On Music

If you thought that you couldn’t be moved to tears (tears of pain, not laughter) by a cartoon, then you’ve never been an Iranian expat watching Persepolis.The movie-length cartoon, based on the graphic novels (or comic books?) of the same name, tells the story of a young Iranian who lives through the Revolution, moves abroad, moves back to Iran, and goes back abroad again.

There are many poignant and unbelievable scenes, but the one that always makes me dissolve in a pool of tears is the scene in which Marjane is walking around, trying to buy some music illegally on the streets. If you’ve never seen it, here it is on YouTube:


Anyway, many things in the movie seem surreal, but none other than the sight of a teenager on the prowl for some Bee Gees, Stevie Wonder, and “Jichael Mackson.” The scene may be comical (it is), but it is also a really painful snapshot of how things really were in Iran.

For my sister and her cool friends (and by extension, moi, because what little sister doesn’t annoyingly follow everything her older one does?), it was always A-Ha (you may remember my post about Iranians’ obsession with blonds). However, my parents wouldn’t DREAM of having their 13 year-old (my sister, not me) go out and get in trouble by prowling for illegal music. So my mother would take it upon herself to head to the seedy parts of town, asking for any new A-Ha tapes. Little did we know that A-Ha released very little new music after their huge hit, “Take On Me.”

So my mom came back one day with what I believe was a U2 tape…Joshua Tree maybe? You know the song “With or Without You”? The part where the chorus goes “with or without you ahhhhhh haaaaaaaa, I can’t liiiiiiiiiiiive”? Well, I (or was it my sister?) pretty much convinced myself (ourselves?) that the “ah ha” in the middle of the song really meant that the band singing was, indeed, A-Ha. And we would sing along without abandon, with our nonexistent English skills, while my parents (who, you know, actually knew the language) would try to correct us by telling us the real words. All the while we’d continue singing phonetically and declare that they were the ones wrong in their word choice and pronunciation.

That is a very long trip down memory lane, and all things I’ve been thinking about as P gets more and more excited about singing and dancing, and music in general. At this point, I’m leaving all the preschool songs to my parents, while I slowly indoctrinate her in all things Beatles.

This has been surprisingly easy, since there are so many animal-themed Beatles songs. She loves “Octopus’s Garden,” but isn’t that crazy about “Piggies.” “Blackbird” is a bit slow for her, but she tolerates it pretty well since I insist on belting it out at the top of my lungs. Her favorite though? Definitely a non-animal themed song: “Michelle.” She requests it every other day, and insists that I sing it to her every night to say goodnight.

She even knows the words and sings along. Sometimes, she sings by herself. One time, we were walking in San Francisco, and she was singing “Michelle” with very little help from me. We passed a cafe, and a woman looked at P singing, and couldn’t contain her excitement. “Yes,” she said, “start them early!”

She even tries to sing the French parts…you know, “sont le mot qui vont tres bien ensemble, tres bien ensemble.” (Forgive the incorrect spelling, but I’m working on high school French here.) Her French sounds like you would expect a 2 1/2 non-native French person sounding: pretty rough. She basically just mouths the words really theatrically, looking at me with wide eyes to see if she’s saying them correctly.

She probably sounds like my sister and me about twenty years ago, as we tried singing along to U2. The obvious big difference being that instead of going to horrid parts of town and risking arrest to get some music, I just turn on my iPod.

Strange how seeing your child do something triggers a whole flood of different memories from your own childhood. And makes you respect what your parents did when you were growing up.

I’ll try introducing P to A-Ha (maybe) and U2 (definitely). And have my mom tell her stories of what it was like trying to find those tapes in the seedy parts of Tehran.

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