Short Story

Googoosh

Joobin Bekhrad
Written by Joobin Bekhrad

Familiar stranger, I love thee; To the land of tales, take me… I can remember it vividly: the aroma of a hot pot of fesenjoon was seeping forth from the kitchen, while I gazed at the patterns of the Persian carpet beneath my knees, tracing familiar shapes with my finger and sipping on bitter, hot tea that traced its way down my tiny throat. In the background, my parents and relatives were bandying alien words about politics, work, and the state of things in the motherland. I couldn’t have cared less, though; the little characters and shapes before me – which seemed like figures from a fantasy novel – in my indoor substitute for cloud-gazing, were far more interesting. Besides, I couldn’t understand half of the things they were saying, anyway; I was a bisavad little bacheh who found solace in his daydreams, and was terrified of what the next school day would bring.  As I was losing myself in the twists and turns on the floor, a rainbow burst forth from the television screen, demanding the attention of one and all. The notes warbled, the picture was fuzzy, and it all seemed like the stuff of an afternoon children’s programme; yet, that moment so fixed itself in my memory, that I’ll forever associate it with the shorthaired woman driving the red and green automobile behind a green screen. ‘Ee, Googoosh-e!’ I heard my mother exclaim behind me, as my eyes glued themselves to the TV.

As I was losing myself in the twists and turns on the floor, a rainbow burst forth from the television screen, demanding the attention of one and all. The notes warbled, the picture was fuzzy, and it all seemed like the stuff of an afternoon children’s programme; yet, that moment so fixed itself in my memory, that I’ll forever associate it with the shorthaired woman driving the red and green automobile behind a green screen. ‘Ee, Googoosh-e!’ I heard my mother exclaim behind me, as my eyes glued themselves to the TV. I didn’t know who this woman in the funny little car was, but I felt like I knew her; she looked a bit like my Persian teacher, I thought, and I surmised she could have been one of the endless numbers of cousins my parents kept telling me I had back in Iran. I didn’t dwell on things too much, though; I just knew I liked the pretty lady who sang nice songs about birds and drove a cute car. Throughout my childhood, Googoosh continued to surface intermittently. Sometimes, while bored on lazy Sunday afternoons, when no friends were around on the block to play with, I’d go rummaging through the nooks and crannies of our house in suburban Toronto, looking for treasure. Going through my parents’ cassette collection, I’d often find, among Gipsy Kings and Strunz & Farah tapes, some by Googoosh.

I didn’t know who this woman in the funny little car was, but I felt like I knew her; she looked a bit like my Persian teacher, I thought, and I surmised she could have been one of the endless numbers of cousins my parents kept telling me I had back in Iran. I didn’t dwell on things too much, though; I just knew I liked the pretty lady who sang nice songs about birds and drove a cute car. Throughout my childhood, Googoosh continued to surface intermittently. Sometimes, while bored on lazy Sunday afternoons, when no friends were around on the block to play with, I’d go rummaging through the nooks and crannies of our house in suburban Toronto, looking for treasure. Going through my parents’ cassette collection, I’d often find, among Gipsy Kings and Strunz & Farah tapes, some by Googoosh. Although nobody I asked knew Googoosh’s last name, I thought I’d finally discovered it when I came across a yellowed cover with jumbled letters that looked like the black ones on the façades of old cinemas. This time, Googoosh looked like my mother; I could see her more clearly, her dark Persian eyes, rouge lipstick, and characteristically Iranian gaze resembling something halfway between disgust and languor. ‘So that’s her last name’, I thought to myself; ‘Mahpishooni!’ I didn’t know what ‘mahpishooni’ meant, but it sounded alluring, and plausible as an Iranian last name. After being processed through the mind of an eight-year old child, however, it transformed into ‘Mafishoni’. Mrs. Googoosh Mafishoni’s newest fan was a kid on a sleepy street in Thornhill.  Although Googoosh wasn’t the only pre-Revolution pop star featured on my relatives’ televisions and radios, I always felt, somewhat instinctively, that she was in a class of her own. Ebi looked like the sort of person I’d see in a chelo kababi restaurant, and apparently was quite the drinker – and as such, in my child’s mind, an addict, a very bad man; only in my twenties would I rediscover him as the epitome of rock and roll – and as my father could never stand Dariush (and still can’t), I crossed him off my list as well. As sonnati music just seemed to my ears like melancholia from another planet, it only left Googoosh, who I came to identify with Persian music altogether.

Although Googoosh wasn’t the only pre-Revolution pop star featured on my relatives’ televisions and radios, I always felt, somewhat instinctively, that she was in a class of her own. Ebi looked like the sort of person I’d see in a chelo kababi restaurant, and apparently was quite the drinker – and as such, in my child’s mind, an addict, a very bad man; only in my twenties would I rediscover him as the epitome of rock and roll – and as my father could never stand Dariush (and still can’t), I crossed him off my list as well. As sonnati music just seemed to my ears like melancholia from another planet, it only left Googoosh, who I came to identify with Persian music altogether. Everybody loved Googoosh, and as a child, she became something of a maternal figure to me, a woman to revere and idolize. Even in my teens, I hadn’t heard most of her songs, and couldn’t, like some of my other Iranian friends, recite verses of her tunes by heart; but I still loved her – albeit in a very different way than I loved the Stones. As a child and teenager, Googoosh represented my mysterious homeland, the golden days of the Pahlavis my grandparents and parents would often speak about with tears in their eyes, and the beauty of the Persian language and culture. In my first year in university, however, as I fell in love with my heritage and strove to escape the monotony and vapidity of business school, I rediscovered Googoosh. As part of my quest to find myself and absorb everything and anything having to do with Persian culture, Googoosh became a guide of sorts. In the car, on my way to and from university on the endless expanse of the highway, Googoosh was my Persian instructor, teaching me new, flowery words and helping me improve what my grandfather called my ‘Armenian’ accent. She also provided the soundtrack to my readings about pre and post-Revolution Iran, making me nostalgic for a time I’d never experienced, and inciting a yearning for fabled halcyon days long gone.  I bought a collection of her old music videos from Pars Video, which I watched over and over again with relish, ditching rock riffs to instead learn the mellifluous chord changes to Man Amadeh-am and Marham. I wished I could have been there with my father and uncle when they took a picture with her in Abadan as kids, seen her and Behrouz Vossoughi in Mah-e Asal on a summer evening amidst the smell of sausage sandwiches and sunflower seeds, and rubbed shoulders with Tehrani hipsters when she sang Digeh Geryeh Del-o Va Nemikoneh for the first time at the Koochini club.

I bought a collection of her old music videos from Pars Video, which I watched over and over again with relish, ditching rock riffs to instead learn the mellifluous chord changes to Man Amadeh-am and Marham. I wished I could have been there with my father and uncle when they took a picture with her in Abadan as kids, seen her and Behrouz Vossoughi in Mah-e Asal on a summer evening amidst the smell of sausage sandwiches and sunflower seeds, and rubbed shoulders with Tehrani hipsters when she sang Digeh Geryeh Del- As this sweet-singing shape-shifter assumed in fuzzy footage the look of mother, my Armenian math teacher from high-school, Farah Fawcett, and an epicene (Bowie, eat your heart out), she brought me nearer to a past and history so close, and yet so far away. Memories of a previous life were awakened; I’d been there all along, and through Googoosh, the past came rushing forth in vivid colour. ‘There was wine, tears, and the sound of Googoosh’, a Yemeni friend once told me, describing a Saturday evening in New York City. What connection to Googoosh could a 20-something Yemeni have, I thought? How can an icon belonging to my parents’ generation still inspire Iranians and non-Iranians alike, young and old? Ramesh may have been funkier, and Hayedeh more technically-accomplished, but it’s been Googoosh khanum upon whose head has rested the crown of popular Iranian music – and culture – for decades, even whilst in exile and obscurity in the years following the Revolution. Hers is the voice of a displaced generation, of turbulent, heady, happy times that burned away as fast as they came into being; a voice that has remained impassioned and undaunted through decades dark and dolorous, a glimmer of hope for the future, a reminder of hidden beauty and splendor. Cyrus is the father, and Googoosh the daughter, if there ever was one. ‘There’s the air you breathe, the water you drink, the food you eat, and the Rolling Stones’, Keith Richards once said, remarking on his band’s longevity. ‘And Googoosh’, I would have added.

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About the author

Joobin Bekhrad

Joobin Bekhrad

An award-winning writer, Joobin Bekhrad (BBA, MSc.) is the founder and Editor of REORIENT, a publication celebrating contemporary Middle Eastern arts and culture. He has contributed to such publications as the Cairo Review of Global Affairs, Christie’s, Encyclopaedia Iranica, Harper’s Bazaar Art Arabia, Canvas, and Songlines, seen his articles translated into Persian, Arabic, Italian, and Chinese, among other languages, and interviewed personalities including Parviz Tanavoli, Ziad Doueiri, Mohammad Rasoulof, Joana Hadjithomas, and Khalil Joreige. Writing about visual art, literature, music, and film, many of his articles focus on themes such as rock and roll, Orientalism, and the experience of being caught between two cultures. In 2015, Joobin was granted an International Award for Art Criticism (IAAC) by London’s Royal College of Art. He is also the author of a new translation of Omar Khayyam’s poems from Persian into English, and is currently based in Toronto, Canada.

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