For Iranians, the 21st century began with the concert of one of the most popular Iranian singers. For many Iranians, this concert was not just a live music performance; it was a one-of-a-kind concert that allowed them to witness the return of a cultural icon who had been kept hidden from view by an oppressive government for more than 20 years.
On that warm night of the first summer of the new century, the 20,000-seat Air Canada stadium in Toronto was filled with Iranians who wore their best clothes to welcome her on stage, their eyes filled with tears of joy. The light shone on the stage, the musicians played and, seconds later, joyful shouts arose when Googoosh appeared like a shining star.
This scene was repeated in her series of summer concerts around the world, including at Madison Square Garden in New York, Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Honda Center in Anaheim, California, Royal Albert Hall in London and Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles.
“Googoosh kept having to wipe tears from her eyes when she performed on Saturday night at the Nassau Coliseum” reported the New York Times. “So did many of her fans…In pre-revolutionary Iran, Googoosh was Iran's Barbra Streisand, Linda Ronstadt, Cher, Edith Piaf and Madonna rolled into one: not just a magnificent singer but a fashion trailblazer and a symbol of modernity. Her songs were romantic, not political, and while they drew on Western styles, they held onto both the fervor of Persian love poetry and the sliding, quivering, impassioned phrasing of traditional Persian music.”
These images lie among the shared and unforgettable memories of many Iranians, even those who watched them on their TV screens inside Iran. Although Googoosh had stopped singing for 20 years after the 1979 revolution, it was as if her voice had never gone silent. The generations who were born after the revolution had memorized her songs, formed memories with them, watched her films over and over again, collected her photos and had been inspired by her beauty, creativity, outfits, hairstyle, performances and distinguished voice.
Although the peak of her career was before 1979, she remains to this day one of Iran’s all time most popular singers. She is also popular outside of Iran, in countries like Afghanistan and Tajikistan, where many people know the lyrics of her songs by heart.
On Stage Since Age 3
Googoosh was born in Tehran in 1950 under the name Faegheh Atashin. Two years later, her parents got divorced and her father brought her up and kick-started her singing career by putting her on stage at the age of three.
At the age of seven, Googoosh appeared in her first movie, and she began singing on the national radio when she was eight. During much of her adolescence, she sang in big Tehran nightclubs. With the help of renowned lyricists and songwriters, she soon became famous. She was invited to perform at the royal court, parties and high society wedding parties. She even sang at the Crown Prince Reza's birthday party, a performance that was recorded in 1977.
The childhood of Faegheh, who was nicknamed Googoosh by her father and people close to them, was not the childhood of many other children. As a child, she accepted adult responsibilities. She had learned to study during the day and shine on stage at nights, becoming a source of inspiration for the children of her own and future generations. Some of them followed her example and became successful artists in their own right.
As a teenager, Googoosh was already a renowned and celebrated artist and her talents flourished day by day, as did her fame. Altogether, she acted in close to 30 movies before the 1979 revolution and before she turned 30. However, Googoosh was most popular as a singer and was among top Iranian pop composers and songwriters.
The star of Googoosh reached unprecedented heights in the 1960s and 1970s. Her repertoire was filled with songs that people hummed. The movies in which she acted became part of Iran’s history of arts. Her fans not only memorized her songs, they also waited in long lines to see her live performances on stage, and when she appeared on television they remained fixated on the TV screen.
Younger fans bought publications featuring pictures of Googoosh and cut these images to make scrapbooks. She invented her own outfits, hairstyles, makeup style and even her own dances which were almost immediately adopted by young female fans.
Rebellion Against Stereotypes
The “Googoosh Model” was not just about a certain style of hair and makeup but also a rebellion by women against a stereotype that defined beauty as having long hair, wide arched eyebrows, long pleated shirts, big jewelry and red cheeks and lips. She later said that she did not intend to break the norm by cutting her hair short, but that it was a response to an agonizing mental pain. Nevertheless, it was seen by her fans as a sign of self-confidence and determination.
Of course, being a celebrity also led to speculations and rumors about her private life, but her fans saw her as person who did not tolerate injustice, who did not shirk her responsibilities toward her art and the people, as well as a source of inspiration for women who were fighting against stone-age expectations of a patriarchal society.
Before 1979, Googoosh got married and divorced twice. She first married music promoter and owner of the popular Miami Nightclub in Tehran, Mahmoud Ghorbani, in 1967. They had a son together, Kambiz, who now lives in Los Angeles and works in the music industry. The couple separated in 1972. Her second husband was the hugely popular movie actor Behrouz Vossoughi. They met each other while shooting a film together and got married in 1975, but they divorced just a year later.
Just before the revolution, she married film producer Homayoon Mestaghi. They separated in 1985. Finally, she married the renowned Iranian movie director Masoud Kimiai in 1991; they were officially divorced in 2003. Kimiai encouraged Googoosh to leave Iran. In her later interviews, despite inevitable problems in any marriage that ends in divorce, Googoosh had only words of praise for her former husbands.
The Silence Starts
After the Islamic Revolution, women were banned from singing. This applied to all women but the Islamic Republic was especially worried about the Googoosh’s popularity. At the height of the revolution, she was in Los Angeles and when she returned, the new Islamic government summoned her for interrogations and confined her to her home.
Many singers and actors left Iran but Googoosh decided to stay and withdrew herself from the public eye. While singers in exile recorded new music and made it available to Iranians via cassettes or videotapes, the “Queen of Iranian Pop” remained silent.
However, Googoosh was not just any other singer or actor, and removing her from theater screens and music stores could not remove her from people’s memories and daily life. Even after the revolution, her old songs could be heard from open windows or passing cars. Her songs were rerecorded on cassettes in the backrooms of homes and secretly distributed. Children sang her songs and, at a time when owning a video player was forbidden, videocassettes of her films circulated among the people.
In 1997, when reformist Mohammad Khatami was elected president, a number of female singers were permitted to sing at women’s gatherings. But Googoosh was not among them. Finally, however, she was allowed to leave Iran in 2000 and she did so.
Singing Is Not A Crime
Once in Canada, Googoosh ended her 21-year silence by recording an album called Zartosht (Zoroaster). In one song named after her the new album, she asked how singing can be banned in Iran, a country where since the time of Zoroaster — almost time immemorial — the arts have been cultivated and revered. Some of the lyrics of the song Zoroaster goes as follows: "I don't know what judgment is. If I sing, is it a crime? I don't sing because it's a crime."
Since then, Googoosh has tirelessly created new works, performed on stage and has gone on tours. Contrary to the wishes of the Islamic Republic, not only people have not forgotten her, but her fanbase is as solid and as extensive as any artist can wish for.
Googoosh has stayed clear of political affiliations with specific groups or ideologies, but she has not remained silent in the face of the repressive policies and actions of the Islamic Republic.
Following the disputed 2009 presidential election in Iran and the nationwide protests it sparked, she was one of the speakers at a protest gathering at the UN headquarters in New York. "I have come here to be the voice for the sad mothers who lost their loved ones in peaceful demonstrations. I have come here to be the just voice of the grass-roots and spontaneous movement among my compatriots and to show my solidarity," she declared.
Googoosh dedicated her 2022 concert in Frankfurt to Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman whose death in police custody triggered months of nationwide protests. "Today, I feel proud and angry, but I am still more hopeful than ever about the future of Iran, and I focus my anger on that obsessively hateful and resentful leader (Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei) and the child-killing government," she said in a gathering of Iranians in Washington D.C. in January 2023.
The ”Last Chapter”
Googoosh turned 73 on May 5, 2023, and, on September 14, in a video titled The Last Chapter on her official social media pages she announced that her upcoming world tour, starting on September 23 in California, would be her last.
She expressed hope that her last tour will be "the season of freedom for women’s voice" and "the day of freedom of Iran and Iranians."
"The last chapter, the chapter of my farewell to the land of my talent, is the stage. It was from the stage that, from the very beginning, I shared the best memories of my life with you,” she said. “I even judged and came to know myself from how you looked at me and flew higher and higher. It was a logical but difficult decision, like many good decisions. Perhaps, if it were up to me, I wouldn't have bid you farewell."
This might indeed be Googoosh’s “last chapter” on stage but there can be no doubt that she and her creations will live on among her old and new fans, the same way that her 21 years of silence under the Islamic Republic could not dim her star.