The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face

‘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 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, amongst 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.


Googoosh and Behrouz Vossoughi in the 1975 film Mamal Amricayi (Mamal the American)

Memories of a previous life were awakened; I’d been there all along, and, through Googoosh, the past came rushing forth in vivid colour

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), I crossed him 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.


A pre-Revolution Googoosh single featuring the songs Donya Vafa Nadareh (The World is Faithless), Adama (People), and Digeh Mano Nemikhai (You Don’t Want Me Anymore); courtesy Shahre Farang

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 of 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 Iran, 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 (I Have Come) and Marham (Balm). 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 teenagers when she sang Digeh Geryeh Del-o Va Nemikoneh (Crying Won’t Console Me Anymore) for the first time at the Koochini club. 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.

Googoosh - Joobin Bekhrad

Googoosh for President! (The author wearing a t-shirt designed for REORIENT by Hushidar Mortezaie in collaboration with Taravat Talepasand)

‘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 twenty-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, despite a period of obscurity in the years following the Revolution. Hers is the voice of a displaced generation, of turbulent, heady, and 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 splendour. Cyrus is the Father, and Googoosh the Daughter, if there’s ever been 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. For all her fame and prominence, however, Googoosh’s 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.

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: AfsoonGoogoosh (detail; from the Fairytale Icons series).

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Filed under: Music, Stories

About the Author

Joobin Bekhrad
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An award-winning writer, Joobin Bekhrad (BBA, MSc.) is the founder and Editor of REORIENT. He has contributed to such publications as The Guardian, The Economist, the BBC, Forbes, i-D/Vice, Frieze, The Columbia Journal (whose Guest Editor he served as in 2016), The British Library's Untold Lives, Encyclopaedia Iranica, Aesthetica, Artsy, and Harper’s Bazaar Art Arabia, been interviewed by news outlets including Newsweek, The Art Newspaper, and the CBC, and seen his writings republished and translated into a variety of languages. He is the author of a translation of Omar Khayyam’s Robaiyat, a novella (Coming Down Again), a collection of stories (With My Head in the Clouds and Stars in My Eyes), and a volume of poetry (Lovers of Light).