DATE February 1, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Jay Bakker discusses his ministry for troubled youth
and his life as the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest Jay Bakker describes himself as having been born into the premier
family of a megamedia church, a family that many viewers once assumed was the
perfect Christian family. Jay is the son of televangelist Jim and Tammy Faye
Bakker. They were the creators of "The 700 Club" and "The PTL Club," which
was broadcast through their own Christian satellite network. `PTL' stood for
`Praise the Lord.'
Two scandals brought down this television ministry in the late '80s. Jim
Bakker was accused by Jessica Hahn of raping her, a charge he has denied,
although he admitted to a sexual encounter. Jim Bakker was also convicted of
defrauding the followers of PTL.
Meanwhile, Jay Bakker went through a rebellious period. He dropped out of
high school, drank, smoked marijuana and used LSD. But now he has his own
ministry. He's working with young people who are alienated and rebellious,
including kids into hard-core music, Goth and skateboarding. His ministry is
called Revolution. He's written a new memoir called "Son of a Preacher Man."
I asked him why he identifies with the young people he ministers to.
Mr. JAY BAKKER (Author, "Son of a Preacher Man"): Growing up, I was always a
skateboarder. And then when we lost PTL and my dad went to prison and I got
into high school, I kind of changed my whole image. I became, like, this
preppy kid, but I was going through so much. And the kids that really
embraced me were the punks and the Goth kids and, you know, those different
types, the subculture of the high school. And I don't know. There was just
something about it that it felt, like, right. It felt like me. It felt like
where I belonged. And so I just became part of the group.
GROSS: Now part of what you do in your ministry is you have a lot of bands
Mr. BAKKER: Yes.
GROSS: What kind of--tell us a little bit about the music.
Mr. BAKKER: We have all sorts of different music. We have Christian music.
We have non-Christian music. We have hard-core music, which is basically
screaming and very loud guitars and drums. We have melodic punk. We even
have The Huntingtons, who sound just like The Ramones. As a matter of
fact, when they're in New York they play with The Ramones. We had The
X-Impossibles, who--the guitarist owns one of the local tattoo parlors.
We just had Gargantua, who's--another guitarist owns a tattoo parlor. So
we have all different types of bands that--different genres of music and
different faiths, different beliefs. We even have atheist bands play.
GROSS: What kind of reaction do the bands that play at the things that you
stage with your ministry get from other Christian groups?
Mr. BAKKER: They're pretty--everybody's pretty open about it. I think one
of the worst things wa--ever happened was is we have a lot of atheist kids
come when we do hard-core shows. And I mean, there's a huge hard-core scene
where you're at in Philadelphia. But we had a show, and I went up to the band
and said, `Listen, you know, I heard the band was being'--a Christian band.
They were being real zealots. They're, like, `Oh, there's atheists here
tonight. We have to be ministers. We have to blah, blah, blah. We have to
really put it in their face.' And I went up to them and said, `Listen, you
guys, you know, please don't get preachy. Please don't get crazy. Please
don't get into their face.' I said, `We've built, you know, years of
building relationships with these people. You know, these people are hurt
enough and have had enough stuff shoved down their throat. Please don't do
anything.' And the kid looked at me and goes, `Well, I would be willing to
die for my God,' you know, and just had this really militant attitude. And I
say, `Well, listen.' I said, `I've worked very hard not to have this be
kind--not to have this ministry be that kind of ministry.' And he said, `OK.'
Next thing I know, they went on, you know. They broke into a
praise-and-worship song, "Our God is an Awesome God," hard-core version,
and started saying, `You're in church. Welcome to church.' And so I have a
harder time with some of the Christian bands rather than the non-Christian
GROSS: Are some of the bands that play for the concerts that your ministry
gives bands from other ministries? Do you find that other ministries are as
open musically as you are?
Mr. BAKKER: No. No, most aren't. Most are Christian entertainment
facilities, and we are not. That's not what we're called to do. We're called
to just give people a safe environment to hang out and to just let people
relax and be who they are and come as they are. You know, I feel like that's
what Jesus would be doing. That's where Christ would be. I think if Jesus
managed a club, that's the type of club he would have managed.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jay Bakker. He's the son of
Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and the author of the new book "Son of a Preacher
Man: My Search for Grace in the Shadows." Jay Bakker is a minister himself
I wonder if you think that certain Christian groups and churches do foolish
things in the way that they try to get teen-agers to stop listening to
hard-core or heavy metal or any other form of music that they consider to be
anti-Christian or a bad influence.
Mr. BAKKER: Well, I think the '80s was the most ridiculous, when they were
backward masking and then they'd have--they still have these big events where
they tell the kids--they like, `Bring you CDs'--they call them secular
CDs--`and we're going to break 'em and burn 'em and give them to God.' And,
you know, I think that's kind of out of touch. I mean, I think if a kid is
listening to an album and he feels like it's not good for him and that it's
bringing him down then he shouldn't listen to the album. But if an album's
not bothering him, I don't see a problem with it.
I think it's kind of pathetic and manipulative how the church has reacted to
non-Christian music. We've tried to scare kids and we're, like, `The devil's
in your music. They're going to make you kill yourself,' or different things
like that. And I just think that's foolish nonsense.
GROSS: Do you think that devil imagery is particularly potent for kids who
grew up in fundamentalist families, who grew up, quite literally, believing in
Mr. BAKKER: Yeah, I think so. I think a lot of these kids--that if you
asked them, you know, if they gave you a true honest answer: `Why are you
serving God?,' these kids that were raised that way, they'd be, `Because I'm
scared of going to hell. Because I'm afraid of burning to death.' `Why don't
you do this or do that?' `Because I'm scared of the devil' or, `I'm scared of
what God might do to me.' And they have this complete misconception of who
Christ is and who God truly is because they've had so much religious tradition
shoved down their throats. That--it's really not biblical at all, or it
really doesn't have anything to do with Christ at all. I mean, Christ was a
friend to sinners. Christ never used perfect people. But somehow, we've
gotten to the point where we believe that somewhere along the lines, that
changed. After the Bible was written, now all of a sudden God uses perfect
people and that's impossible. There are no perfect people.
GROSS: How do you deal with teen-agers who are behaving self-destructively or
who are being dangerous to others? And, you know...
Mr. BAKKER: Well, we...
GROSS: For instance, like kids who are really becoming addicted to drugs or
alcohol or being very racist or violent.
Mr. BAKKER: Well, I'm in a 12-step program myself. So when I'm dealing with
kids who have addictions, you know, I just try to help them become involved in
a 12-step program, I talk to them. But I try to leave the decision up to
them. I'm not at the point where I'm like, `You're going to have to do this.
You have to do that.' I can't change their minds.
When kids are becoming violent or different things like that--I remember one
kid in particular who just was a skinhead, and he just was so angry all the
time and so mad. And I just said, `You know, he's going down the wrong path.'
I asked him. I said, `Hey, man, let's go eat. Let's go eat lunch,' and we
had lunch together. And I said, `Listen, you know, I feel that you're acting
like an idiot, you know. That--you're talking about harming people. You seem
like you're becoming racist.' I'm, like, `Well, what's going on?,' you know,
and just confronting the issue and saying, `Listen, man, I love you, and this
is why we're talking. This is why I'm saying what I'm saying, because I don't
want to see you go down this path because I've seen so many kids before do
this and it leads to nowhere fast.'
And if a kid is cutting themselves or different things like that, we'll talk
to him for awhile, and eventually we get them into counseling. I'm glad to
say we pretty much have a 100 percent success rate in the area with kids who
have been cutting themselves or mutilating themselves. We've been able to get
them into some sort of counseling, and now they're no longer doing that. So
we've really been successful in that area.
GROSS: Well, now what music and movies meant the most to you as a kid?
Mr. BAKKER: Interesting question. I think U2 "Joshua Tree" when I was 11
meant a lot to me. Just a really special album. It was kind of--I'd
listened to rock 'n' roll and stuff before, but for some reason that album
just really pierced my heart in a special way.
And I loved "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones." And I still collect Han Solo
action figures. You know, most people collect "Star Wars" stuff. I only
collect Han Solo figures, or maybe a Chewbacca figure here or there. But
that's the kind of stuff that was special to me when I was young.
GROSS: Now did your parents try to restrict what you watched and what you
Mr. BAKKER: No, no.
GROSS: I mean, they were on TV all the time.
Mr. BAKKER: Yeah.
Mr. BAKKER: But they were quite open. I can remember when everybody was
saying--I don't know if you remember a rock band called Stryper back in the
'80s, a Christian rock band. And they were pretty popular. They were on MTV
and different things like that. And all the Christians were saying, `These
guys are satanic, and they're trying to infiltrate the church,' and all this
stuff. And they were playing at a local bar in town. And I asked my dad--I
said--`Dad,' I said, `I really want to go see this band Stryper.' And my dad
said, `OK. You can go see them, but you got to go with me.'
And so actually, him and my mom and my sister--we all went to this bar, you
know, sticking out like a sore thumb. They finally put us upstairs in, like,
a private room. But it was this little bar in the middle of nowhere. The
first band was, like, this complete, like, supposedly satanic band. And it
was, like, crazy. But my mom and dad took me to see the Stryper. And at the
end of the show, my folks invited Stryper to come and stay at Heritage USA at
one of the hotels. And it's kind of funny. I guess that's where I got my
start, you know. My dad was very open to all types of music and all types of
ministry. My dad was never really close-minded to anything.
GROSS: My guest is Jay Bakker. His new memoir is called "Son of a Preacher
Man." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Jay Bakker is my guest, and his new book is called "Son of a Preacher
Man." And he's the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and now has a ministry of
Now you say in your book, `I started life on Christian TV.' Did you like
being on TV?
Mr. BAKKER: No, I didn't. It wasn't my favorite thing in the world. I
don't know why I didn't like it. I think one reason was I was a heavyset
young man, and I didn't like seeing myself on television. And I wanted to
play. I mean, I can remember putting my jeans and my T-shirt underneath,
like, my suit or whatever outfit that I had on. And as soon as the show was
over, I would split. And, see, the show was from, like, 11 to 12. And so I
would leave school and come to the show. But whenever we had the show, I
would never go back to school. I would talk my security guard into not making
me go back to school, and I'd take the whole day off, which I'm sure my dad
wasn't very happy about, or my mom.
GROSS: So were you forced to be, like, a goody-goody in your public life?
Mr. BAKKER: Not by my family. I think some of the partners wanted it that
way. I can remember a particular situation where I was wearing a T-shirt that
one of the partners found offensive, and they reported it to the security.
Security came to me and took me to my dad. And my dad said, `Well, what do
you think?' And I said, `Well, I like my shirt.' And he said, `OK. Well, if
you like your shirt then wear your shirt.' And he was real--he loved the
partners to death, but he was very particular to make sure that they didn't
raise us, you know, that public opinion didn't raise us, that him and Mom
GROSS: I thought it's funny, you know, in your book you say during part of
this period when you were, you know, growing up in the limelight you really
wanted to be Don Johnson on "Miami Vice."
Mr. BAKKER: Yeah.
GROSS: And you and your friends would fake drug deals with Ziploc bags filled
with flour. I thought that was really funny.
Mr. BAKKER: Yeah. We were--it was fun. I always dressed up. I always was
somebody else. I always took my play time to the extreme. I mean, if I was
an Army man, I was in complete camouflage and had black makeup on my face and
a machine gun. Or if I was Don Johnson, I had a pink shirt on and a white
jacket and a silver .45 with a shoulder holster.
GROSS: Now you grew up in your parents' theme park. You were five when it
opened to the public. This is Heritage USA.
Mr. BAKKER: Yeah. And Heritage USA really wasn't a theme park. It had a...
GROSS: Why don't you describe it, yeah.
Mr. BAKKER: Yeah. It was more of a retreat. We had unwed mothers' homes.
We had homeless centers there. We had marriage counseling, drug counseling.
I mean, they had--I can't even remember how many services they had a week, but
you know, 24-hour church services. And my dad, right before the end of PTL,
decided to build a water park to give the kids something to do. And when he
built the water park, I think that's where everybody got the idea that it was
a theme park. It really wasn't. It was a water park with a little miniature
train that went around this water park. Because all PTL was, was really a
retreat to come get ministered to and do different things--and it had a
roller-skating rink. But the kids really didn't have anything to do, so my
dad put the roller-skating rink in, put, you know, a water park in. And that
was something for the young people to do. So the parents could come, drop
their kids off, know their kids were safe and get ministered to or do whatever
they want, relax, take a walk, you know. But by no means was it Disneyland or
Disney World even though it was the third most visited park in the country.
It wasn't really a theme park. There was no, like, Noah's Wild Rapids or
anything like that.
GROSS: Were you a believer as a kid? I wonder what your concept of God was
and of the devil.
Mr. BAKKER: Well, I thought that the devil was hell, fire and brimstone, and
God was the person who told me I better be good and who made me and created
me. And that was kind of my concept of who God was. I knew God loved people
very much because I knew my parents loved people very much. And I knew that
my parents were wanting to be imitators of Christ and imitators of God, and
they were always reaching out to people even beyond the spotlight and the
cameras. I mean, I remember spending a lot of--I mean, I remember spending
Christmases with homeless families with no cameras or nothing around and
bringing them presents. You know, my parents just always really truly loved
people. I mean, we were the first big ministry to reach out to AIDS patients
and the homosexual community, and we were open to that. And there was a lot
of unconditional love at Heritage USA, and so that was kind of a new thing.
GROSS: Were your parents strict with you? Were there a lot of rules you were
supposed to follow?
Mr. BAKKER: No. As long as I wasn't, like, threatening my safety I was
Mr. BAKKER: Like, if I left the house and they didn't know where I was at, I
usually got a spanking. One time, my friends wanted to go motorcycle riding.
And so I just got up out of bed and my parents were still asleep. And I went
with my friends motorcycle riding. And I remember my dad's car driving up.
And he made me pick a switch, and he spanked me. There was one time I spit in
somebody's face, and he spanked me. So, you know, it was basically if I
disrespected people or if I, you know, got myself in danger. But you know, my
parents weren't superstrict, no. They were very open to me being my own
person and making my own decisions.
GROSS: At what point did you start rebelling?
Mr. BAKKER: I think I started to rebel right after we lost Heritage USA.
GROSS: And that was in 1987?
Mr. BAKKER: Yeah. That was 1987, and I was 12, 13. I started to mess
around with cigarettes a little bit and drink a little bit and go out and hang
out with my friends.
GROSS: And 1987 was the year that your father was accused of 24 counts of
mail fraud and wire fraud.
Mr. BAKKER: I think that was in '88. And then in '88 is when he went to
prison, I believe.
Mr. BAKKER: Yes, '88 is when he went into prison. '87 is when we lost
GROSS: And you lost it because of these charges.
Mr. BAKKER: No, no, no. We lost Heritage USA because Jerry Falwell came and
said, `There's this--there's a scandal that's going to come out about Jessica
Hahn. And what I want you to do is I want you to turn PTL over to me for six
weeks to six months, at the most, and let me run it. And then, we'll restore
you and return you back to Heritage USA. And everything'll be fine and
everything'll blow over. But if you don't turn it over to me,' he said,
`Jimmy Swaggart is going to try to destroy you.' So my dad signed PTL over to
Jerry Falwell, and within 24 hours, Jerry Falwell was, you know, calling my
father a homosexual, you know, saying he was greedy, you know. And within 24
hours, my father realized he had been had and his ministry had been stolen
from him underneath his feet.
GROSS: And you mentioned...
Mr. BAKKER: And then that's when the government came in after that.
GROSS: And you mentioned the Jessica Hahn scandal.
Mr. BAKKER: Yes.
GROSS: She was a woman who--well, she charged that her father had tried to
rape her, I think, in a hotel room.
Mr. BAKKER: Right. But that never stood up in any court anywhere, you know.
This was seven years prior to 1987, and my mother had left my father. And my
dad was being pretty stupid, actually, trying to make my mom jealous. And one
of his friends said, `Oh, I know this girl named Jessica Hahn. I want to set
you up with her and introduce you to her,' and he did. And they had a
20-minute sexual encounter, and that was the last he saw of Jessica Hahn until
she started coming around in 1986. But my dad didn't know about it, really,
until 1987 till Jerry Falwell said something, because she was talking to
assistant pastors and different people like that who were not communicating
with my father what was going on.
GROSS: So this is the period when you started rebelling?
Mr. BAKKER: I just rebelled during that time because everything was gone. I
was so hurt. I was so wounded. I was really destroyed by the loss of PTL
because I lost a lot of friends. And all of the church just disappeared. All
the people that my family had helped and worked with in the different
ministries all just kind of just took off and either acted like we didn't
exist or preached against us. And it was a really horrible, hard time. Of
course, "Saturday Night Live" every weekend was making jokes and different
things like that. So for a 12-, 13-year-old kid growing up, that was a very
hard thing to grasp and handle because everything I knew was gone. And then,
you know, within a year my father was on trial and then he went to prison.
GROSS: Do you think it made it harder for your parents with you doing drugs
and drinking and stuff like that? Like, `You're supposed to be a model kid.
And, you know, what kind of Christian parents are they if their son is running
wild like this?'
Mr. BAKKER: Well, no, I don't think so because I didn't start doing drugs
until Dad got into prison. And they didn't know about the drinking until Dad
got into prison.
Mr. BAKKER: So I don't think they were, like, `Oh, we're supposed to be
model Christians and our kids are acting up.' I mean, we were a devastated
family. We were torn apart. Everything we knew was gone, and we were
shell-shocked. So, you know, we weren't--my parents weren't worried about,
you know, how they were looking at that moment, you know. We were--we
looked--you know, pretty much to the public eye, we looked like crap. You
know, no one wanted to have anything to do with us. We were the scum of the
scum at that time, and that's what the church considered us and that's what
the world considered us. And that was a very, very dark time.
GROSS: Jay Bakker has written a new memoir called "Son of a Preacher Man."
He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is
(Soundbite of "To Hell with the Devil" by Stryper)
STRYPER: (Singing) You've never been the answer. Got you ...(unintelligible)
away! We are here to rock you and say... To hell with the devil. To hell
with the devil.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, Jay Bakker talks about his relationship with his parents,
Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Also, we remember Leo Marks who died last month.
He wrote the screenplay for "Peeping Tom," helped the British sabotage the
Nazis in World War II and grew up in his parents' famous London bookshop at 84
Charing Cross Road.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Jay Bakker. He's the
son of former televangelist Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, the creators of "The
700 Club" and "The PTL Club." Jay has his own ministry now, working with
disillusioned young people. He's written a memoir called "Son of A Preacher
How do you think your sense of being a Christian compares with your parents'?
Mr. BAKKER: I think I have a little bit more of an understanding of grace
and just a different generation, but my dad understands forgiveness a lot more
than I do, and forgiveness and grace are very close and the same, but just a
little bit different. But I don't know. I think basically me and my parents
and my sister are very, very close in our beliefs, because we love people
completely and we love people unconditionally and because we're humans. We've
made mistakes and we realize that no one's perfect. All have sinned. All
have fallen short of God's glorious standard, or whatever it says in the
Bible. And so we just love people and let people realize that God loves you
unconditionally is our message.
GROSS: A lot of the fundamentalists and televangelists, such as Jerry Falwell
and Pat Robertson, have been very aligned with the political right...
Mr. BAKKER: Right.
GROSS: ...and with anti-feminism, anti-abortion, anti-gay politics, and I'm
wondering where you put yourself politically.
Mr. BAKKER: I don't usually answer political questions, but I don't think
religion and politics really need to mix. Personally, I don't believe that my
convictions need to be--put laws on people's bodies or minds or ideas. So I
try not to mix the two. I'm not into things like the Christian Coalition and
different things like that because, you know, they may be Christians, but
they're definitely not my coalition, and they don't represent me as a
Christian, and it makes me sick, because, you know, I think these guys, you
know, they have their beliefs and more power to how they believe, and their
convictions, but they're just not the same as mine, and they're not speaking
for me. And I don't know. I don't think politics have a place or
Christianity has a place in politics or politics a place in Christianity, but
a lot of people would disagree with me on that, and a lot of people would say,
you know, `I hate you because of that.' But that's just the facts. I think
we need to keep our faith more of a one-on-one thing with Christ rather than
having it involved in our government.
GROSS: It sounds like you still love your parents very much. They're
divorced. Your mother's remarried. I'm wondering if they're on good terms
with each other.
Mr. BAKKER: Yeah, they are. We just did "Larry King" together recently, and,
you know, it was cool. They were fine, you know. I mean, you know, they're
divorced. You know, they're both remarried, so, you know, they're not like
hanging out and going to have dinner together or anything like that, but
they're definitely civil to one another.
GROSS: What are your parents, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, doing now?
Mr. BAKKER: My dad runs a ministry down in Florida, where he runs a
restoration center for hurting pastors, and he works with inner-city youth.
Actually, some of the kids that I've had to--dealt with who suffer from drug
addiction and different things like that, I've sent down there to get help.
And my mom is about to do a cartoon on Nickelodeon, and I think she's about to
write another book, and so that's all I know what's going on with them right
GROSS: I know in the documentary about her, "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," she
went for a makeover, and they were giving her like this cool black leather
jacket and tight pants, and she hated the look and said it really wasn't her,
you know, maybe it was very hip, but it wasn't her, and she went back to the
big hair and the eye makeup and the whole bit. What's her look now?
Mr. BAKKER: Same thing. You know, I think she's gotten away--actually, I
think she got away from the big hair in the 1980s. She has really no hair,
barely at all. She has very, very short hair. She wears wigs and she wears
her makeup. She's who she is. It was funny, the other day I was riding in a
car with a kid from a punk band, and he goes, `I just got one question, Jay.'
And I was like, `What is it?' And he goes, `Why does your mom wear all that
makeup?' And I'm sitting here looking at him just covered in tattoos, hair
greased back, you know, looks like he's stepped out of a, you know, 1950s
movie, you know, biker movie, thinking, you know, `What do you mean what's
about'--you know, that's what she likes. That's her preference. That's her
style, and she's got to be her.
She's more original than me with my tattoos. I mean, you know, there's a lot
of people with tattoos, you know. I get persecuted because I have my tattoos,
but there's a large group that doesn't persecute me. Almost everyone's
persecuted my mother for her makeup, and she doesn't care, and that's what I
love about my mom, is she's like, `You know what? This is what I'm
comfortable in. This is me and this is who I am. Take it or leave it.' And
she's very inspiring. You know, she inspires the hell out of me.
GROSS: And you say in your book that when you were going through your Goth
period--I think this is in your book; it might have been in an interview that
you did--but anyways, you said when you were going through your Goth period,
you used to use some of your mother's makeup.
Mr. BAKKER: That was actually a Rolling Stone interview.
GROSS: Yeah. That's right.
Mr. BAKKER: I never really went through a Goth period or time. It was when I
would go out to a Goth club called--I think it was called Vasage(ph) in
Orlando. And, you know, I'd put on black eyeliner, you know, and try to act
GROSS: Did your mother know that you were using her makeup?
Mr. BAKKER: Oh, yeah. She thought it was funny. She thought it was like
GROSS: So she liked that? She's so into makeup that she liked the idea.
Mr. BAKKER: Oh, yeah. You know, she's just like, you know, kids are crazy,
teen-agers are weird. This is the kind of stuff they do, so whatever.
GROSS: Right. Do you still ever have impulses that scare you?
Mr. BAKKER: Yes, of course, all the time. You know, I mean, writing this
book, there were many times I wanted to drink. My wife had to talk me out of
going to a bar once. I walked out of the middle of Bible study, and all the
kids thought I was sick. And the next week, I went into Bible study and I
said, `Hey, you know, I left Bible study last week to go have a drink, but I
didn't have it.' And I try to be honest as possible with my kids--my kids,
they're not--half of them are older than me, but the people at Revolution
about, you know, hey, I'm struggling, I still have ideas and thoughts and
ideas that scare me, you know. I still have temptations in my life, and I try
to be as transparent as possible so they never think that I'm any better than
them or that they have to live up to some expectation, because, you know, I
think religion has put too many impossible expectations on people as it is,
and that just destroys peace and serenity altogether.
GROSS: Well, Jay Bakker, thanks so much for talking with us.
Mr. BAKKER: Oh, it's been great. Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: Jay Bakker has written a new memoir called "Son of A Preacher Man."
Coming up, we remember a man who made his mark in the worlds of movies, books
and sabotage. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Leo Marks discusses his career as a code maker in
World War II and being a screenwriter
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're going to remember Leo Marks(ph),
who died in mid-January at the age of 80. He grew up in his parents' famous
antiquarian bookstore at 84 Charing Cross Road in London, a bookstore that was
at the center of the movie and memoir "84 Charing Cross Road." In the film
world, he's best known as the screenwriter of the 1960 movie "Peeping Tom,"
one of Martin Scorsese's favorites. Marks was also one of the British army's
top code makers in World War II. He was the director of codes for the SOE,
the Special Operations Executive, which was charged with sending agents to
infiltrate enemy-occupied territory in preparation for D-Day.
When I spoke with Marks in 1999 after the publication of his memoir, he told
me that when he entered the military, agents' secret messages were encoded
into poems. Some agents preferred to use poems by famous writers. Others
used poems that were written for them. Although Marks thought the poem code
was vulnerable and eventually replaced it, he wrote a now famous poem that was
used as a code. I asked him to read it.
Mr. LEO MARKS: `Life that I have is all that I have, and the life that I have
is yours. The love that I have of the life that I have is yours and yours and
yours. A sleep I shall have, a rest I shall have. Yet, death will be but a
pause for the peace of my years in the long green grass will be yours and
yours and yours.'
GROSS: Now how was a code passed along in a poem?
Mr. MARKS: An agent would be given a poem, and it would vary in length, and
he'd choose five words from that poem. He'd choose by an indicator system
which five words they were, and then he'd give each letter of those words a
number and then jumble up the letters of his message and send them to us in a
jumbled order. But if the Germans intercepted that message and broke it, they
could mathematically reconstruct the five words of the poem which he'd used,
and if he used a famous poem, as one poor devil did, "God Save the King(ph),"
the Germans would know the rest of the poem, and they needn't break any more
messages in order to read his back traffic. So whilst trying to change the
entire system, I made a rule that as many poems as possible should be original
compositions so that at least if the Germans broke a message, we'd hold them
up a little because they wouldn't know the rest of the words.
GROSS: Is there a story that you had always wanted to share but you didn't
feel at liberty to until now?
Mr. MARKS: Yes, many. The most important of all I was finally able to share
in this book, and it's about a brilliant, brilliant general I always called
Templer (ph). Of course, a lot of people think that Britain doesn't take many
major liberties in war and sticks strictly to the rules. This man was a
rule-breaker, and he wanted to give the impression of a German resistance
movement in Germany when none existed. And he instructed me to devise a code
book that could be found in Germany to suggest that we had an active
resistance movement there. What he didn't tell me till much later was that
the code book was to be found on the body of a dead double German agent who
would be killed whilst parachuting and that I would have to brief this man
with complete sincerity before he left.
That was one of the major deception operations in the war, and strangely, a
lot of people have doubted it and said Britain would never do that. Well, I
received a letter just about three months ago from someone who'd read the book
and was delighted to say he was the man instructed by General Templer to mount
this operation by devising a parachute that would not open, and he then had to
report to the general, `Sir, this can't be done. They'd detect something
wrong.' And the general cut him short and said, `The whole thing has been
stopped because it's against the policy of prisoners of war.' It has been a
relief to tell that. I disliked briefing a man who was going to be killed.
GROSS: Code making seems like the perfect job for you since you were brought
up appreciating language. Your father owned Marks & Company(ph), the famous
antiquarian bookstore at 84 Charing Cross Road in London, the bookstore that
was the subject of a book and a subsequent film adaptation. Would you
describe the store?
Mr. MARKS: I never learnt language, except the language of the cash register
(unintelligible). It was a highly commercial business, and I was the only son
of two partners, Marks and Cohen, who thought it would be better to call it
Marks & Cole(ph) than Marks & Cohen(ph). And daddy decided three months
before I was born...
GROSS: What was that--was that for anti-Semitic reasons, mean, for fear...
Mr. MARKS: Oh, yes.
GROSS: ...of anti-Semitism?
Mr. MARKS: Anti-Semitism and general style; therefore, Marks & Cole sounded
better. Yes, fundamentally anti-Semitism. But it was B. Marks and M.
Cohen(ph). And every Saturday morning at the age of eight, I was taken into
that store and instructed in the price of books, nothing to do with the
content or the quality, just the price.
GROSS: Now you write in your memoir that your favorite section of your
father's bookstore was the occult section. Why were you interested in the
Mr. MARKS: Fundamentally, because it helps when you're breaking codes. If
you become interested in unconscious communication, you believe in it or you
don't. You'll think you can pick up thoughts that other people are not
expressing and possibly they, yours. And I learnt a form of two-way
communication in 84 Charing Cross Road that was years later to be invaluable
in SOE when we were fighting to win the war of the resistance movement codes.
GROSS: We're listening back to a 1999 interview with Leo Marks, who died in
January. He wrote the screenplay for the 1960 British film "Peeping Tom," one
of Martin Scorsese's favorite movies. "Peeping Tom" is about a young man who
makes his living taking girlie photos to be sold under the counter, but his
real obsession is making movies of women as he murders them. The young man is
a victim of the experiments his scientist father did on him as a child.
(Soundbite of "Peeping Tom")
Unidentified Man: He wanted a record of a growing child, complete in every
detail, if such a thing were possible. And he tried to make it possible by
training a camera on me at all times. I never knew, the whole of my
childhood, one moment's privacy. He was--interest was in the reactions of the
nervous system to fear.
Unidentified Woman: Fear?
Unidentified Man: Fear, especially fear in children and how they react to it.
I think he learned a lot from me. I'd wake up sometimes screaming. He'd be
there, taking notes and pictures. And I'm sure good came of it for some
Mr. MARKS: "Peeping Tom" was conceived whilst briefing agents in Baker
Street(ph), because I was convinced that cryptographers, code-makers, are, in
their way, voyeurs. And one day, I resolved to write about one.
GROSS: Why did you think they were voyeurs?
Mr. MARKS: You have to spend hours and hours, you have to keep awake for as
long as you can, staring at rows of letters or figures behind which the enemy
is talking to the enemy, and it is a form of voyeurism. And in many respects,
"Peeping Tom" owes its birth to the extraordinary atmosphere in which we, in
SOE, had to work. We were a very, very, very difficult body of people to
GROSS: I hope you don't mind me talking a little bit about the ending of the
film, but ever since I saw the film, I've always wanted to know about this.
Do you mind if I give away the ending?
Mr. MARKS: Of course not.
GROSS: Each of the women in this movie who has been murdered has died with a
horrified expression on her face, and the cops are wondering what they could
possibly have seen that could account for this horrible expression, which is
unlike the expression the cops have ever seen on corpses before. And we find
out at the end that the reason why these women have this horrified expression
on their faces when they die is that the filmmaker who's been filming them, as
he murders them, has held up a mirror to them at the moment of their death,
and so what they're seeing is the expression on their faces as he stabs them
in the neck. And that's why they look so horrified, because they're watching
their own murder. What a really weird thing to think of for a movie. How did
you think of this? This is something that sticks with everybody who sees your
film, I think.
Mr. MARKS: Michael Powell...
GROSS: The director of the film.
Mr. MARKS: Yes, who was a genius--Michael Powell didn't know how this film
ended, and when I went to tell it to him, neither did I. And there he was
sitting with his camera face, and I was supposed to tell him how Peeping Tom
was frightened to death, and he looked at me with these brilliant, obsessed,
camera eyes, and I was frightened myself, and suddenly realized how Peeping
Tom would kill his victims, and Michael Powell accepted it at once.
GROSS: The film has so much to say about a certain kind of behavioral
psychology, about voyeurism through the media. I'm wondering if you were
exposed to behavioral psychology as a kid, if anybody was kind of charting
your fears in the way this character's father charted his?
Mr. MARKS: My father's only fears were that I would not become a bookseller.
My mother's only fear was that I might marry out of the religion.
Mr. MARKS: Fundamentally, SOE is a pretty good breeding ground for phobia and
fear of every single kind.
Mr. MARKS: The atmosphere in a briefing room is frightening to those who
have to conduct a briefing, and a study of fear emerged naturally.
GROSS: Now another theme that shows through "Peeping Tom" is pornography,
because what this character does for a living is take girls in erotic poses,
take pictures of them to be sold under the counter at a local store. And I'm
wondering in the days when you frequented your father's bookstore, which was
an antiquarian bookstore, if there were old rare erotic or pornographic texts
that you had access to?
Mr. MARKS: Oh, yes! The pornography was on the fourth floor, not very far
away from the rare religious books. The pornography was of a very high order
indeed, and only very distinguished people were allowed up there. A certain
member of the royal family practically had his throne there. Anyway, yes, I
was allowed to see it. And I feel sometimes "Peeping Tom" did not do justice
to its potential, but in those days, we had a sense of ...(unintelligible) and
fundamentally, Peeping Tom himself fundamentally only learned what love is
when he died. And that, in itself, is pornography, to have to go to those
extremes to feel properly.
GROSS: We're listening to a 1999 interview with Leo Marks. He died in
January. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: We're listening to a 1999 interview with screenwriter and World War II
code maker Leo Marks. He died in January.
Martin Scorsese loves "Peeping Tom," and I imagine that it was through
"Peeping Tom" that he met you. He asked you to be the voice of Satan in his
film "The Last Temptation of Christ." And before I ask you about this, let's
hear you as the voice of Satan, and you appear to Willem Dafoe, who's Christ
in the film. You appear--I mean, Satan appears just as a large flame, and
you're the voice of the flame.
(Soundbite of "The Last Temptation of Christ")
Mr. WILLEM DAFOE (As Christ): Archangel, move back. Move back, you're
Mr. MARKS (As Satan): Jesus, I'm the one you've been waiting for. Remember
when you were a little boy, you cried, `Make me God, God. God, God, make me
Mr. DAFOE (As Christ): But I was just a child then.
Mr. MARKS (As Satan): You are God. The Baptist knew it.
Join me. Join me. Together, we'll rule the living and the dead. And you'll
give life and you'll take life. You'll sit in judgment, and I'll sit next to
you. Imagine how strong we could be together.
Mr. DAFOE (As Christ): Satan...
GROSS: When Martin Scorsese asked you to be the voice of Satan, did he know
that you were particularly interested in the occult in the days when you
frequented your father's antiquarian bookstore?
Mr. MARKS: I had a live answer phone at home, and he used to phone
occasionally and talk, and suddenly he had the idea, because I was coming to
New York to see Helene Hanff with my wife, `Perhaps you'll be the voice of
Satan.' When I read the script, I wished I were Satan, because I found the
lines unsayable, but not knowing very much about Satan's dialogue, having left
SOE years before, I did what I could with it. And when that session was over,
I made the great mistake of saying to Martin Scorsese, who I venerated, `What
are you going to do professionally?,' which I hoped might get a laugh, which
I've yet to be forgiven. He is a genius, but I still believe "The Last
Temptation of Christ" was one that should properly have been resisted.
GROSS: You mean making the movie?
Mr. MARKS: I was the voice of the devil. I would like to be again, but not
with that dialogue. No.
GROSS: Do you enjoy going to bookstores now?
Mr. MARKS: No.
Mr. MARKS: It was more than a bookshop. It was possible to see Charles
Chaplin in one corner and J.B. Priestly in another and Freud wandered in
before he died, writing a book called "Moses & Monotheism." And there was a
prostitute right opposite the building who collected Rudyard Kipling and asked
the manager to keep copies for her if it were a first edition. Why, she came
back with the cash in about an hour. So it was a rich, rich, rich bookshop
full of unexpected qualities. I miss that prostitute. She was a very
adventurous woman with an extraordinary attractive body and she did appreciate
GROSS: Leo Marks, thank you so much.
Mr. MARKS: Goodbye now.
GROSS: Leo Marks, recorded in 1999. He died in January at the age of 80.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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