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Interview with Salar Abdoh, Part II.

My second interview with Salar took place on 19 June 1998.

MUFSON: Was your coming here directly related to the Iranian Revolution?

S.ABDOH: Of course.

MUFSON: What difference does it make whether you’re in England or the United States if there’s a…

S.ABDOH: First of all, our father was an American citizen. And so obviously he had a lot more opportunities here. Especially because he had just lost all his wealth in Iran. So we knew America much better. We knew England too, but why stay in England when you can come to America? Otherwise we would’ve gone on. Reza had to finish school, so he would’ve probably gone to college in England if the revolution hadn’t happened. But I’m sure he finished college at USC. I’m pretty sure about that. He wouldn’t have just gone for one semester. Because I would come to visit him from the bay area in the future years and I remember his still doing stuff at USC. Doing plays there and things like that.

MUFSON: Do you think it could’ve been possible that he attended classes and directed shows there, but without registering?

S.ABDOH: I don’t know. Anything is possible with Reza. That’s something I really don’t know.

MUFSON: I’m trying to get in touch with some people he knew.

S.ABDOH: If you find out, let me know. You know who you should contact about that, Lani-something Oglesby? who wrote a couple of plays with him. Because they met at USC. I remember. She was going to USC at the time and she would know about that. What was her name, Sara Lani Oglesby?

MUFSON: Mira-Lani Oglesby. I’ve tried getting in touch with her, but I’m having a hard time.

S.ABDOH: I think they had a falling out. But I remember they met over there.

MUFSON: So did Reza direct Timon of Athens? Was that also at the boarding school, or did he do that at all? I have that for the second thing that he did in National Youth Theater.

S.ABDOH: No. He didn’t do anything there. But if he did it, he would’ve done it at the boarding school.

MUFSON: But you don’t recall that?

S.ABDOH: No.

MUFSON: Obviously he must’ve been active between ’79 and ’81, but it’s not… But I have no idea—

S.ABDOH: Well, what is the first thing… What’s the significance of ’81? First of all. That’s the first thing you have on him that you can verify?

MUFSON: Actually ’83 is really the first thing that I can verify. Which is three plays by Howard Brenton, directed at the State Theater in Los Angeles. Everything from ’83 on, I’m confident about.

S.ABDOH: ’79 to ’83 would’ve been his years at the university.

MUFSON: Well ’79 to ’81 are the years that he was in America. But everything I have is in Britain. I have him starting USC in the fall of ’81.

S.ABDOH: No, I distinctly recall he started in ’79. I remember his going to college in ’79. Or that autumn. I remember that.

MUFSON: Okay. That also makes more sense, time-wise. But you’re not sure what he was doing ’79, ’80, aside from attending USC?

S.ABDOH: Oh, I knew what he was doing. I was there. I knew exactly what he was doing.

MUFSON: What was he doing?

S.ABDOH: I ended up moving out of the city in like ’80, ’81.

MUFSON: Out of LA?

S.ABDOH: Yeah. We didn’t live together. But he had a place in West Hollywood and he basically did everything to make a living. I remember he was like a night manager in a hotel for a while. I think in Hollywood. I think he was a manager in a restaurant for a while. And I don’t know, I hate to sound sensational, but he’s passed away now and we’re just talking, but I think he sold his body for a while, too, to make a living. And I think he might’ve contracted HIV at that point. At a very early time. He did whatever it took. And he was very heavily involved in the whole West Hollywood gay scene. He was very active sexually. And he just… He did whatever he could. It was very hard for all of us to just get by, you know. As I told you last week, it was literally the year before, I remember that summer when our father came to pick us up from boarding school. It was amazing. You know, Reza three years before he could barely speak English, right? When he left Iran. And now he’s winning the top prize in English literature from one of the best schools in England. To me, he should’ve told the truth about that instead of saying he was in the Youth Theater of London. Because what he accomplished was so amazing, anyway, to me.

MUFSON: Why don’t you clarify that for me a little bit because I didn’t quite get that. He didn’t speak English when?

S.ABDOH: Well, when he left Iran to come here to England.

MUFSON: When was that exactly?

S.ABDOH: That would’ve been in ’77.

MUFSON: ’77?

S.ABDOH: Uh-huh. He finished school in Wellington. But for about a year or two, he was living in London and going to school. And for a while he was also in America, on the East Coast going to school. But I don’t know anything about that, where he was or what school he was going to. That’s way before my time.

MUFSON: Would your mom know? I’m not getting a sense of what exactly happened and when at all. Just for the early years.

S.ABDOH: She wouldn’t know.

MUFSON: She would not know?

S.ABDOH: No. And even if she did, she probably wouldn’t tell you the truth because she is so protective of Reza that she will think she has to lie and blah blah, and act Italian probably. I don’t know. I know it’s really hard. But you have to remember, I was very young, too. In 1977, how old was I? I was nine years old that year. I know he finished. He got his diploma from England. His A levels they call it.

MUFSON: His what?

S.ABDOH: They call it A levels. In England in 1979. He got three A levels, which is a high achievement. One in English, one, I think, in psychology, and one in economics. I’m not sure about that. I knew we came here in ’79. I know he was in USC, starting that autumn of ’79. I always assumed he finished school. But from then on, I’m not sure. I don’t know exactly what happened.

MUFSON: Do you have any of the papers or any of his stuff from Wellington or anything like that?

S.ABDOH: No. But contacting Wellington should not be very difficult.

MUFSON: Yeah.

S.ABDOH: They would remember him.

MUFSON: Yeah?

S.ABDOH: Oh, yeah. Well, it’s been a long time, but… He was very popular with his teachers.

MUFSON: Well I think one of his teachers was at the memorial service, at the Public…

S.ABDOH: Really?

MUFSON: I seem to recall. I’m not sure whether he was from Wellington or where?

S.ABDOH: He was British?

MUFSON: I don’t remember. It’s already a while ago.

S.ABDOH: Yeah. Which part of the chronology is giving you the hardest problem?

MUFSON: Well, really everything before ’83.

S.ABDOH: I think between that time, knowing Reza, it was really a gestation period for him. Remember, in 1979 Reza would’ve been about seventeen, I think. Right? He came to college. He was going to USC. He was just starting to realize he wanted to be a theater director. Reza started as a poet you know. And I told you about that book he wrote and…

MUFSON: Were you able to locate it?

S.ABDOH: To be honest, I didn’t even look. I probably forgot about it, but I will. But I think he was starting to realize he was a poet. At the same time, he had ambitions to be a novelist. Okay? And he tried to write novels a couple of times; it didn’t work out. He didn’t have it in him to be a novelist. And slowly he gravitated towards the theater as an occupation. He always loved it. And I think somewhere between 1979 and when you can verify his first play, he was just moving in that direction. What he did during that time, he was just living. He was just surviving. That’s all he was doing really. He was working very average jobs. Working in restaurants and hotels. Reading a lot. Stuff like that.

MUFSON: And did he see… Was he in London in 1970 to see the Peter Brook production of Midsummer Night’s Dream? He said that he saw that show when he was seven and that had a very large impact on him.

S.ABDOH: That could’ve been possible because our family, on my mother’s side of the family, was very deeply involved in the arts in Iran. And they did all go to the festivals and things like that, the Shiraz festival. It could’ve been possible that my mother took him. But whether it’s true or not I don’t know. I can’t tell you. A lot of times Reza had a definitely melodramatic fantasy when he wanted to. I don’t know; I can’t verify that. But from my own experience, my cousin, Kami, I would be six, seven years old and he would take me in London to a production of The Cherry Orchard. I didn’t know what the hell it was, but I would go. And it’s very possible that Reza went too. Somebody just took him. Because our family was like that. The elders, especially our mom, would go to these things and take us. So it’s possible, but whether it’s verifiable, it’s not verifiable.

MUFSON: When did he start living in London if you say he didn’t really start speaking—

S.ABDOH: Well the thing is, we were in London every summer since I can remember. And also, we could all speak English, but not that well. But we were there every summer. And we had a house there. We had a house in London on Basewater Road, overlooking Hyde Park. And after eighth grade, Reza moved. First our dad sent him to America and then for some reason he decided to send him to London. And in London he was just living in that flat we had, with our grandmother. And I don’t know what he was doing there. I don’t know. He was probably going to a school there in London. I don’t know where. And then the year after he moved, which was ’77, in ’78 I was sent to England and I went to Wellington. And soon after, he joined me in Wellington. But he didn’t go to Wellington before me. I went first. He was in London for a while, then he came. And then he just finished up there. And he was in Wellington for two years, ’78, ’79. He did his lower six and upper six.

MUFSON: Another thing that confused me a little bit from last time is you said that Reza couldn’t really read Rumi in the original?

S.ABDOH: No. His knowledge of Persian, it was quite spent.

MUFSON: What’s his first language?

S.ABDOH: English I guess. My first language is English, because we’ve been here so long. And we left Iran at an early age. So at some point, as immigrants, as very young immigrants, our language…our first language shifts from Persian to English. I went back to school. I majored in Persian at Berkeley and I made a point of relearning Persian. And then I went back to Iran and lived there for a few years. But Reza didn’t care that much. As an idea, it’s beautiful to think “Oh, we’re standing on the shoulders of Háfiz and Rumi and Hedayat and all that.” It’s a great idea. But what I was trying to convey to you last time was for people to say that all Reza was directly influenced by the great Persian tradition is exaggerating the point. I think he was influenced by the idea. Okay? But he didn’t actually sit down and read Rumi and say “Oh. This is amazing. I’m going to incorporate this into such and such plan.” You know what I mean? The distinction I’m trying to make here?

MUFSON: Yeah.

S.ABDOH: And no, he could read Persian, of course. He had maybe the reading abilities of an eighth grader, seventh grader in Persian. By the time he died.

MUFSON: When we left off last time, you were talking about how the rage in his work started actually. In the beginning it probably wasn’t so much about HIV because he didn’t get that at such an early stage, but rather the losses associated with the revolution, yes? And also the frictions that he had always had with your father. Did he have refuge, as it were, in his relationships with you and his mother, was there that kind of polar set-up with your father one side and everybody else on the other, or was there a certain degree is estrangement between everybody?

S.ABDOH: No. Reza definitely had a very close relationship with our mother. Again, what I’m trying to say is very subtle. It was the idea of being close to our mom and for our mother to be close to Reza. The idea was a beautiful idea. So they were less close than they wanted… They were less close than they made believe even between each other. Do you see what I’m saying? Nonetheless, our mother definitely was the other pole and Reza took refuge in her. In the idea of a mother who was interested in the arts and all this. A perfect example is when Reza was a child, he wanted to learn how to play the violin. And our mom supported that. But of course tell a Middle Eastern, a macho Middle Eastern man that your oldest son wants to play the violin. Well, he gave Reza…. He almost gave Reza a good whacking just for that. That was the kind of situation it was. Reza definitely took refuge with our mother. They have a closeness that none of the other children enjoy.

MUFSON: How did the kids get along with one another?

S.ABDOH: Very well. But Reza, as a child, he was always removed from other children. He always seemed older and more mature. He was very well respected by the adults. And even though he was barely two years older than I, he seemed far removed. One did not play with Reza. He commanded you to do whatever. And even after grammar school we would all go to this school where you finished till twelfth grade, called Alburz. It was a very good school. But at the same time, people from all walks of life came there, poor or rich. You had to be a good student to go there. But you had some really tough kids from the south side of Tehran going there. It wasn’t a kind of place where you could just be a rich little kid and survive. But Reza always had a natural ability and knack to have people follow him. He was a natural leader. And even in that tough situation, which was a totally new, strange world to him. He just had an ability to command people. To the point of even excelling in sports. You would not have thought of him as that. You know, excelling in sports. He had a natural ability to command and gained respect of people from all walks of life. From a very early age. Yeah, we all got along very well. You know we had our kid’s fights and all that, but basically we were, you know…. Our father was never around. He was always on business trips. And our mother, she was very young you know. She had the first of us when she was sixteen. But we got along pretty well. We didn’t have the problems that people associate with problem families. We got along well.

MUFSON: You spoke last time about your work on Quotations. But you also worked on other productions with him, but that you didn’t get a writing credit.

S.ABDOH: No, I just worked on that. And then I wrote the entire Shahnameh, The Epic of Kings, which didn’t get produced. That was originally what LATC had commissioned Reza to do. So I wrote it. The Epic of Kings is like the national epic of Iran. It’s the Persian National Anthem. So I wrote a play. Reza asked me to do that first and I wrote it. And then it turned out it was going to be very costly. I wrote that first and then it turned out it was going to be too costly so we didn’t do it. And then I wrote Quotations instead.

I’ll just read this other interview excerpt because you have your recorder now. I’ll tell you exactly what that was all about. Just starting the interview, he asked me, “First of all, tell me something about play Quotations from a Ruined City which you co-wrote with your brother and former collaborator-playwright Reza Abdoh.” And this was my answer. It pretty much explains what Quotations is all about. “When I was twenty-five, I decided that it was time for me to write a novel. This novel ended up being called Quotations from a Ruined City. It was, in retrospect, a juvenile attempt at novel writing, but with perhaps a faint trace of promise. In it, I basically tried to fit in the words of many of the writers whom I admired then. Therefore, the first part of the title, “Quotations”. As for the “Ruined City,” it was the title of an ancient Chinese poem which I happened to love very much. I don’t remember now who it belonged to, but I still recall the end of it, which I quoted toward the closing of the play. And in the play, we use this from that Chinese poem: ‘And for a thousand years and a myriad generations, I shall watch over you to the end, in silence.’ But Quotations was pretty much peppered with a whole array of quotes from just about everyone. And in the play, they come out to The Persians of Aeschylus to Paul Valéry and Walter Benjamin and others. In essence then, Quotations was my conversation with myself, taking stock of what I had learned thus far and what direction I wished to channel my creative energies. It was a meditation on the concept of ruin, a subject that has stayed close to me,” blah blah blah. “Years later, when Reza, with Sarajevo in mind…” I think this is the crux of it. “…with Sarajevo in mind, decided to do a play as a rumination on ruin. It was this text that we used initially.” I think that’s all you need though, just those three lines at the end. It’s true. I think Reza had the idea of ruins in mind and he remembered that novel. We used a lot of quotes. I’m not sure if Walter Benjamin is there but definitely Valéry. But there’s a lot of quotes in that play. And all of those quotes have something to do with ruin, with the idea of ruins. And then there was Shahnameh, which came before that, and the Story of Infamy. I got a printout after you left last week of… I’ll just give it to you, of the thing I wrote for Reza’s memorial. Because people kept asking me what the Story of Infamy was all about. And you can read it and it’ll give you a good idea what it was all about. It’ll give you a good idea of how highly I thought of Reza because I don’t want it to sound like…because I’m telling you that he wasn’t telling you the truth and… You know, I just feel like after all this time has passed, one has to tell the truth about his life.

MUFSON: So the works prior to Quotations, you weren’t involved in the writing of them.

S.ABDOH: I might have written a poem here and there, but no.

MUFSON: Is anybody else in the family trying to write?

S.ABDOH: No.

MUFSON: You have one other brother and one sister?

S.ABDOH: Yes.

MUFSON: What do they do?

S.ABDOH: My brother is an engineer and my sister’s a homemaker in Iran. Tehran.

MUFSON: Did you see much of his work on the East Coast? Tight Right White?

S.ABDOH: Yeah. There was a period when I was in Iran that I missed that cycle of Bogeyman and all that. I ended up just seeing them on video because I was in Iran. That whole cycle, I was in Iran. Then I came back and he did Tight Right White and Quotations. Father Was a Peculiar Man I saw the first opening night just before I left for Iran. And then he did that cycle of three plays. Which I think, and everybody thinks, is the core: Law, Bogeyman. Hip-Hop Waltz of Eurydice. I missed all of those. And you know that’s stuff you’ve got to see in person. Because I knew Reza’s work, I could watch a play I have on video and get a sense of what it’s about. The sheer dimensions of it. But I think if somebody who doesn’t know his work, if they saw it just on video, they would have no idea. And I’ve seen that. I’ve seen that. With a video of one of his plays, you’re just going to think “Oh, what is it?” But even if you you’ve seen one of those plays, then they will just…. I always go back to that sense of urgency he had because his time was limited, and that rage he felt because of the powerlessness he felt after a certain point when he came here to live, the suffering he had to endure for many years. Until he was sort of well known and he could get grants and backing and people supported him and loved his work and loved him. Nonetheless, that sort of rage always stayed with him and it was the impetus—that and the sense of urgency he had that he didn’t have a whole lot of time—he wanted to get a lot of stuff done. And he worked like a madman.

MUFSON: What do you know about the time he spent starting out and how he met some of the first actors that he worked with?

S.ABDOH: I could really not help you on that. I was not living in LA at that time. I couldn’t help you. Mira-Lani should really be able to help you because she was one of the first people. And the other person who could help you, do you know Dokhi?

MUFSON: No.

S.ABDOH: Okay. You’ve got to talk to her. She’s very important. Dokhi was Reza’s best friend in LA for many, many years. She’s a gardener. Just remember when you’re talking to her she loved Reza dearly and she’s very protective of him. Okay? But she knows a lot of… She knew at one point a lot of those people. She was even in one of the plays. And her daughter was in one of the other plays. And she even dated one of Reza’s main actors during the L.A. years. So she will really be able to help you. And she’s a very kind person. But just remember, her view of Reza, as I said, she worships Reza. Okay? It’s essential you talk to her.

MUFSON: What’s her last name?

S.ABDOH: Mirmirani. She will really be able to help you about his LA years, and especially the early years, and his actors. I hope I’ve been helpful.

MUFSON: Definitely. I neglected getting biographical details for a long time. First of all, it always feels like prying to me. And second of all, I generally try to just talk about the work itself.

S.ABDOH: Which is the most important, right?

MUFSON: Yeah. But you know, a lot of people…a lot of other people tend to come at the work with biographical details in mind and then they almost try to use the biographical details as a key to things that they don’t immediately understand. Which I think is problematic. But it seems to happen a lot.

S.ABDOH: Yeah.

MUFSON: I mean with all actors. And I know I asked you this last time, but I still didn’t quite come away with an idea of how it works, and I’ve asked a bunch of people this. The process itself of putting the show together, I don’t quite understand how Reza would have a structure in mind and be able to tell actors “You stand over here. Say line, line, line, line, line” or what have you and then drop dialogue in at a later date. This is my general understanding of it at this point, that he would have the structure down, he would know basically what was going to happen when, but he didn’t have the dialogue down yet. Does that sound right to you?

S.ABDOH: Yeah. Every artist, as you well-know, works in different ways. The way I saw him, especially working with him with those three plays, you would have an idea, almost an image or images. And then he would try to just fill in the blanks with dialogue or whatever. It struck me as that’s how he worked. Because he wasn’t a playwright who sits down and writes a play and then directs that play. He would pick up on an idea and then he would fill in the blanks. I remember towards the last couple of years, he had an idea to write a play about J. Edgar Hoover. And he read many, many books on J. Edgar Hoover. It was an idea he wanted to bring about a certain image of this man. I’m sure this is the route he would’ve taken. I’m guessing now, but I’m pretty sure because I know Reza. He would’ve concentrated on the whole private life of Hoover and the fact that it came out after his death that he dressed in drag and he was a homosexual. And then he would’ve created an amazing, elaborate theater out of that. But he’d have started with like this seed of the idea of Hoover, this utterly despicable, almost fascist person who had a lot of skeletons in his closet. And he would zoom in on that as he zoomed in on anything, whether it was Sarajevo or the black experience in America, whatever it was. He started with that image and then he worked his way into the core. Or he started with the core and he worked his way out.

MUFSON: It seems like that was more often the case, because what often strikes me is that he’s very good at getting things that are tangentially related and bringing them in and making them fit.

S.ABDOH: Just with that sentence, you put your finger on the core, on the essence of Reza’s art. He had a great eye and he was very, very smart. And not only was he smart, he was also very clever. He knew how to pick the fruit and create a beautiful basket. Not necessarily a beautiful basket, but that’s what he did. That was what his art was all about. And so he did, yes, he started with that seed, with that core. He was nowhere near a great playwright. He wasn’t even really a writer. He was a theater director and that’s what he wanted.

MUFSON: Is that how he thought of himself?

S.ABDOH: Yeah. Absolutely.

MUFSON: Why did he take this turn to writing his own pieces for what seemed like a good number of years?

S.ABDOH: Because I think everything that has been written and was written, [historically] and currently, didn’t satisfy his ideas and what he wanted to show the world. He definitely had a world view and he wanted to show that. If you saw Tight Right White, there’s not really anything like it. He wanted to go to the heart of the matter, whatever it was. And no matter if it bothered people or it didn’t people, he wanted to bring it out very loudly and very colorfully. We were talking many years ago, in the 80’s. He said, “When I read literature, I want to feel like I’m being fucked—someone is fucking me—like when you read Proust, for instance.” And I could understand him perfectly. I knew exactly what he was talking about. It’s that experience of like ultimate ecstatic acknowledgment. I don’t know how to put it, but just the feeling of utter being there, the heart of the matter. There was nothing in the current literature or past literature, with all the great stuff that’s been written, despite Shakespeare and all that, there was nothing that really spoke of his experience or his rage. I always go back to that word, rage. And his set of needs or issues that he needed to put out into the world. He needed to put his own stamp on the theater, and he did. And if he hadn’t done his own writing, I don’t think it would have been the same. The only shortcoming he had which he acknowledged to me was he wasn’t a great writer and he wanted to be a great—he wanted to be a good writer. But he wasn’t. He was a great poet, but he didn’t develop that part of him as time wore on. He became a theater director. He would’ve loved to be able to write. We were talking about The Blind Owl and I said, “You know this is a wonderful film, but you know, it’s not going to sell anything.” He’d admit it to me. He said, “I would love to be able to do that, but I can’t do it. I just don’t have it in me.”

MUFSON: What do you mean? He would’ve loved to do more commercial stuff?

S.ABDOH: No. But even something that is more plot driven. Not necessarily commercial. Something more graspable to an audience, any sort of audience. Something that’s less dependent on just pure images.

S.ABDOH: Where did he get his visual vocabulary from? How did he educate himself? Was that a kind of naïve talent that he had that just came forth from his own observance of daily life or did he…

S.ABDOH: As I said, my mother’s side of the family was very keenly interested in the arts. We were exposed to that from a young age.

MUFSON: Did you go to the museums frequently?

S.ABDOH: Absolutely. Like whenever we were in Europe, our mom would just drag us to the museums. As kids in Iran, there were certain words that you always heard around the house. Michelangelo. The Renaissance. I didn’t know what the hell that was, but it just sounded good. So from a very early age, he became aware that there is a world out there that’s called “Art.” Or it’s even here or maybe it’s a part of me. That I can engage in it. He understood that. He acknowledges from a very early age. And being that we lived in Iran, in Asia, in an eastern country, when we saw we were witnesses to incredible images, you know. Like images of self-flagellation during the ceremonies for the martyrs, ceremonies for cutting the lamb’s throat. As Iranians and Shi’ites, that was an everyday occurrence. It was nothing strange, it was foreign to us.

MUFSON: Can you be more specific?

S.ABDOH: Well, in Iran we have the ceremonies for the martyr Hussayn every year. And all the men in the city, they march down the streets. Hundreds and hundreds and thousands, and they flagellate themselves.

MUFSON: Is that part of Ta’ziyeh?

S.ABDOH: No. It’s just Shi’ite ceremony. Yeah. Ta’ziyeh is something else. It’s Shi’ite theater. And the sacrifice of the sheep or the lamb. Blood. Colors. At the same time, we were going to England every summer and we were exposed to a totally different culture. So that dichotomy was in our head. And especially in an intelligent kid’s head, like Reza. This realization of this hybrid existence of these vastly different worlds on this earth that we live in. We were exposed to it. And I think in later years, Reza just filled up on that. And he used it in his theater whether it was like using a poem by Rumi or not. It was a realization that this world is a very interesting and colorful and amazing place. And using that to convey all of his ideas. And that’s why he loved America so much. Because to Reza, America was the epitome of all of the earth. All these vastly different people coming here and living together and racism and generosity and ugliness and crime and this and that. It was all here. It was all in America. And that’s why he was so attracted to the idea of America and to American folk culture. And he made a serious study of it day in and day out. Reza would watch television for… I never saw anybody watch television as much as Reza. But he didn’t just watch it like a couch potato; he was absorbing that culture, the huge culture. He was trying to see what it’s all about and how it can help him in his theater. It was all about that. I veered off from your original question.

MUFSON: Well, that’s fine. It started out asking about his visual sensibility and how…

S.ABDOH: So the visual sensibility of course it started in Iran where there’s a lot of visual sensibility. There are so many things. Like when we were kids. We were a very wealthy family, with the chauffeurs driving us to school. And suddenly we come to a red light. And the local camel herder is passing with his fifty camels and they’re dropping turds in the middle of the road. It’s like so many images right next to each other. And he became aware of that at a very young age.

MUFSON: Did you guys talk about Iranian politics much? It must’ve been difficult in some ways to know… Where did you guys stand? Because it seems like it would’ve been hard to side with the Shah on the one hand and yet hard to…

S.ABDOH: Well, our father was—of course—he was a part of it. He wasn’t in the government, but he was wealthy and part of the establishment, and he knew a lot of powerful people. But our mother was a very romantic figure who supported subversive elements in society. Not because she was a revolutionary, but because she was a romantic and a poet. By doing that, she was being romantic herself. You see what I’m saying?

And so we took our cues from her. And of course… You didn’t discuss politics in Iran at that time. But when the revolution came, we were all for it. Even though our father lost everything. To us it was another romantic step in the weave of fortune. Little did we know…. You know, it was a horrible ordeal, not just for us, but for the entire country for many years to come.

MUFSON: When did that start to become more apparent to you?

S.ABDOH: Oh, very soon after that. I mean after they started executing people en masse. And there was the war with Iraq that happened. You know, it started pretty much right away and young men were dying. Almost all of Reza and my generation, if they didn’t leave the country, they either died or got paralyzed or just got fucked up because of that war. It was an eight year war. I veered off again. What was the question?

MUFSON: I was asking to what extent you all discussed politics.It seems to me that there’s a fairly progressive outlook that’s embedded in a lot of the work—

S.ABDOH: Oh, absolutely.

MUFSON: —and I’m curious as to how that actually developed in someone who is basically growing up under the Shah. When people talk about Iranian politics today and how Iranian politics have been for the last twenty or thirty years, you get the Shah and the dictatorship and the militaries among that side and then you get radicalism and fundamentalism on the other. And I’m wondering how his admiration for pluralism and democracy and progressivism, this very critical sensibility, developed.

S.ABDOH: Well, how could anybody who’s halfway intelligent not come to appreciate pluralism and democracy and justice? Especially if they’ve seen all that? And as I said, a huge part of Reza’s rage was his firsthand knowledge of what powerlessness is all about and how it can come about.

MUFSON: That’s true, but there’s also… You could easily imagine someone who’s growing up very wealthy, developing a certain sense of entitlement if that’s something that was always taken for granted. Was that ever there or did you realize that there were—

S.ABDOH: We were always very aware that we were wealthy and there was injustice in society. As I said, my father owned a couple of Rolls Royces in London and we had a chauffeur. But Reza was always embarrassed to drive in it. And if he had to, he would like always duck his head down. He didn’t feel comfortable doing that at all when he was young. If it was today, he wouldn’t have had any problem. But the point is, as far back as I can remember, we were very aware, we were very conscious that there were different classes in society. And this I can say for my family, we were very generous. Not because we were generous per se, but there was always that melodramatic element that my modest family kept resurrecting. There was always this quality of wanting to appear angelic.

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