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For Fans, Iranian Pop Star Revives Memories of Lost Youth and Lost Country

The New York Times
August 27, 2000

UNIONDALE, N.Y., Aug. 26 -- In prerevolutionary Tehran, when the pop singer Googoosh got a new haircut, her fans rushed out to get one, too. When she wore a particular style of dress, they'd adopt it as well. And this weekend, as she stood before many of those fans for the first time in two decades and broke down in tears, thousands of ecstatic Iranian émigrés cried, too.

If Googoosh, 50, ever worried that she had been forgotten since 1979, when Islamic clerics silenced her career, her fears must now be allayed. About 10,000 fans, some old enough to remember her days as a child star, others too young even to remember Iran, converged at the Nassau Coliseum to pay homage to an icon whose life story represents the hopes and disappointments of so many.

"I was waiting for her for 20 years," said Aldo Zadeh, 40, as he stood in the balcony. "When I was a kid, her poster was in my room, on my ceiling, on my walls."

As Googoosh performed, spotlights illuminated a sea of raised arms, swaying and clapping. They were drawn from the estimated 500,000 to one million Iranians in the United States, including about 45,000 in the New York region, many of whom fled their country after the shah of Iran was deposed in 1979.

"I love you, Googoosh," a voice cried out in English. The star paused, overwhelmed.

"You're teasing me," she accused the crowd in Farsi. Laughing wryly at herself, she wiped away tears with one hand, clearly taken aback by her own emotions.

Googoosh, whose given name is Faegheh Atashnin, rose to superstar status in the 1970's. Her charisma, beauty, and independence appealed to westernized middle- and upper-middle-class Iranians. As Americans did with Elvis and Madonna, they watched her personal life, including several marriages, as closely as they watched her film and stage career.

When the new regime banned pop music and female vocal performances, many singers fled to Los Angeles, where a mini-industry of Iranian exiles sprang up. But Googoosh retired into private life.

For a new generation of fans, her music became a symbol of resistance to stringent social codes as well as a touchstone for their parents' prerevolutionary nostalgia.

For Parisa Samii, 26, raised in the United States, the Iran she knew from television had been one of dour clerics and of women wearing tent-like chadors covering their entire bodies -- until this performance.

"I feel like I'm getting a glimpse of what the Iran my parents tried to describe to me was like," she said. "The society was so much more open. I've never seen it that way."

Her mother, Yeganeh Samii, had attended concerts in Iran and collected all of Googoosh's albums.

"It's very difficult to explain," Mrs. Samii said. "I feel I'm in shock, I feel very emotional. She shows her emotions, too, and that connects us together."

Audience members ranged from toddlers to old women with canes. A few women wore head scarves, testimony to Googoosh's appeal even among less westernized Iranians.

Her appearance on Long Island was the fourth stop on a North American tour that marks the first time Googoosh has performed in public since the Iranian revolution. And the tour sparked speculation amongthe Iranians about whether she would return to Iran.

Masoud Jamali, Googoosh's promoter at Caspian Entertainment Group, Los Angeles, said: "We don't know yet if she's going to go back or stay here. She has more concerts planned for the United States, Europe, Australia and some Arab countries and plans to keep touring at least until summer 2001."

Some among the Iranians here wonder if the fact that Googoosh was allowed to leave Iran and perform abroad is a sign that the hard-line clerics who control the government are softening. Maboud Ansari, a sociologist at William Patterson University in Wayne, N.J., said, "There is a perception among Iranians that this is another sign of change."

At the concert's end, the audience got another reminder of prerevolutionary Iran when they spotted Farahnaz Pahlavi, 37-year-old daughter of the deposed shah. People quickly swarmed Ms. Pahlavi, seeking her autograph, or perhaps just to touch her.

Asked if the evening held a special meaning for her, Ms. Pahlavi shook her head. "For all of us it means the same," she said. "It brings back our home to us."


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