Ghome­shi re­calls try­ing to fit in as a 14-year-old new Cana­dian

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Carolin Ve­sely

THE year Canada brought its con­sti­tu­tion home, one of its fu­ture stars was try­ing to rec­on­cile his own na­tional iden­tity.

To that end, the in­se­cure, “pa­thet­i­cally neu­rotic,” 14-year-old Per­sianCana­dian New Wa­ver made a list of the things that mat­tered to him most.

The 11-item list was book­ended by the names David Bowie and Wendy. “Fit­ting in” ap­pears twice.

Jian Ghome­shi never did meet his mu­si­cal idol and it didn’t last with his dream girl. And it’s safe to say the pop­u­lar host of CBC Ra­dio’s Q and mem­ber of the ’90s satir­i­cal folk-pop four­some Moxy Fru­vous didn’t get where he is by blend­ing in with the crowd.

But as any high-school mis­fit can at­test, it takes a while to fig­ure that out.

“I needed to be cool to fit in. And be­ing cool might mean makeup and pointy boots and Bowie. This was not ex­actly the con­ven­tional mid­dle-class pre­scrip­tion from Tehran,” Ghome­shi writes in his new mem­oir, 1982.

He’ll be at McNally Robin­son Book­sellers at 7 tonight to read from and sign the book, which this week made Maclean’s best­seller list.

Part com­ing-of-age tale and part love let­ter to a by­gone era — the tele­phone had a cord at­tached and mak­ing a mix tape could take weeks — 1982 re­counts this piv­otal year of the au­thor’s life through a dozen mu­sic- in­fused sto­ries, each based on a 1982 pop ra­dio hit.

While Ghome­shi takes a self­dep­re­cat­ing, hu­mourous ap­proach to teenage angst, his was clearly ex­ac­er­bated by the fact that he grew up in the largely white, con­ser­va­tive Toronto sub­urb of Thornhill at a time when vis­i­ble mi­nori­ties weren’t that vis­i­ble. It’s tough enough carv­ing out your iden­tity with­out be­ing as­so­ci­ated with ter­ror­ists or get­ting called “Paki.”

Still, Ghome­shi, 45, says he didn’t want to do an overly earnest book, and so opted for en­ter­tain­ing, in­stead.

“I didn’t want it to come across as some kind of po­lit­i­cal, ide­o­log­i­cal or polem­i­cal screed, sort of like: “By the way, this is what it feels like to be an Ira­nian in your so­ci­ety,” he says dur­ing a phone in­ter­view.

“I had no in­ter­est in writ­ing a life story or mem­oir that was a list of ac­com­plish­ments or facts and fig­ures. What I re­ally wanted to do is find a de­vice to write some­thing cre­ative. I get off on try­ing to be cre­ative. That’s what I do with my show and it’s my favourite part of that.”

The im­age on the cover of 1982 is a bro­ken cas­sette tape with the han­drawn la­bel Scary Mon­sters Mix. It’s ac­tu­ally a mix tape he gave a girl back in high school, Ghome­shi says, and she dug it up and con­tacted him when she heard he was writ­ing a mem­oir.

“The book is kind of set up like a big mixed tape,” says Ghome­shi, who was born in Eng­land and im­mi­grated with his par­ents and sis­ter (Jila is a lin­guist at the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba) when he was 10. “There’s a lot of mu­sic in there be­cause mu­sic was my sal­va­tion, it was my es­cape and it was my cel­e­bra­tion, as it was for a lot of peo­ple.”

More su­per­fi­cially, he says, the book is about his ob­ses­sion with David Bowie and want­ing to be the (very pale) British rock star, and his equally ob­ses­sive crush on a New Wave class­mate and cool girl named Wendy.

But even that, he ad­mits, was part of his des­per­ate quest to fit in and make peo­ple like him, all the while hop­ing they wouldn’t notice his “weird name, lar­gish nose and brown­ish skin.” Never mind be­ing Mus­lim, which set him fur­ther apart from his peers, even though his fam­ily was sec­u­lar­ist and never en­gaged in any reli­gious ac­tiv­i­ties.

While his tar­get au­di­ence is po­ten­tially any­one who can iden­tify with be­ing an odd­ball in high school, Ghome­shi says he’s been most sur­prised at the num­ber of im­mi­grants who have con­tacted him.

“What’s res­onat­ing with a lot of peo­ple is more the story of a first­gen­er­a­tion im­mi­grant com­ing here and deal­ing with be­ing the only eth­nic fam­ily on the street in a con­ser­va­tive, white neigh­bour­hood,” he says. “I think that story is very Cana­dian, one that any­body who has moved here from some­where else and been caught be­tween nei­ther fit­ting in in the old coun­try or en­tirely fit­ting in here will un­der­stand.”


Ghome­shi on the set of his CBC Ra­dio show.

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