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Monday 11 January 2016 Maziar Bahari

The men who sold the world: why I'm David Bowie's biggest Iranian fan

For so many of us who grew up in the Islamic Republic of Iran in the 1980s, David Bowie was an inspiration and a refuge from a claustrophobic environment. At a time when you could be lashed or go to jail for owning an audio cassette of western music, we would search all over Tehran for a Bowie album. We listened to anything we could find, from Space Oddity to Young Americans, over and over again. We watched The Man Who Fell to Earth a dozen times without understanding the plot or dialogue. We begged our friends and relatives in the West to send us his latest albums and the most recent books about him.

I will never forget the sadistic school principal who confiscated my David Bowie book, insulting and slapping me around for bringing a book about a cross dresser who kissed other men to school. "Do you want to be a faggot like him!? Don't you know we kill the fags in Iran?" he said as he tore the book into pieces, throwing the shreds in my face. "Should I send you to the Revolutionary Guards and tell them you're a fag!? Do you want to know what they will do to you!?"

I was trembling with fear. It was 1983, and many innocent people had died by the hands of the regime for crimes less than having a picture of Bowie and Lou Reed kissing each other. My only solace was reciting the words of Five Years, which I used to listen to every morning.

Pushing through the market square
So many mothers sighing
News had just come over,
We had five years left to cry in

In those dark days of 1980s Iran, rock music was a glimmer of hope for many of us. David Bowie represented many different identities and personas in the West, but to us in Iran he was a cry against indoctrination and the prejudices that surrounded us. He was among one of our saviors. He transcended music, film and fashion. Things that define our identities and make us human.

David Bowie never dies.

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Maziar Bahari

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