‘Cyrus is the Father, and Googoosh the Daughter, if there’s ever been one’
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; I was a bisavad little bacheh who found solace in his daydreams, 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. 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 number 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 a Persian 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 was apparently quite the drinker; as such, in my child’s mind, I saw him as 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), him I crossed off my list as well. With sonnati music seeming to my ears like melancholia from another planet, it only left Googoosh, whom 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 idolise. 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.
‘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. For all her fame and prominence, however, her voice will not bring to my mind any of the rather grandiose statements and remarks I’ve just made, but rather, that pretty, shorthaired lady in the funny automobile of simpler, innocent days.
Originally published on REORIENT
A Persian translation of this article will appear in the accompanying magazine of the Tirgan Iranian Festival in Toronto (August 20 – 23, 2015)
Cover image: Afsoon – Googoosh (detail; from the Fairytale Icons series)
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