“I assume you’re here because you’ve read my book. That means you’re good people,” Jian Ghomeshi began his reading at The Word on the Street festival in Toronto on September 23.
The musician-cum-TV host-cum-author was promoting his memoir 1982, which chronicles a year of his youth as a 14-year-old Iranian living in Thornhill. It is a poignant read that features the blunt social commentary of a self-described “brown” teenager living in a predominantly white Canadian suburb.
“It was the kind of place where men liked to stare at the sprinklers on their lawns,” he says. Raised by Iranian parents, the young Ghomeshi was as unique to his neighbors as the spelling of his first name. “This was 30 years ago, when Iran was considered an ‘evil place,’” he says. “All of the sudden, my parents were terrorists.”
Ghomeshi describes the memoir as creative non-fiction. Ultimately, he says, “I wanted it to be me. I wanted to stand behind it.”
The “me” he stands behind, a self-conscious 14-year-old complete with hair dye and black eyeliner, is a contrast to the confident celebrity he grew up to be. Today, Ghomeshi is enjoying a successful career as the popular host of CBC Radio’s Q. He was a co-creator of the show in 2007 and it has since grown to capture the all-time highest audience share for its CBC morning time slot. He also counts among his successes the title of one of Hello! Canadamagazine’s “most beautiful people” in the country.
But Ghomeshi is quick to wave away the title, as well as any references to his undeniable coolness now. At heart, he insists he’s still the awkward 14-year-old narrator with a passion for David Bowie — and for a girl named Wendy, whom he loved “because she kind of looked like Bowie.”
Music is a recurring theme in the book, as well as Ghomeshi’s career. 1982 explores the dynamic music scene of the time, which inspired everything from young Ghomeshi’s Bowie-esque fashion sense to his eventual foray into the music world as a member of the 90s band “Moxy Früvous.”
Ghomeshi relates his love for Bowie (and, by association, Wendy) to the isolation he experienced as a teen.
“David Bowie represented the outsider — he actively didn’t fit in,” Ghomeshi says. Today, he wishes he could go back and instill more confidence in his younger self: “I’d tell him there’s never been a better time to be different and unique.”