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Post An Iranian Song; from Gary Moore
Created by John Eipper on 03/18/15 2:51 PM

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An Iranian Song; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA, 03/18/15 2:51 pm)

JE: Our reader Gary Moore (Memphis, Tennessee) sends this question for Massoud Malek:

I'd like to respond to the admirable challenge posed by Massoud Malek on 8 March, when he urged that discourse look at the real Iran, and not just its government.

I'd like to try opening such discussion through a song--a vibrant fragment of the secular Iran that refuses to die.

Written in the early 1950s, the song has become a standard, called by some the most beautiful song ever written in Persian. Moreover, it's surrounded by an interesting nebula of underground belief. The song is "Mara Beboos" ("Kiss Me"). As preamble, before I get to the underground belief, I have a theory based on the striking similarity of theme and phonetics in this song to another which was, shortly beforehand during World War II, called the most popular song in the world. That one, from quite a different culture, was "Bésame Mucho," the lovers' farewell song in a time of departing troops--written by a female composer, pianist Consuelo Velazquez of Guadalajara and Mexico City. This forms only a background echo as we move to the beliefs surrounding "Mara Beboos," half a world away, and written in a melody distinctly Persian, which, at least on the surface, was not at all like the melody of "Bésame Mucho."

The beliefs can be tested in conversation with many Iranians, who can explain that, secretly, this sad Persian song of lovers' farewell was written by an Iranian general in the early-1950s political tragedies, at a shocking moment. The general was said to be in prison and about to be executed for complicity in a Communist coup. Supposedly he wrote the song not to a lover but to his small daughter.

Music experts tend to say there is no evidence for this, and that the song, as always officially reported, was simply the product of two talented commercial collaborators, Majid Vafadar and Heidar Raghabi (as originally performed by Hasan Golnaraghi). Yet the belief is so strong that it seems to successfully carry a message of some sort, a cross-cultural beacon, in the way that Freud said dreams were disguised messages. Could Massoud help me out here, and enlighten my abysmal ignorance of the specifics?

Is the message simply that the experts are wrong, and that the song really was connected to political troubles? Or is there something deeper that insists on the song as a nostalgic reminder of roads not taken, of the secular (or even anti-religious) Iran that might have been? Is the appeal of the myth--or of the buried truth--simply that of melodrama and intrigue? Or does it encode a mist-enshrouded bridge between theocracy and elemental secular romance?

Okay, too many abstracts. Simply put: What are the real origins of this great Iranian song? And if they are unspectacular, then why do so many people firmly believe otherwise, reciting the story about the doomed military man as unquestionable fact? I hope Massoud can help me out in this adventure, the crossing between worlds.

JE comments: And I'll add a question: is "Mara Beboos" still as popular under the Islamic Republic? I'll confess to not knowing the song, but here's Hasan Golnaraghi's rendition on YouTube. It's a gripping, mournful melody.  "Bésame mucho," I believe, is my Polish father-in-law's favorite song.


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  • Golnaraghi's "Mara Beboos" (Massoud Malek, USA 03/19/15 2:50 AM)
    In response to Gary Moore (18 March), Hassan Golnaraghi had an antique shop in the Bazaar of Tehran and never sang in public.  He became an overnight success by singing his first and only song, called "Mara Beboos." He sang the song right after the CIA coup that removed Prime Minister Mossadegh from power and brought back the Shah.

    It was rumored that Mohammad Ali Mobasheri, a lieutenant colonel of the artillery and a leader of the Tudeh (Communist) Party, wrote the song in his last meeting with his daughter, the night before his execution in October 1954.

    Several years later, in an interview, Golnaraghi said that the song was written by a professor of Persian literature by the name of Heydar Reghabi who admired Mossadegh. But most people didn't believe him, including my parents.

    Mara Beboos was popular in the '50s and '60s. Golnaraghi died in 1993. He was 68.

    Here are some of the lyrics:

    Kiss me, kiss me

    For one last time

    Our spring has passed

    The bygones are bygones

    I am in search of destiny

    In the midst of storm, among boatmen

    One must move forward, at the risk of life

    In the dark of the night I meet with my beloved

    To light up the mountains with fire

    Pretty girl

    I am your guest tonight

    I will stay with you

    To press your lips against mine

    Kiss me, Kiss me, my pretty flower

    For one last time

    May God be with you

    For I go toward my destiny

    JE comments: Beautiful lyrics; beautiful song. Here, once again, is the link to Golnaraghi's performance. Massoud: given its supposed communist (and very un-Islamic) origins, is "Mara Beboos" tolerated in Iran today?


    How many of you would be inspired to compose music on the eve of your execution?

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    • Music Across Cultures: "Mara Beboos"; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 03/20/15 11:09 AM)

      JE:  Gary Moore responds to Massoud Malek (19 March):

      My thanks to Massoud for his considerate reply to my question on the Iranian song "Mara Beboos." Moreover, John Eipper's postscript helped to pinpoint the underlying questions: Is this very secular song still popular in Iran today?

      I've never met an Iranian expat who didn't know it (and some know both stanzas by heart, and sang it with me), but this doesn't define its standing within Iran, which could help show the size of the breathing space allowed to secular culture--perhaps larger than the stereotypes suppose.

      Very helpful in Massoud's reply were the specifics on the song's origins, and how it came to be surrounded by a story that seems diametrically opposed to theocracy--that is, that the song was secretly written by a Tudeh (communist party) martyr, and hence its beloved sentiments came from the most secular of sources. In other explanations I had heard less specifically about the prior obscurity of the 1950s singer, Hassan Golnaraghi, in comments like: "He had a bakery or something. He had never been a singer before. He came out of nowhere with this song."

      I hadn't realized that a key link was in the author credit at the beginning. When the song was originally presented, and became a smash hit, was its authorship left vague, or presumed to be by Golnaraghi himself? I had assumed that the lyricist's name on the record had always said Heidar Reghabi (plus the musical composer), but if there was a hiatus of a few years before Golnaraghi added this information, it would help explain an aura of mystery that the story about secret authorship would address.  I wonder if Massoud can direct me toward sources where I might try to explore those early days, and perhaps the song's recording history.

      The English renderings in the song are various, but if I'm not mistaken, the phrase "dokhtare ziva" can be rendered not as "pretty flower" but as "pretty daughter"--adding credence to the stories about secret authorship, claiming that there was a hidden layer of meaning--in a song not really to a lover but to a beloved little daughter on a condemned man's last night. Also the line about boatmen in a storm, in some renderings, more strongly suggests the communist ideal of New Men pulling together through stormy sacrifice.

      Maybe it would be instructive to hear more about how Massoud's parents viewed the song, and on what context they formulated their conviction, as he pointed out, that the story of secret authorship was true.

      It's frustrating that these questions require so much context and sound so abstruse. They aim at something very simple.

      JE comments:  Although our discussions are not as frequent as before, I've learned an enormous amount about Iran during my eight years at WAIS.  Many of our Iranian correspondents have stressed that there is significantly more cultural wiggle room than Westerners commonly believe.  Incidentally, WAIS receives a number of "hits" from within the IRI.  (If any of you are reading this post, please drop me a line.  I'd love to hear from you.)

      Gary Moore's question begs a more politicized one:  what is the current regime's take on the Mossadegh years?  I would assume there's ambivalence.  Mossadegh was a secular communist (bad), but also staunchly against Western imperialism.

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      • Music Across Cultures: "Mara Beboos" and Mossadegh (Massoud Malek, USA 03/22/15 6:39 AM)
        In response to Gary Moore (20 March), I don't think there is much to add about "Mara Beboos." The song was popular in the 1950s and '60s, and now is almost forgotten. Young Iranians don't even know about the song, so the Mullahs have nothing to do with it. There are infinitely many Iranian songs with more beautiful lyrics. Some are from the poems of Hafez, Rumi, and other great poets.

        Khomeini wrote some beautiful poems about love and wine. Here are two poems:

        I will be a moth, burning,

        burning all my life in her candle.

        I will be drunk with wine,

        marveling at her beautiful face.

        For love's sake the veil

        of chastity I'll tear.

        Infamy, should the friend's path

        entail is the loveliest thing to bear.

        By the way, Mossadegh was not a communist.  He actually had problems with them. Mossadegh is known in the West for nationalizing Iranian oil, but he did more for Iran than any other man. He was one the greatest reformers; his goal was to make Iran both economically and politically independent from the West and the Soviet Union. He gave more power to the ordinary people by curtailing the power of landlords, the military, and the Shah.

        When he resigned in 1952, the whole Iran became paralyzed with strikes and street demonstrations. Five days later, the Shah was forced to reappoint him as the Prime Minister.

        JE comments:  How do we explain Khomeini's erotic poetry?  His collection (in English) is called The Wine of Love.  We don't associate erotic love, and much less wine, with the Ayatollahs.

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