Fueled by Kindness
It has been decades since the bloody assassination of Fereydoon Farrokhzad, but his legacy continues to inspire. Farrokhzad was perhaps the most consequential figure in Iranian television, both in Iran and in the diaspora. A talented musician, a natural conversationalist, an expressive philosopher, and a creative innovator, Farrokhzad converged art and politics in a manner that was intriguing, yet entertaining and accessible to the masses.
Farrokhzad generously offered his platform to launch the careers of many artists who needed an introduction to have their voices heard. To assist their performance, and perhaps to ease their anxieties, he would meticulously plan collaborative performances, shedding his iconic black suit and bowtie for colorful matching costumes with his guests to perform their songs in perfect choreography. As such, he introduced numerous artists such as Morteza, Noushafarin, Faramarz Aslani, and many others who have enjoyed long careers and popularity since their first momentous appearance on the coveted Farrokhzad stage.
Farrokhzad emanated love wherever he was. He received as much love from his audiences as he expressed to them. Whether he was on stage with another artist, in the trenches interviewing ordinary citizens, or speaking to a camera, he expressed a genuine warmth that was undeniable and all-encompassing. His open identification as a gay man was largely accepted and even respected even in a country with conservative Islamic roots, perhaps because his love for humanity was so compelling and boundless.
Farrokhzad’s music and his message would charm the ear while at the same time, it provoked the mind. Citing references from Iranian and world history, he elevated the value of culture and music as powerful tools for combating oppression and fanaticism. He invoked actress/singer Melina Mercouri of Greece, who used her power of performance in a global campaign against the Military Juntas before becoming the country’s minister of culture in the 80s. In the same breath, he would cite Prophet Mohammad, who encouraged reciting of the Koran with pleasant melodies.
His profound patriotism and passion for Iranian culture drove his advocacy for the creation and preservation of Iranian art and music by artists. He encouraged exiled artists to write and perform joyful and innovative music to appeal to the new generation of Iranians who may have limited or no knowledge of the cultural heritage. He believed that through music, the old and the new generations could bridge their gap. But most importantly, he believed that music is a source of hope and empowerment, even in the most difficult moments of despair.
Farrokhzad unabashedly used his music and platform politically. He used logical analysis, peppered with humor and literary references to counter the fundamentalism and fanaticism that had driven him and thousands of his compatriots out of Iran. He led numerous in-person demonstrations, including one in Washington DC, which drew over 7,000 Iranian ex-pats in unity, putting differences aside for the love of the homeland. He often proclaimed that “music can do the work of thousands of weapons” and to it upon himself to lead, musically.
Indeed, Farrokhzad’s voice was a sharp weapon that instilled fear in the enemy. Despite attacks on his character, his popularity was rock solid. His activism, both on and off the stage, had created momentum and continued to inspire. His charisma, intelligence, popularity, and relentless fight for the freedom of Iran made him a desirable target by the Iranian regime. On August 7, 1992, Farrokhzad was assassinated by an Iranian regime agent in his modest apartment in Bonn, Germany. The gruesome murder scene told the story of cruelty and hatred that ended his life with forty blows of the knife into his much-feared mouth—his only weapon.
Indeed, the Iranian regime has taken Farrokhzad away from his people, but his legend persists. Thousands of hours of footage from his speeches and performances, along with hundreds of his publications and other works have been referenced, again and again, generation after generation. Farrokhzad’s cultural revolution nearly half a century ago conjures dreams of possibilities among young people. His message of freedom of expression and self-determination continue to give hope to stranded Iranians whose country was forced into medievalism. His courage to break taboos has paved the path for artists and ordinary citizens who feel ostracized and alone.
As he has said before, no matter what, an artist cannot be suppressed.