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Googoosh / Jokers - Googoosh / Jokers

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Artist: Googoosh / Jokers

Album: Googoosh / Jokers

Label: B-Music / Fading Sunshine

Review date: Jul. 29, 2011

While I was sitting on an absurdly uncomfortable faux-French antique furniture piece in a central Tehran apartment a few years back, Googoosh’s most recent single came on from one of the TV satellite channels beamed in from Los Angeles. Her face, carved up and sculpted by the plastic surgeon’s hand, looked alien and inexpressive. Yet it was exactly the face to which many upper class Iranian women, inside or outside the country, deeply aspire. The video cut through several clips of Googoosh’s earlier “faces,” when she was the undisputed queen of 1970s Iranian pop music. The middle-aged women sitting next to me, who had somehow mastered the appearance of repose on these hard and masochistic couches, mulled over the newest face of Googoosh but came to a consensus that the earlier visages were the better, prettier ones. Nostalgia can be sweet but it is always fickle.

Born in 1950 to Azerbaijani parents in Tehran, Faegheh Atashin (pronounced faa-egheh aatashin), the nickname Googoosh comes from an Armenian term for boy. Singing from an early age, her boyish good looks chimed well with the late 1960s styles of pre-pubescent celebrity. A child actor to boot, Googoosh’s career took off in the late 1960s with popular hits in the cinema as well as the music charts. Like the Bardot, the Twiggy, and the Farrah, the Googoosh style was widely emulated in Iran and elsewhere – in clothes, hair, attitude, and in singing approach. Her voice, as well illustrated in this short compilation of album and single hits from 1970-5 assembled by Mahhsa Taghinia (also the force behind the 2010 compilation of Persian 1970s pysch and pop Pomegranates), borrows elements from Persian classical improvisatory singing while it also devastatingly drips honey like the best of lounge divas. The tracks here move from ballads to funk, bossa, and trippier numbers, but underlying many of them is the 3-step beat at which white guys always fail at dancing to during Iranian weddings.

In the wake of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, and unlike many of Iran’s well-to-do elite, Googoosh remained inside the country. As female singers are not allowed to publicly perform in the Islamic Republic, Googoosh’s career as a singer went on a long and tragic hiatus. Yet despite, or perhaps as a result of her silence, her songs and albums were circulated in the cultural black market of Iran as well as among the Iranian diaspora in Europe and the US. Her marriage to a prominent filmmaker meant that she was never far from the art scene, circumscribed as it was. At the crest of the “Tehran Spring” in 2000, which slowly had relaxed official cultural permissions over the previous decade and allowed for a renaissance in art, film, and media, Googoosh was permitted to leave the country to perform several concerts in the West. She soon picked up and never returned, and currently resides in Bel Air (ground zero for the wealthy segment of the Iranian diaspora) where she records new, satellite-beamed hits.

In the 1980s, if you wanted to hear Googoosh, you would have to go to your Persian grocery store in any major metropolis and carry home a handful of cassette tapes. Eventually most of her music ended up on poorly digitized CDr box sets. The benefits of this B-Music compilation, mastered from the original vinyl, are easy to tell. (And, for the nerds out there, the vinyl pressing sounds even better.) Songs like “Mano Tou” (Me and You), “Ma Baham Nemiresim” (We Will Not Arrive Together), and “Pishkesh” (Offering) are there for the tasteful and discriminating adult hipster to finally appreciate in their resplendent glories of romantic aching.

Ironically, someone who is often held up as the ultimate representative of pre-revolutionary “Persian” culture is actually not Persian at all, but Azeri. Googoosh sang in Azeri Turkish as well as Persian, not to mention English and French. If anything, she’s the embodiment of a particular multicultural, multiethnic spirit that continually rejuvenates Iranian society to this day. Although ethnic Persians are barely a majority of the population in the country, there is a churlish chauvinism that underlies much discussion of Iranian culture as directly derived from “ancient Persian heritage”, most of it historically unfounded. The reason that most people do not think of Iran as a multiethnic state is that the country never imploded due to civil war, along ethnic or regional lines, even though there were multiple opportunities during the 20th century. So the world’s ignorance is actually Iran’s gain.

In Tehran’s Friday bazaar, where I’ve found some choice 78s from the 1920s and 1930s, a whole section of record sellers hawk boxes of natty old LPs and 45s. It is still easy to find Googoosh singles if you ask, but it would be impossible to locate the 1972 record by The Jokers, as it never actually was released. The new label Fading Sunshine (hopefully an ironic title), which helped to put together the Indonesian rock comp Those Shocking, Shaking Days, tries their hand at the burgeoning endeavor of digging up old Iranian rock. Basically a trashcan stomp with some longer psych overtones, The Jokers may not be for everyone’s ears, but if you need to own everything from Iran out there, its at least illustrative of what was going on in Tehran’s garages at the time (let’s admit it, Americans have a weird relationship with the country).

Iranian pop music is quite distinct from its Turkish and Egyptian counterparts, and has its own “empire” in the Persian speaking parts of central Asia. When I visited Iran in June 2011, a heavy metal band had just performed in the large amphitheater in Tehran’s new Milad Tower, to a sold out audience. Public dancing is frowned upon by the frumpy buzzkills in the Iranian government, so the band had to promise not to head bang, and they encouraged the audience to show their appreciation by clapping only. Yet, there they were, thrashing around, but sounding weirdly smooth and silky in the way that Iranian music tends to always end up. Like most of the Third World, teenagers in Iran now listen to metal, rap, and dance music. Googoosh finally joined the diaspora, but Iran does not have the closed society it did in the 1980s. Just a month ago, she held a massive concert in the resort town of Anatalya, Turkey, where Iranians can easily travel to and let it all hang out. After the long interregnum of revolution, war and isolation, it was a hopeful sign that Iran’s internal schisms could be patched together yet again.

By Kevan Harris

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