Let me be up-front about this: I am not a Googoosh fan. The plaintive wail, the disco tempo. Her charms may be many, her fans legion, but over the years I’ve remained stubbornly uncharmed. It is true that when I read in the newspaper some years ago that she was staging a comeback in the States, I paused for a moment and said out loud to nobody but myself, “Well, that’s interesting.” It was a reaction not unlike the one I had a few months ago when learning that a new planet had been discovered. Interesting, yes, but just too remote for me to really care about it.
So who can explain the late night impulse that recently drove me to punch in my credit card information, courting untold perils of fraud, in order to purchase one of her old CDs online? Wouldn’t it have been more prudent to have waited until the next morning, when I could have calmly pulled one of her CDs from the music shelf of my local Iranian grocery?
She’d seduced me at last, our siren of song. I had to have her. She arrived last night. I have been with her ever since.
Actually, Googoosh and I go back. Not all the way back to the seventies — I unripe for seduction back then — but to the nineties, when I was in love with a man who was in love with her. Like me, he was too young to remember her from Iran, but he remembered her from his mother, who had played her records constantly when he was growing up in America. She listened to Googoosh when she canned plums and when she chopped sabzi and when she sat on the sofa and did nothing but stare into space. In the afternoons he’d sit at the kitchen table, his books and notebooks spread out in front of him, and from time to time he would look up at his mother. She would be lost to the voice of her own longing, and he took in that longing like, well, milk from his mother’s breast.
One day not long into our affair he handed me a cassette. A home-made job bearing his scribble. “Googoosh,” it read. No title, just her name. “You’ve got to listen to this,” he said softly. My interest in Persian music at the time extended as far back historically as the Black Cats. I was about to shrug off the offering, but then I caught the tender want in his eyes. I must have mixed it up with his want for me because as soon as I left him that day I popped “Googoosh” into my tape deck.
It was sunset, which I know because that was when I used to leave his place every day to go back to my parents’ house. My hair was in tangles from the afternoon tryst. I was tugging at it, prying loose its knots as I drove down Pacific Coast Highway, and then suddenly I pulled over to the side of the road because all I wanted to do was listen to this music he had given me. Her voice mixed with the scent of the sea and the memory of that afternoon, and I was sure I’d never heard such lovely music. Even the pain and yearning of it made the pleasure last that much longer.
When he broke up with me later that summer, I threw out that tape and never looked back — at Googoosh, I mean. I went back to the Black Cats for a while, but that didn’t last too long, either. And I didn’t want to date another Iranian guy. With Iranians your heart broke in very strange places, and it always hurt more no matter who left whom. I started listening to Arabic music and Turkish music. I didn’t understand a word of it, which made it somehow easier to love… and easier to leave.
Nowadays give me Rachid Taha and I am quickly put in a state of rapture. I like my Middle Eastern music laced with irony and always at a little bit of a remove from my own past. Except, of course, when I am longing for longing — that most Iranian of wants — which requires that you be either deeply in love or deeply distant from it. There is no middle ground in such things. But there is a sound-track for both conditions: Googoosh.
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