tv Tavis Smiley PBS November 16, 2011 12:00am-12:30am PST
smiley. first up tonight, a conversation with first-time novelist amy waldman, "the submission," and she is the former south asia bureau chief for it "the times." also tonight, a musician and actor chris isaac is here. he is paying tribute to the legendary label sun records. his album is called "beyond the sun." >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better.
>> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. kcet public television] [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: amy waldman is out with her first-ever novel, and it is called tavis," a book that is receiving rave reviews. amy, good to have you on the
program. it is all up or down from here. >> let's say up. tavis: i say that because there is so much talk about your first novel. what do you say about that? >> i think it is a lot to do with my talents, but it is also that there is a lot of interest in this topic. tavis: i will get to the book in just a second, but i want to ask you why it is, given how raw emotions are after 9/11, relative to a monument, relative to how we teach muslims, being able to have a house of worship, how do you get away with putting that stuff in a novel? >> i think the novel is kind of the perfect place for it, because it is fiction.
it is a little easier, i think of it. it is like putting vegetables into some kind of food in a way. it is a story in the and, so i think that makes it easier to talk about. being afraid to offend people, i think i block all of that out, and also when you are doing your first album, it is easier to do that, because you do not know if people are going to read it. tavis: talk about your character, mo. >> there is a contest about a monument, and there is an architect from virginia who wins the contest, mohammed "mo" khan, and his selection naturally sparse a lot of controversy. that is kind of the premise of the novel.
people are not sure to trust him or to be afraid. there are those fears, should he take them on, about people thinking about who he is. >> -- tavis: there is something where someone is asked to denounce something. and this happens to him, it renouncing something he had nothing to deal with. >> yes. that is what i was really interested in in writing the novel. as an individual, what are your obligations? do you take on what your group has done? there has been a lot about muslims, why they will not stand up and denounce terrorism? the answer is i am an american just like you, so why do i have to say something extra to make you feel ok?
tavis: what is fascinating to me is that it does not make a statement about muslims and think about how we treat them, but it also makes a statement about us. it is not just them. in the competition that mo wins, they do not know that he is a muslim until they open the envelope. they selected the best design. his design is the design that they think is best, and when they open the envelope, then they discover that he is a muslim, and then all hell breaks loose. tell us what you like to say about us putting mo in the position of having to defend or apologize or denounce. >> i was really interested in the period after 9/11. i think there were lots of questions about which of our values to be hold on to and which do we renegotiate. i think this was a great way into that, because there is this
great american idea that made the best man win, an anonymous competition, it does not matter who you are, it does not match your background, so a muslim when it was like a full frontal challenge to that, so that is what i was trying to get to. -- so a muslim winning was like a full frontal challenge. how did you come down on who is right in the arguments in the book. >> -- tavis: the proposed mosque near 9/11, what did you make of that story when it started to surface? >> for me, it was really strange, because i had finished a full draft to the novel, and i suddenly felt it was coming to light before me, and i was a former journalist, and felt like reality was chasing me. tavis: life imitating art. >> yes, and for me, it was making me do some re-thinking in
how to portray certain things. it shows me almost 10 years on how much confusion and discomfort there is around islam and muslims in america, and even some liberals say of course they have a right to become a mosque, and then five minutes later saying maybe they should move it 12 blocks away, and you really cannot have it the same. if you say it should be moved, it is thing we really do not trust members of this religion. tavis: what did, if you did, in fact, you end up tweaking, changing? i am thinking this book is a best seller. i would have figured that out then. if life is imitating art, this is paralleling in some ways what you have written in your novel, and you saw all of the interest that generated.
i am thinking to myself ding, ding, ding or ka-ching, ka ching, ka-ching. >> the book is funny in parts, and suddenly i was reading in the newspaper, and even if that sort of confirmed, i do not want people to read the book and feel they have read it all before, as i did some re-writing, and it was furcal for my imagination, even the specter of violence that rose, one of the and leads to another and to another, and that leads to some of the plodding in the book, and this made me realize that this is what a novel can do. it can take us deep into some people's minds in a way that a news story cannot do, because we have a position to present to the world, and so much of the novel is about doubt and what you are thinking in your head
and the confusion there, and that is different from what news reports can capture. tavis: this distinction about news reports and novels, is there a statement that you want to make to us, or are you probings so that we can ask ourselves questions? >> yes, i deathly do not want to prescribe what people should take away. i do think it is a novel that will speak for itself and will take readers to a lot of different places, and i have already seen that, and i cannot control how people react and what side they come down on. tavis: they say timing is everything. why has this become your very first novel? >> i think it just came to me because i had the idea. i was not sitting around years ago thinking i really wanted to write a novel, but i had a specific idea about what would happen if this guy won, and it
was with me for three years while i try to find the time to write it. wanting it to come out before 9/11, knowing that there was the memorial opening on the 10th anniversary, in the book is about a memorial, so that was fortuitous and away in terms of timing. tavis: so having written for "the new york times" and "the atlantic," what do you make about this novel writing thing? >> i love it. having the freedom and not writing about the facts. it was really fun. there were so many days where i thought i missed my notebook full of quotes, but it is the creativity, and i am already thinking of my next one. tavis: you answered my question, thinking already about another one. >> i will write things that are
sort of ground a little bit in reality or politics because that is what i am interested in, and i think there is a lot of great fiction that explores those types of things, that is what i want to keep pursuing. tavis: all right, it is called "the submission," by amy waldman. >> i spent three years based in new delhi, covering afghanistan, pakistan, the whole region. tavis: that area of the world is getting more interesting every day. >> oh, yeah, yeah, very much so. tavis: do you miss that at all? >> i am glad i did it. i had amazing experiences, but i am happy. tavis: the book is called "the submission" by amy waldman, and
a lot of people are talking about this, her first novel. . thank you. up next, chris isaac, and he brought his guitar with him. so you may want to stick around for this. please welcome chris isaac to the program, who is out with a new cd, paying tribute to sun records, the rockabilly covers. some of the recording sessions for the elvis songs, "i forgot to remember to forget." >> great singers, all three, johnny cash, carl perkins, roy orbison, jerry lee lewis, and all of those artists came out of one the la plata in memphis, tennessee. -- came out of one little place
in memphis, tennessee. ♪ ♪ i forgot to remember to forget her i cannot seem to get off of my mind i thought i would never miss her ♪ tavis: that is recorded at sun studios. >> cowboy jag is an amazing musician, much more talented. -- cowboy jack. when i first heard he was going to come in, i thought, cowboy jack, he had to be pushing eighty, and the next day, one of the players came in wearing dark glasses, and i thought he had the flu, and i found out later
that he was trying to keep up with the guy. tavis: what does this do for the music? >> you know, it made everybody's game come up, because you walk into a room, and you go this is where bb king recorded. elvis presley was in that room. royalty has been here. you are going to put on your best, and the other thing, that is kind of the emotional side, but the physical side is that that is a great sounding room. tavis: and you not -- do not get intimidated with all of those talented ghosts of floating around the room? >> you focus. tavis: so many things can out of this era. how do you figure out what to put in the project in terms of the play list? >> i think i had kind of an
advantage. when i was growing up, my dad had just got out of jail, and he had a great record collection. these were the songs, so i heard a lot of these songs my whole life, so for me, it was easy. what i'm going to sing. for the rest of the band, they had to learn. they did not know them as well as i did. i was really impressed with the band. i love the guys. they threw down on this. tavis: what do you remember about your dad's record collection? >> my dad, he had the stuff that came before this, like lead belly and hank williams and that kind of stuff, and i heard that, and i liked that music, but when i heard this, it seemed like all of a sudden, it took it to a modern plays, that i could
imagine myself play. i could not be lead belly. i could not be hank williams. there was something unfamiliar there, but when i heard elvis, i thought i could sing like this. i like this. tavis: was it the music? the boys? the lyrical content? what did you first fall in love with? >> it was just so damn pretty. it sounds weird, but i have said that over the years. i love pretty music. why pretty? the first thing that elvis cut, when he walked in, "i want to make a record for mind -- my mamma." evening shatters, they may need blue, when each day is through -- evening shadows
i went to be with you, happiness ♪ even with his guitar out of tune, because that was before tuners, it is pretty and romantic, and i like that kind of music. tavis: i get the idea that you have been doing these impressions since you were like eight, nine, 10. >> i had to avoid -- i am probably the same genetic gene pool, a little bit of a resemblance, and i put a pair of, and people go, oh, elvis. when i was box in, that was my nickname. when i first started boxing, my hair was about as long as yours is, and i had a bunch of scars on my head, so it did not look
good, but i found this record, "sun sessions, elvis presley," and i thought i wanted to go and greece my hair back -- grease my hair back. they do not put up with anything, and he said, "no, you are not going to do it." i was the only heavyweight he had, and he said, "as long as you win, you let your hair grow." i got long hair, but i had to fight for it. tavis: when you grow up idolizing these grades and are able to make yourself sound like them, -- when you grow up, i the lies in these -- idolizing the is -- these greats -- >> that is the trick.
you do not hear yourself. you do not listen to yourself and say, "ok, now i sound like somebody unique." i always hear traces of other people in what i am doing. i can hear that in there, but i think it is just that i wrote my own songs. i did not to cover songs. i did not do these songs on stage for years on purpose, you know? but if you listen to old as presley, and he does, you know -- if you listen to elvis presley, and he does, you know, ♪ i found my freedom on blueberry hill ♪ it is beautiful. i think it's something came from new orleans a little bit. tavis: the jury is out on a lot
of stuff that he did, but i digress on that point. >> do you know david bartholomew? i asked him if it bothered him that elvis changes some of the lyrics. i actually changed them back. ♪ one night of sin paying for now the things i did and i saw would make our dreams fall through ♪ this is the part i love. call my name it makes me feel so ashamed ♪
elvis turned it into "just call my name, and i will be right by your side." that is much sweeter, and you can imagine 14-year-old girls going for that. david bartholomew, i thought he had it nailed. tavis: when did you know that you were good enough? i asked you earlier about your own style, and you did not know how you came into that, with traces of your favorite style, but when did you know you were good? you box and did a bunch of other things, but when did you know this was your calling? >> i do not know if i was a college or a vocation. -- if i was -- if it was a calling for a vocation. i love doing it. you can make a record for a lot of reasons. people say, "you want to get
rich? " when i made this record, i thought i could make enough money to go back and make another one like this, because i had so much fun doing it, and i remember when i started my career, my dad was driving a forklift in stockton. my mother was working at a potato chip factory, and i have no connection -- do you have show business background? tavis: i do not. >> i do not either. when you start off, if you want to get a job at the post office, there are steps, but i did not know how you get on stage. there are pictures in here when i was so inside the book, pictures where i am so naïve, i threw hay all summer, and i had a cool looking microphone, and i am one thing painted silver, and i had a guitar. i thought i am almost in show
business. i have got a guitar and a microphone. i am almost there. all i need is an audience. i had my friend take pictures. i want to do this. tavis: speaking of show business, anything coming up soon? i see you here, there, everywhere. >> i always loved being in films, because when you're in a film, it helps people remember that you are alive and that you are out there singing. my main thing, i got offered a part in a television show. they always want me to play cops. i guess i just look like i am clean-cut enough that i could be a cop. tavis: it is the hair. >> they wanted me to play a cop. up for five years, and you will be a star, and it will be on the network. and i thought, five years? what am i went to tell my drummer and my bass player? have you got a part for them?
because we cannot do that. tavis: the project is called "beyond the sun," a wonderful tribute to all of the great artists and the music that came out of sun records in the day. chris, thank you for being here. do you want to play us out? let me just say goodbye. that is our show for today. good night from l.a., and keep the faith, and enjoy our man, chris isaac. oh, no, oh, no, i am following year -- you if you ever cheat on me, i will never take it ♪ that is a lot to say.
i am following you ♪ ♪ just like that. tavis: wow. [applause] you wore that thing out. >> for more information on at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with and legendary singer and songwriter, carole king, and louise goffin. that is next time. we will see you then. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard. it's the cornerstone we all know. it's not just a street or boulevard, but a place where walmart stands together with your community to make every day better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and every
answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] >> be more. pbs. >> be more. pbs.