Tears, Cheers for an Iranian Icon’s Return


It was, as many audience members kept repeating Saturday at the Great Western Forum, the performance of a lifetime in the comeback of a lifetime. Googoosh was back after more than 20 years of silence.

Googoosh, the legendary Iranian singer whose appeal reached across generations, whose every move set fashion styles in the years before the revolution brought her career to a sudden halt.

Googoosh, called the Elvis of Iran, who nonetheless responded to the 1979 Islamic fundamentalist ban on female performers by retiring to her apartment in Garbo-esque obscurity, while her tapes and videos continued to be undercover bestsellers.


For the packed house in the Forum, her return was a transcendent experience. And when Googoosh, now 49, finally appeared on stage, garbed in a luminous white gown, the response was deafening. Arms waved, tears flowed and the chant Goo-Goosh! Goo-Goosh! surged through the shouts and the screams.

Then, in a moment that perfectly defined her regal capacity, Googoosh made a small gesture, and the crowd immediately became quiet and took their seats.

She rewarded them with an astonishing performance. Starting at about 8:45 p.m., she sang until close to midnight with only a brief intermission. There were no backup singers, and few passages that were solely instrumental. Yet Googoosh, whose real name is Faegheh Atashin, was as vibrant and energetic at the end as she was at the beginning--perhaps even more so.

It was a remarkable tour de force, one song after another, overflowing with dozens of hits, old numbers, new numbers, a performance that made the overproduced, over-hyped appearances by most American megastars seem like self-indulgent exercises.

Beyond the political subtext of her unexpected Western tour--the unanswered question of whether it reflects a softening of attitudes within Iran--the most amazing aspect of her performance was the artistic mastery. Her presence was striking, filled with elegant, balletic movements of arms and hands. Her music has always been eclectic, and in this performance it was even more so. Moving easily through Iranian pop, European cabaret (a few songs were strikingly reminiscent of Edith Piaf), flamenco, international pop-rock and, in one surprising number, a trace of fusion jazz, she was at ease in every circumstance, her rich, pliant voice adapting to the demands of each.

“She sounds exactly the way she used to,” said one young woman in the crowd, her gaze fixed on Googoosh. “She’s an angel.”



Speaking mostly in Farsi, Googoosh responded in equally touching fashion, bringing greetings from friends and family in the homeland to the expatriate Iranians who made up most of the audience, saluting her grandchild, willingly acknowledging her own emotions.

Although she has insisted that the tour (which is expected to return to Southern California for a Sept. 24 date) has no political connotations, the very nature of her presence on stage contained implicit messages. Dressed in white, revealing some bare leg in one of her two gowns, dancing a few steps, Googoosh’s performance would have been unacceptable in today’s Tehran. And when she playfully toyed with her outer wrap, almost--but not quite--removing it to expose bare shoulders, she seemed once again to be the old Googoosh, daring to take chances, eager to create new possibilities. No wonder she is so loved.