story. Yeah. You're a storyteller in a way. Yeah. Almost like the mistrels of old, right? Exactly. The troubadours. Exactly. Whose purpose was not music, but stories. But stories. I heard, I was listening to a piece about Leonard Bernstein and the young people's concerts the other day. And he was asked about folk music and he was talking about what is a folk song. And I guess he said it as well as anybody I've ever heard.
He said it is the speech and the cadence, the linguistic cadence and the stories of people, and how they talk and what they think about and what their desires are, what their concerns are. And of course it's very political because life is political. One's life is very political. How so, what do you mean? Well, how you treat your friends, how you treat the animals in your home, how you treat your neighbors, how what kind of relationships you have with people on the street in your business, in your, you know, what kind of glorious time one said to me, I can tell everything about a person when I look in their checkbook. You know, what things you give money to, what things you support. You know, where your heart goes out. And those are political acts. I believe so. It starts, doesn't it there? You're saying our private lives are political commitments. I believe that. I believe that completely. When I was growing up in my family, my father was a Roosevelt man. He was a new dealer.
He was also very committed to talking about the things that concerned him on the radio. You know, if it was the era of Joe McCarthy, he talked about how terrible it was. This was for our country, what a disaster this was, for our democracy, how unacceptable this was, and how what a violation of everything that this country stood for and was about. He said to us, kids, you know, if you don't vote, you have no, you have no say, you have no voice. You must participate in this great adventure. I find myself at this point in our history reading a lot of early American history. I'm reading now the Joseph Ellis book on Washington, but I also read Ron Chernow's book on Hamilton. You know, people were vicious to each other. No. I mean, how we survive is partly direct result of our ability to in a way confront each other. And I think that's one of the answers to why we get along. All these different cultures, all these different people, we have this process where why we get it out. And we have a way to process.
And even though it looks pretty, pretty, pretty angry and pretty confrontational, I was amazed. I mean, Jefferson hired people to slander Hamilton and to slander animals. I mean, it was quite mean, spirited. I mean, it was Fox News and et cetera, right out there in public. And they would, they would threaten each other to assassinate each other on the streets. I mean, they were quite vocal about their likes and dislikes. Is it true that back in 69 and 70, you were called a testify before Judge Hoffman in the trial of the Chicago government? Yes, I was, I was asked to testify at the trial and I said, I'd be happy to. Judy Collins had not been present in Chicago in August of 1968 when protesters against the war in Vietnam clashed violently with police at the Democratic National Convention. But six months earlier, in New York, leaders of the Yippee's, a countercultural group known as the Youth International Party, had asked her to sing at their first press conference, and she did. Some of the Yippees would be arrested for their role in the Chicago riots that August.
And at their trial, the next year, Judy Collins was called to testify. So when Judge Hoffman asked me if I would tell them what I did at the press conference, I said, well, this is what I did. Where have all the flowers gone? And along came the guard from the door and put his hand over my mouth and stopped me singing in the judge that you can't sing in court. They muffled you. They muffled me. They muffled me. Well, those were the years. There was the war was going on. And that war, which we've now revisited so much in these past few months, it's been very painful. Why did you put your career on the line for that? Well, I didn't think of it as doing that. That's part of my upbringing. When you have a political idea, when you have a belief, then you take an action and you make your presence and your point of view known.
And it wouldn't have mattered if I was a singer or a person who was teaching at a university. I knew many, many of those people who became part of the movement and were protesting against the war. I marched with a lot of them around the country. Did the war make you angry? Oh, it still makes me angry. It still makes war. Oh, my God. It just, it's so heartbreaking to me and so painful. One of the most painful parts of it, of course, that everybody knew. Everybody knew we were on the wrong track and eventually would say so, whether it was McNamara or President Johnson or whoever it was, finally would come around to just a terrible mistake. I don't know that I've ever seen anybody say it was a great thing to do. Her passion about public issues has long led Judy Collins to a politically active life. So it's not surprising that a recent CD was entitled Democracy, featuring songs by her old friend from the 60s, the novelist poet and songwriter, Leonard Cohen.
Collins put Cohen on the map in 1967 when she sang one of his timeless creations, Suzanne. Leonard Cohen's sensual, ethereal, almost religious songs have won him a worldwide following. Tell me about Leonard Cohen. What is what's unique about it? People think Leonard is dark, but actually his sense of humor and his edge on the world is extremely light. And I've always thought, I always appreciated his intelligence and his lyricism, his beautiful melodies from somebody who didn't think they could write melodies. They're quite striking these melodies. And as a Jew, his Jewish background, sheds this light on the Christian experience, on the Christ experience. Sisters of Mercy, the story of Joan of Arc, priests. You know, who will write love songs for you when I'm lowered at last?
And my body is the little highway shrine where all my priests have passed. The lines that are so striking and so reverent and so illuminating about this history that we know the Judeo-Christian history, certainly. But he gives such beauty to the stories, and you can't forget them. You can't forget Joan of Arc and her dialogue with the fire, which he describes in such beautiful, beautiful words. I remember the first time I heard Suzanne. I was lying on the floor in my den. I was in my mid-30s, and I had heard of Leonard Cohen, but I didn't know who he was. I listened to that song. I can't tell you to this day. It's still his edge there. There's something about that song. Something about that song. What do you think it is?
It's very mesmerizing. It's very haunting. Suzanne takes you down to a place by the river you can hear the boats go by. Spend the night beside her. The river, the girl, Jesus. It's so evocative. It just took me, swept me, and every time I sing it, I get that same kind of drifty, marvelous staff. Optimistic feeling about life.
There are heroes in the seaweed. There are children in the morning. They are leaning out for love, and they will lean that way forever while Suzanne holds the mirror. And you want to travel with her. You want to travel blind, and you seek. Maybe you'll trust her, for she's touched your perfect body. With her mind. Tell me about the song Kingdom Come. How did you come to write that? I didn't think I'd write anything about 9-11. I was so destroyed and emotionally as everybody else was. But I had the opportunity to get to know and to meet a lot of the firefighters who were doing work down at Ground Zero.
I had a friend who was arranging to have some entertainment for some of these people who really needed a little lift and a little bit of emotional sustenance from music and being part of a little bit more lighthearted evening. It was April, so it was only seven months after 9-11. And one of the firefighters came up and there's such a great group of people. And they are my fans. They've come to concerts. They've been there right along through the years. And so I was chatting with one of the firefighters and his wife. And he said, here, look at this on the back of my neck. And he pointed on the back of his neck. He had a tattoo that said 343. And it just, it just did me in on the back. 343 was the number of firefighters who died because of in-or because of 9-11. The 343 stuck in your head. And 343, I could not get it. And I kept telling people about it. And finally, my husband, my wonderful husband, Louis, whom you know, said to me, you know, I think you want to try to write something about that.
And get it off your mind. Get it into print, which I did. And then it just poured out. Those firemen loaded up with gear and wind to their deaths that day. A lot with all the other hunters blasted on their way. The lease in the MS and those on whom death took its toll. And all those whom dreams won't done about 3,000 more. And left the party after that I couldn't stay my tears. For all our gifts, for all our hopes, for all our nameless fears. For all our heroes, men and women lost on that black day. For the firemen with courage in their hearts so strong and brave, who made sure in their final hour 30,000 souls were saved.
And they've gone to where there are no tears. And every heart is gay. They will not be forgotten on a sunny day. To cling on to hell and gone. To somewhere far away. Where murder does not break the heart. On a summer day. Where murder does not break the heart. On a sunny day. Went to a lot of fire stations, didn't you, after night 11? I did. And I think that, although it may be painful for them to hear that song, I think things that are painful for us sometimes transcend. And if it's an inspiring piece of music, they help us to get through. And maybe it's healing for them. I'm hoping so.
There's a lot of pain inside you, isn't there, even now? Well, I don't think I'm different from most people. I mean, I do experience a lot of pain, but it's always side by side. With joy, you know, they say, don't kill all your demons because you might get the wrong one. You might get the one that gives you your insights or the one that inspires you to write music or the one that inspires you to be kind to animals and children. You know, you have to be careful, which demon you get rid of. As you talk, I keep thinking, this woman has had so many close calls. Alcoholism almost cost you your voice, right? When you were a teenager? Yes, it did, certainly. You drank constantly for 23 years? Yeah, I had a long go. The Irish virus really was dug in hard with me. And you've been sober 23 years? 26 years.
26 years, you've been sober. What do you say to people who are struggling with alcoholism? Well, there's another way. You don't have to suffer. And I think that's the thing that people don't always know. I was in treatment. I went to treatment. I think treatment works. I think it's a wonderful way to get in touch with the alternatives of how to live sober. And I think it's wonderful that people are aware of that now. You're a great witness to recovery. A lot of people keep saying treatment doesn't work. The rate of attrition is very high, which it is, but it can be overcome. Like everything else, it's a process of commitment and it's a process of health. And I always, and I think a lot of people are like this, I always wondered what was really wrong with me. People didn't talk about it. I didn't know. It was sort of mysterious to me. I thought it was nuts, I thought it.
So knowing what was wrong was a big part of it. And also knowing that it was a disease and not a moral issue. Very important. It's about our bodies and our chemistry and how we handle certain substances after all. Some people are allergic to aspirin. Some people can't eat peanuts. Some people can't drink. But the person talking to me is that Judy Collins has failed a million times and keeps coming back. I think people need to know how you take the pain and turn it to healing. I work it. I've had depression all my life. And I have learned how to deal with it. So there is always the dark side. And I don't think it's unusual to be depressed. I think life is pretty depressing a lot of the time. But you have the tools, you have the signs, you know, the Catholics call them outward signs of inward grace. Some of these ceremonies that help us to get through difficult things. So what are they? Give me some very practical things that you do.
Eight hours of sleep. If you can get it sometimes sometimes I try to get 10 one day a week because I need it for the voice. I need it for my serenity working out. I always work out. I found out about working out when I was in my early 20s and never let it go because it gives me it fuels me exercise. It makes me feel wonderful. Those endorphins which do many more things for me than any number of drugs could ever do for me. They, the endorphins that are created when we exercise are just my friend. Sleep exercise. Sleep exercise. Good food. Good friends, friendships, making sure that in my daily life, my days, honors. I have contacts with people I love to talk and laugh with. Laughter. Huge healing force. Laughter. Literature. Read. Read. I'm pretty addicted to books and I find the time I make the time. I'm determined that one of these days I'm going to get through Hutchins 100 books that are essential to anybody who wants to live a good life. What you're doing 60 to 70 to 80 performances a year with all the travel to and from. How do you keep going when you're 65 or low?
Oh, but I'm just getting started. I feel my, my career is about half over. I mean, we have to do what, what, what we're good at, what, what the heart, what we're called to by as Joseph Campbell said, you know, do what gives you bliss. And I'm a complete optimist in the face of contrary evidence. I cock-eyed my sister sometimes says hopelessly sometimes it's been said to me, but I'm always optimistic because there's always hope. There's always another day. There's always another dawn. There's always some, some remedy. But that, the source of that is, is, is of course a mystery to me because while you don't welcome heartbreak and tragedy and pain, you nonetheless embrace them as if they were the price of being alive. Well, they are for, for everyone. That's the, that's the journey. The journey is a journey of joy and miracles and it's a journey of loss and, and how to rejoice in that loss. Her greatest loss of all came in 1992. Her only son Clark took his life at the age of 33. She wrote this book to come to terms with the inexplicable.
Why do you think Clark your son took his life? He had been in recovery for seven years and he went into relapse and we know that alcoholism among other things is a disease, which means you can relapse. And... That cancer comes back. And that cancer comes back. The craving for alcohol comes back. Absolutely. And of course we have to be ever vigilant about these moments, but he was in relapse. He never would have taken his life of he hadn't been in relapse. That's what I believe. Did you feel guilty after he died? I felt demolished and... Saw that I probably didn't tell him certain things that he should have heard. What do you mean? They say that when, when people die, they leave a skeleton in their closet and when a suicide dies, he leaves a skeleton in your closet. So there's a lot of exclamation that has to happen. You have to sort through your whole life.
What did I do wrong? When I saw him last, had I only said this and that. Of course you know that that's a fallacy. You know that that's your cultural brain telling you all of the completely erroneous things about suicide. Because the reason that suicide is so taboo is that that's what the church and the culture laid on the survivors for centuries. So you're going through what history has told you about suicide. Instead of what we know today, we know it has to do with personal dispositions. We know it has probably to do with chemistry. We know it has to do with alcoholism addiction, perhaps depression. We know it's a complicated thing. My brother took his life almost 40 years ago. He was only 39. I think he wanted me to feel guilt. But all I felt and still do is just the aching of a chronic absence. I never felt guilt. I just felt this chronic absence and I still feel it because there he was and then he's gone.
You never recover from it. Nothing ever fills that hole, right? No, it doesn't. But for your brother and for my son, the question is we have to try to think of them as what their lives were about. Not about not not their deaths. I mean, if your brother had died from cancer, if my son had died from cancer, we'd have that aching void. But we would not have those sort of overreaching questions about the subject of suicide, the secrecy of suicide, the hesitancy. You probably don't have that. I don't have it anymore because I think we have to talk about suicide as though it were another kind of illness. And so we have to appreciate the people for who they were, not for what they died of. Charlie Smith wrote a poem which has a graphic line in it. I don't remember it all. I think you probably know it. We talked about the saddest case. It was a boy starving at the feast, that image of a boy starving at a feast. Somebody we look at, work with, know every day, dying slowly. We're not aware of it.
My son, your brother, and we don't see that. Suppose God forbid someone is watching who is thinking about suicide. What would you say to them? Call someone. Call a hotline. Get some help. Go see somebody. Talk about it. Talk about it. Reach out and find the help. How did you get out of the fog? Inch by inch, minute by minute. Sometimes, sometimes hour by hour. I also had wonderful friends who reached out to me. Joan Rivers reached out to me and she said, you cannot quit working. I planned to quit working. I was going to put it all aside. She said, you can't do that. You won't heal if you do that. You have to go on with your life. You get dressed. You get out. You make the contacts. You make the connections. It's like everything else. You have to make every effort you can to show up.
And then the wonderful thing is that the healing is there someplace and it starts in a way to take place sometimes in spite of you. How do you know you're healed? Or when are you healed? When are you healed? That's a good question. I think you're healed in some way all the time. I think that's an ongoing process all the time. If you can laugh and recognize that the world is a very funny place, that's healing. If you can go listen to beautiful music, if you can share a meal with a friend and be present, that's being healed. Sometimes if you just can surrender to doing nothing. Yeah. Do you do that? Resting. Resting. Once in a while. I'm a great fan of the rest of the gap, you know, of the day or the afternoon where you just let things go. And that's very healing. When you're resting or when you're alone, when the silence is surrounding it, do you ever sing to yourself?
Yes, I do because I'm writing in my studio or music is moving around in my mind all the time. Some of the ways that I look for materials to listen to a group of songs. And then while I'm resting, maybe I've just made lunch and I'm sitting down to read a book or have a nap. That wonderful thing that we don't get enough of napping, then the song will come into my mind. A lot of my career of my music is letting these things come in, songs I find, songs I write. There is a discipline. I have to sit down and work. But then where does that come from? Those melodies are floating in from. I don't have any control over that. For example, the song you wrote after Clark's death. When you went back to work, when you came up out of the fog, you wrote a song about him. How did that happen? I would go into the studio. It was very hard. Hearing music after a great loss is very important, but it's also difficult. Sometimes the thing that happens at a wake and a funeral will be the music will let everybody's emotions loose.
Everybody will keep a stiff upper lip, as they say, until that moment when the organ starts and the choir starts to singing and then everybody loses it, which is what you're supposed to do. You're supposed to lose it, because that's how you get it. Childhoods under in the dark. Childhoods' voice was like a lock. Childhoods, spirit burning bright. Child of many beauties. When the birds fly to the south. When the windows to the north. You are in the falling snow. You are beauty going forth.
You are heat and you are light. Son of the mountains peak. I give it all, give all I have. For one more chance to hear you speak. Wings of angels, tears of saints. Present from a size won't bring you back. On to me and dreams again. Wings of angels, tears of saints. Wings of angels, tears of saints. Present from a size won't bring you back. On to me and dreams again. Wings of angels, tears of saints. Present from a size.
What is the essence that is consistent with the little girl at the piano and the guitar back in Denver and the Judy Collins age 65 here today? What is the train? I think it's the story. I think there's always a new story out there to find and tell and I think that's what pulls me. There's something beautiful around the corner and there's a new day to find that beauty. That's what draws me. That's what I see. And the past is part of the present and the future too. I'm a classicist I guess in some ways that I do not deny or forget or disrespect the past because it's a great teacher.
But there are new things coming and new pieces of music to write and new avenues to travel and new friends to meet. You said once that suicide was a great teacher. What did you learn from Clark's dad? How valuable my life is. How precious my life is. Thank you, Judy Collins. Thank you, Bill. Like Judy Collins, my next guest has been on a journey of loss and discovery that's made her cherish life. Roy Hakakin was a 12-year-old living in Iran when the revolution swept through the country in 1979. At first, she greeted it with excitement, believing the promises of a new and liberating society would come true. They did for a moment, but only a moment.
Now she's come out with a memoir that unpacks memories of adolescence, revolutionary fervor and poetry called Journey from the Land of No, a girlhood caught in revolutionary Iran. Roy Hakakin, welcome to now. Delighted to be here. You moved to this country about two decades ago, but it was only fairly recently that you were moved to share these memories of adolescence and childhood with the wider world. What did you hope to communicate? In the simplest terms I can think of, I really wanted all readers to fall in love with Iran. I wanted everybody to love the period that made me the person that I am today. Something huge happened in Iran in 1978 and in 1979. I became a better human being as a result of it. It's sort of like getting married, falling in love, getting married to a person that you think you're going to spend the rest of your life with. 20 years later you decide that it was a mistake. That doesn't make your original decision to get married initially wrong. The Iranian Revolution was kind of similar to this. We stormed the palace. We swarmed into the streets for all the right reasons, for all the reasons that every nation throughout history wanted to have a relationship.
We wanted freedom. We had no civil liberties. You can't have a society that's on the verge of modernizing as Iran was in 1978 and 1979. And not desire to have freedom of press, to have a diversity in political party and opinions. That we were entitled to have that in those years. And we're entitled to have that still. In your family there was a lot of discussions, of words, of ideas, of poetry. But at a time when the wider society, before the revolution even, didn't allow that kind of open discourse. That's sort of the dilemma of being an Iranian. You're talking about a nation that has embraced literature, primarily poetry, as its way of communication for hundreds of centuries. If you get close to an Iranian, the first thing that is going to happen, if they really love you and if they begin to embrace you, is that they're either going to compose a poem in your honor or they're going to read some to you.
This is how we communicate as a nation. What has always been really fascinating about Iran is that we have become accustomed to this life of codes and obscurity that there has been very few moments in history where we have had freedom. Poetry could help there because poetry can sometimes be read as a code and be read in many different ways. Sure. I mean, you refer to this time of the show. And because those codes had been so profoundly established during his time that they then came back and said, from this point forward, we're going to slash red rose from poetry that no poet was allowed to use the phrase red rose. Because people had come to understand it as an illusion to possibly leftist aspirations and communism and dark night was supposed to be a symbol of dictatorship where it has mourning or dawn was supposed to carry with itself the idea of freedom. So here's a culture that has really established its way of communicating through, you know, these illusions and therefore, you know, poetry.
So the revolution happens. And for a while, is it what it's cracked up to be? Absolutely. In what way? First of all, it was the most hopeful time that I had ever witnessed in Tehran. We had all cast away our selfishness as individuals to embrace a bigger idea, which was the collective society. I have not to this day met an Iranian who lived in Iran in those years and doesn't still think that Iran of 1979 and the revolution of 1979 is the most exciting, delirious event of their lifetime. In case we haven't pointed out, you're Jewish and the Jewish people have had a very long history in Iran. In fact, I was looking at the timeline at the end of the book back to the 6th century before Christ, essentially. And there you are at school during this revolutionary period and being Jewish starts to become, I think, a liability.
One of the first things that happened was that divisions of what later became the new intelligence ministry in Iran were established in high schools, and especially high schools, because the new regime knew that it was the intellectual classes, the educated classes that had brought on the revolution in 1978 and 1979. So they put spies in the high schools? Exactly. And so, you know, you really began to not trust your peers in the classroom. The early 80s in Iran were some of the most tragic years that Iran has ever seen in its history. They were the years that the radical clerics in Iran were trying to firm their grip on power, and they really didn't relent at anything. And so, slew of younger kids were arrested. I'm talking about 13, 14, 15-year-old kids who were arrested, rounded up from schools, and probably never returned home. These kids were also executed. The general idea in those years was, either you're a sinner, in which case we have arrested you for the right reasons, or we have executed you for the right reasons, or you're not a sinner, and you're innocent, in which case, you know, even if we execute you, you will land in heaven.
I mean, it is not so much different from what happened probably in, you know, a Stalinist Russia. Iran had that period in the early 80s. Well, that's what Americans often don't understand. It's how quickly these things turn. A flourishing of a revolution like that, in which there's civil liberties and so forth, and divergent viewpoints respected. And then, you don't have to fast forward very far to see it turn so quickly. Yes. Yes. It's devastating. And it's also very, very intriguing to see that the way they turn is probably, at least in Iran, began with the way the rights of women began to turn. People often ask me, you're Jewish. What happened to you first to know that Iran had become unsafe to you as a Jewish person? And my answer often is that it wasn't so much, the signs that came to me weren't so much the signs that came to me as a Jew. They were mostly the signs that came to me as a woman. You woke up in terror and all of a sudden the city had vastly changed. Why? Not because the grocery store wasn't where it used to be, but because 50% of the population suddenly looked different after the Islamic dress code was enforced.
No, Americans, of course, look at the Iranian revolution through a very specific prism, the taking of the 52 American hostages. Do you often run into this with Americans that you'd like to teach them a wider lesson about the Iranian experience than just that? It's a marvelous, marvelous reference point. I say marvelous, not so much because I think it's wonderful, but because I think it's such an important watershed. Somehow, a 2,500 year civilization went down the drain on November 4, 1979, that somehow the Iranian history began with the day that the embassy was taken over in the minds of the international community. And what I'm hoping I can accomplish, perhaps, or we as Iranians can accomplish, is to remind the world of that larger history, that there was a history before 1979, before to take over of the American embassy.
And perhaps that can inject this conversation that we need to have with more texture and depth. About five years ago, you started seeing the movement for reform in Iran, essentially against the President government, flaring up from time to time. What do you make of that movement? Now, where is it? It's there. There's no doubt that it's there. Look at the official statistics that an official in Tehran gathered. 86% of Iranians do not pray. I mean, you're talking about a government that wanted to create a generation that would take the lead and would be indoctrinated by its ideology. Certainly, they've failed at that.
But the secular impulse still holds. Exactly. I mean, it's very important to see that, you know, in 1979, 98.2% of Iranians voted yes in a national referendum. To choose Islamic Republic as their form of government. There is a widespread demand these days for another referendum. Why? Because the public has come to the conclusion that the idea of mixing religion and state, of bringing the clergy into the arena of politics was a wrong one. And so the demand for referendum is to give the public a chance to reconsider the decision that it made in 1979. I think the impulses there. I think what has happened is that the presence of the United States, both in Afghanistan and Iraq, has made it really complicated for Iran to really make its own decision. And do go about its own independence. Both sides of Iran, if you look at the map of the Middle East. Why is it made it complicated?
Well, we are sandwiched between two troubled spots or the most troubled spots in the Middle East right now. It's made it difficult because, you know, the best way is just wait for the Americans to overthrow their dictators. Why bother? Why, you know, take the risk of taking to the streets and, you know, chancing, risking their lives for something that the American military may very well do for them. But they want the kind of mess that is coming in from the pictures we see from Iraq. I mean, they must be rethinking that given the disruption and instability that's clearly going on there. I certainly hope so, but I'm not certain that people are thinking that far. Because if you are suffering on a daily basis, if you are living in a country where once you leave your home, you're told, you know, how to cover your hair and, you know, how long or short your sleeves must be, whether or not you're allowed to, you know, hold your wife's hand on the street or not, whether your kids can mix together and go to a party, drink what they want or not,
if you're facing these questions, which shouldn't be questions in, you know, in a civil society, on a daily basis. I'm not sure you're, you know, you manage to keep that foresight to say, you know, what happens three months after we are occupied, you think that, you know, if these people go, that's the best thing that could happen. Roy's book, The Journey from the Land of No, Roy Hakakin, thank you very much. It was a pleasure to talk to you. That's it for now. Thanks for joining us, David and I will be back next week. When I'll have my conversation with Elliott Spitzer, the New York Attorney General, who's taken on investment banks, the mutual fund industry, insurance, pharmaceutical and energy companies, on behalf of the little guy. Those who've succeeded, but feel that they have a right to break the rules, have to be told no. The rules apply to everybody.
What is he learned about capitalism and how government works? Elliott Spitzer, next week on Now. We'll see you then. Connect to Now at PBS.org. Explore four decades of Judy Collins music. Find out more about addiction and suicide. Learn about the history of protests in Iran. Connect to Now at PBS.org. Now with Bill Moyers continues at PBS online. Learn more about the people and issues from tonight's show and join the online discussion at PBS.org. To order this episode of Now with Bill Moyers on video cassette, call PBS Home Video at 1-800-PLAY-PBS.
Funding for Now has been provided by Mutual of America, our sole corporate funder. For over 50 years, we've put retirement and pension products to work for those in the public service. Now we're doing the same for the rest of America, Mutual of America, for all of America, the spirit of America, and by the Park Foundation, the Orphala Family Foundation, the Bernard and Audrey Rappaport Foundation, the Herb Alpert Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and by contributions to your PBS station, from viewers like you. Thank you.
- NOW with Bill Moyers
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- NOW WITH BILL MOYERS: A weekly news magazine, reported in conjunction with NPR, includes documentary reporting, in-depth one-on-one interviews, and insightful commentary from a wide variety of media-makers and those behind the headlines.
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- Bill Moyers takes viewers on a revelatory and personal journey with singer Judy Collins, called "the voice of the century." Still popular four decades after her first album, Collins reflects on her life and music, shaped by personal tragedy, but driven by hope.
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- David Brancaccio goes inside the world of Roya Hakakian, a young Iranian-born author who's written a bittersweet memoir of poetry, passion and the intoxicating promise of revolution.
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- Credits: Director: Mark Ganguzza; Line Producer: Scott Davis; Coordinating Producer: Irene Francis; Interview Development: Ana Cohen Bickford, Gina Kim; Editorial Producer: Rebecca Wharton; Interview Producer: Megan Cogswell; Producers: Bryan Myers, Keith Brown, William Brangham, Brenda Breslauer, Peter Meryash, Betsy Rate, Na Eng; Writers: Bill Moyers, David Brancaccio, Judy Stoeven Davies; Editors: Larry Goldfine, Vincent Liota, Alison Amron, Amanda Zinoman, Kathi Black; Production Manager: Ria Gazdar; Senior Associate Producers: Carol Atencio, Karla Murthy, Candice Waldron, Jennifer Latham, Elena Bluestine; Associate Producers: Stefanie Hirsch, Rasheea Williams, Dan Logan, Rachel Webster; Production Associates: Kristin Burns, Ismael Gonzalez, Renata Huang, Mariama Nance, Avni Patel; Mao Yao, Tua Nefer, Titu Yu, Moss Levinson; Production Assistants: Lisa Kalikow, Reed Penney, Joshua Wolterman, Anna Melin, Ceridwen Dovey, Amelia Green-Dove, DongWon Song, Matthew Harwood; Interns: Emi Kolawole, Marshall Steinbaum, Aaron Soffin, Eileen Chou, Creative Director: Dale Robbins; Graphics Producer: Abbe Daniel; Graphics: Chris Degnen, Liz DeLuna, Gregory Kennedy; Music: Douglas J. Cuomo; Senior Supervising Producer: Sally Roy; Executives in Charge: Judy Doctoroff O’Neill; Co-Editor: David Brancaccio; Executive Editors: Bill Moyers, Judith Davidson Moyers; Senior Producers: Tom Casciato, Ty West; Executive Producer: Felice Firestone; Sr. Executive Producer: John Siceloff; Correspondents: David Brancaccio, Deborah Amos, Daniel Zwerdling, Rick Karr, Michele Mitchell, Roberta Baskin
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- Additional credits: Producers: Naomi Spinrad, Paul Stekler, Katie Pitra, Daniel McCabe, David Grubin, Robe Imbriano, Sherry Jones, Leslie Sewell; Writer: Sherry Jones, Kathleen Hughes; Associate Producers: Blair Foster, Hilary Dann, Cope Moyers; Editors: Rob Forlenza, Lars Woodruffe, Kathi Black, David Kreger, Alexandra Yalakidis, Laurie Wainberg, Bob Eisenberg, Nobuko Organesoff, Jeremy Cohen, Andrew Fredericks; Jeremy Cohen, Alex Yalakidis, Win Rosenfeld, Dan Davis; Correspondents: Robert Krulwich, Rick Davis, Sylvia Chase, Juju Chang, Jane Wallace
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- Chicago: “NOW with Bill Moyers; 348; Judy Collins; Iranian-born author Roya Hakakian,” 2004-11-26, Public Affairs Television & Doctoroff Media Group, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 1, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-3d4518edf53.
- MLA: “NOW with Bill Moyers; 348; Judy Collins; Iranian-born author Roya Hakakian.” 2004-11-26. Public Affairs Television & Doctoroff Media Group, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 1, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-3d4518edf53>.
- APA: NOW with Bill Moyers; 348; Judy Collins; Iranian-born author Roya Hakakian. Boston, MA: Public Affairs Television & Doctoroff Media Group, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-3d4518edf53
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