1982, Jian Ghomeshi
Penguin, 284 pages
1982 was a pretty important year: Ronald Reagan was shot, the Falklands War happened, Canada repatriated the constitution, the Commodore computer was released, it was early days of the New Wave movement, the first CD was made, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller set a new standard with its groundbreaking music video. Politically, technologically, and culturally, the world was changing, and it’s against this backdrop that we meet fourteen year old Jian Ghomeshi.
In 1982, Ghomeshi’s family lived in the predominantly white, upper-middle class suburb of Thornhill, located just north of Toronto. When his family first came to Canada seven years ago, they had moved to an ethnically diverse part of the city, allowing the Ghomeshis to blend in. In Thornhill, however, they stood out as the only Iranian family, and arguably the most non-white family, in town. The parents spoke with a heavy accent, ate unfamiliar foods, and made cultural mistakes like choosing red bulbs for their outdoor lighting because they were unaware of the seedy connotations. Yet the Ghomeshis considered themselves to be as white as their neighbours. Iranians, after all, are technically Aryan, and the family had become Canadian citizens. For Jian, this clash of views over his family’s identity was extremely significant, provoking questions about who he was and what his place was in the world. It was 1982, and his answer was music.
In 1982, fourteen year old Ghomeshi speaks to the fourteen year old within the reader. He is in absolute awe of David Bowie’s musical brilliance, his physical presence, and as someone struggling between two identities, he finds resonance in Bowie’s trademark androgyny. While in the throes of Bowie obsession, he falls in love with a female Bowie at school, and this leads him to the Police Picnic, a concert that will, without exaggeration, shape his future.
Most Canadians born in the 70s will know Ghomeshi as part of the 90s band “Moxy Fruvous” and the current host of Q, an extremely popular arts and culture show on the CBC. If you’re female, you probably had a picture of him on your high school locker. I did. But even if you’re not Canadian or you’ve never heard of Ghomeshi, this is a great coming of age story that will interest music lovers, culture buffs, and anyone else who remembers the early 80s.
In case you’re interested, here’s a YouTube video of Moxy Fruvous singing “My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors,” a song they wrote for a Toronto literary festival.