Life after the revolution
The Independent - London
August 7, 2000
Singer Googoosh was forced into a media exile when Iran became an
Islamic republic, but her popularity didn't wane, as this week's BBC Radio
selection shows. Here's an interview with Googoosh by Amin Zarghami:
AMIN ZARGHAMI The first question I want to ask is this: after 21 years
of not performing, you're returning to the stage. Aren't you afraid?
GOOGOOSH Yes, very. My fear is that I will fail to return all the love
and support I've received from people over the years, while at the same
time maintaining my own image and allowing for something new.
AZ When I searched the internet for "Googoosh", 990 sites
came up. Most of them just post up your songs; there is very little information
available about the person rather than the artist. Could you tell us a
bit about this person?
G I was born in 1950 on Sarcheshmeh Street, in an old and worn- down
part of Tehran, to Azerbaijani parents - immigrants from the former Soviet
Union. When I was two, they separated. Because of my father's profession
- he was an acrobat and an entertainer - I grew accustomed to the stage
early on, and I was part of his act until I was three. I began doing impersonations
of some of the singers of the time. When my father discovered this talent,
he put me on stage. So I've been on stage as a paid professional since
I was three.
AZ Have you any siblings?
G I had one brother who, at the age of 24, was struck by heart rheumatism
and passed away. I have three half-brothers on my father's side and a brother
and sister on my mother's side.
AZ There is very little mention of your mother: where does she fit
into your life?
G Because my mother was separated from my father when I was so young,
I never really got a chance to live with her. She later remarried. As a
result, I didn't see my mother until I was about 13. For a while I was
even told that my mother had passed away - maybe so that I wouldn't ask
Because I lived with my stepmother, I didn't have a very good home
life. But I was occupied with school and performances, and was kept busy
with household chores. I was also in charge of one of my brothers; in some
sense I was actually his mother. I did not get the opportunity to care
for my own son the way I did for him.
AZ Where does the name "Googoosh" come from?
G "Googoosh" is an Armenian boy's name. It seems, though,
that there was a problem registering this name - the authorities wouldn't
accept it. As a result, my registered name is Faegheh, but since the day
I was born everyone had called me Googoosh.
AZ Let's talk about the 20 years since the revolution. What were you
doing? Why were you sitting on a couch in an apartment?
G I don't know. Maybe because of the peculiar situation in which I
had found myself. I had been forbidden from performing and my material
had been banned. So I chose to stay home, to take care of the house, to
read, and generally keep myself occupied. Because I did not intend to leave
my country, I had to learn to adapt to a new life. Many people would tell
me that singers who began their careers much later in life than I did were
choosing to leave because they could not endure not being able to perform.
They would ask how it was that I, who had always been on stage, managed
to adapt. I guess this was a gift I was given from God.
AZ Were you satisfied with this life, or were you depressed? In footage
of you taken at the time by the late Mr Alampour, who was one of your biggest
fans, you are seen crying.
G Yes, I was depressed for a while, I guess until the early 1990s when
I met Massoud Kimiai [her husband]. He saw my sadness, and later told me
that it was as if the flower of my soul had withered and he couldn't bear
to see me in that state. He was the one who revived that flower within
me. In fact, on our first date he took me back into a recording studio
and after all those years I went to a private studio, put on my headphones,
and started to sing. This had an overwhelming effect on me and gradually
an energy spread within me. I was also drawing from the love I'd received
from people since the end of the war. It was this support which brought
me out of my depression.
AZ In the years after the revolution, before meeting Mr Kimiai, were
you on your own or were you married?
G I was married, to a man from whom I was separated in 1989. I lived
alone for two years before being with Kimiai, although I had known him
for many years and had been on his sets. [He is a director.]
AZ It seems that over these years your personal views have changed.
In your press conference, for example, you talked about your views on poetry.
How would you describe your intellectual process? What is different about
G I don't know. I can't completely explain this process because it
was so gradual. If I may sidetrack for one second, I would like to respond
to another question I have often been asked. People wonder if I ever sang
publicly during these last 20 years. I do remember, one time, being part
of a large choir at the time when Khoramshahr was liberated. I was singing
with the people in the streets and chanting with joy. I think that was
the first time, united with the people, that I sang publicly [after the
revolution]. But back to your question: that process, I think, was the
result of years of reading and living in a country where people are constantly
affected by change and uncertainty. If you compare the children who grew
up in Iran to those who were raised elsewhere you would see that they have
entirely different understandings of the world around them. I think that
this is a result of social conditions. Bear in mind that I have had meditative
experiences as well, be it before or after the revolution. I have had beautiful
relationships with my own God and in my solitude I have developed the ability
to overcome difficulties with peace.
My comments on poetry in my press conference were mainly the result
of two things, the first being my age. I'm not 28 anymore. I'm passing
50, and that is the perspective from which I see things. However, the poetry
to which... well, I guess I shouldn't say poetry because poetry is something
else, whose masters are people like Ahmad Shamlu and Sepehri. I should
say songwriting. Unfortunately, during these years I haven't heard any
significant or noteworthy works. What I would have wanted would be for
those good songwriters of our period to have been around to witness the
hardships of these last years, which I'm sure would have had a tremendous
impact on them and their work.
AZ When you say that you are a meditative person, what sort of meditation
are you referring to?
G I have tried a number of them. The Islamic form, which I have practised
since childhood - I went to Mecca in 1972 and 1976, and to Karbala in 1976.
I went to India in the years before the revolution. I've been interested
in books on India, and in their music - of course I don't mean the popular
music in their films. I read a lot about Zen philosophy. Through these
means I tapped into what I had inside of myself.
AZ Did you have a spiritual guide outside of yourself?
G No... it's God.
AZ Who have the important people in your life been? You mentioned Sepehri.
G Around the time of the revolution, when Sepehri was not yet well
known, I worked with an old friend on some of his poems, putting them to
song. But after awhile, Sepehri fever had spread in our country: his work
was used in so many ways that his words became worn. So we decided not
to touch his work anymore so that we could conserve its dignity and sacredness
for ourselves. With regard to other influences in my life, my father is
certainly one of the people who had the greatest impact on me, seeing as
I lived with him for such a long time. Also, there were the people I saw
on the stage at the time. I started acting in movies at the age of seven
and had a lead role - I even dubbed my own voice. I would later dub quite
a few movies, including Hayley Mills's films, and for a while she became
a fixation for me. Because my father was a comedian, Charlie Chaplin was
also always an important figure in my life, and still is. He represented
poverty, beauty, and bittersweet humour.
AZ Your father, himself, is he a bitter or sweet memory?
G He is a sweet memory with bitter parts.
AZ Was he a difficult person?
G Not at all, but he chose a difficult life for me, without intending
to. I think mostly because he was uneducated and didn't know any better,
he didn't think to put his child in an art school. Maybe if I had academic
training things would have turned out better for me.
AZ When you decided to return to Iran in 1980, your personal life changed
drastically. If you were at that point again, would you stay?
G No, the same thing would happen, because I never planned to do any
of the things that I did. Whatever I felt, that was what I did, and I'm
convinced that my instincts never failed me.
AZ How is it that you were allowed to leave Iran? How did you get permission
to make a film abroad, or did you even need such permission?
G I didn't get a permit from anyone. It was reported on the internet
that I wrote a letter requesting a work permit, that I was granted that
permit. However, there was no letter. It was implied that it would be all
right for me to make a film though, and because of my optimism in light
of the democratic changes in Iran in the last two years I'm confident that
I can participate in this project if I respect the principles of the Islamic
government. While I am living in that country, I can still act in films.
But I have no official permission.
AZ How is permission given by implication?
G Massoud Kimiai spoke to his producer about making a film for the
private sector and about my being in it. The person in charge of this private
sector got in touch with the relevant authorities and they approved the
project. This is why our contract was signed. If they didn't have this
approval, the contract would not have been signed and that's where the
indirect permission comes from.
AZ In the years since you've been silenced and banned, your popularity
has grown immensely - not only in Iran but also around the world. Why do
you think this is?
G I still wonder how someone with my background can suddenly be cut
off and for 21 years have no media access, and the result ends up being
so contrary to what was intended. It is a mystery to me.
AZ These waves of love and support from the people you spoke of, how
did they reach you?
G In daily encounters on the street. People would see me, they would
recognise me, and they would show their love. That was a direct contact.
But the support I spoke of at the press conference, well, I didn't have
the internet, nor do I even know how to work a computer, nor did anyone
fax me, but I did get messages from visitors coming from abroad. These
were the indirect but equally important waves which kept me going.
AZ What is the new style of music you were talking about in your press
G The Iranian artists working in LA now - of course, not all of them
- seem to be undecided about where they want their work to go. I think
that this is in part because culture grows where the people are. In LA,
there are not many Iranians. As a result they are searching for a right
path, but haven't found it. I haven't sung for 21 years, but I have chosen
a musical style which combines rock with baroque and jazz. I am also experimenting.
I don't know if it will be successful or not - the people decide that.