PART II: If you want the ultimate pleasure step on a landmine

I also discovered the power of music in my first year of high school. All of a sudden, a wave of smuggled cassettes made its way into the country. There was both Iranian pop—banned since the early days of the Revolution—and Western pop and rock.

Most of Iran’s pop musicians had fled to the US immediately after the Revolution; there they had reconvened and continued to produce their music. Los Angeles formed the heart of this activity and cassettes smuggled out of there began to warm up the secret parties of Iran. I, however, was more interested in Western music. It was in 1983 that I first heard Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’, a song that changed many lives. I thought Roger Waters should have written the song for us Iranians, since I couldn’t understand why someone educated in a liberal system in the UK should complain about not wanting ‘thought control’. Nevertheless, being one of the few boys at school who knew English well enough to make sense of the words, I was forced by my friends to transcribe the lyrics from the low-quality recordings to which we had access. There was no way for us to locate the original lyrics and, given the poor quality of the recordings, I’m not sure I did a very good job. Michael Jackson had just become the biggest hit on the pop scene, Madonna was on her way to becoming the queen of pop and breakdancing had overtaken Iranian schoolboys and girls, as it had everywhere else in the world. Anyone who didn’t know how to breakdance was immediately an outcast. At home, I must have watched Breakin’, the cult classic, at least a hundred times as well as spent endless hours in front of the mirror, practising Michael Jackson’s moonwalk. I never became a particularly good dancer but I learnt enough to be eligible for an initiation into my classmates’ secret society. We’d close the doors and curtain off the classroom in- between classes and challenge one another to dance. This was our main diversion at school until our secret society was discovered. The leader was expelled and the rest of us received serious warnings: if we were seen dancing again, we would be expelled too.

But we really didn’t care anymore. All of us felt that our days were already numbered. The war had reached its peak and we were convinced that we’d soon be sent to the front and die there. There was nothing we could do to delay this death other than study and get into university. We had unconsciously written off ‘the future’: it didn’t exist. And when the future doesn’t exist and you are too young to have a past to cling to, you are left with only the present. And one of the most important aspects of living in the present and not looking towards the future is that the word ‘consequences’ ceases to exist. That’s why we had turned into daredevils who would do anything for a moment of excitement; anything for the thrill of knowing that we were challenging a tyrannical system.

And while we, the little blind mice, tried to challenge the mad elephant of a regime at the same time as we groped our way amid the mountain of books on Chemistry, Physics, Literature, Algebra, Geometry, Islamic ‘Insights’, Arabic, English and Biology, time flew by and the new year drew closer. New Year’s Eve 1985 marked the date when I would no longer be allowed to hold a passport to leave the country. As soon as I turned 15, I would be ‘on call’ in case the army needed me, even though 15 was still three years short of the legal age for military service.