Jian Ghomeshi is best known now as host of CBC Radio One’s Q cultural affairs show, and remembered by some as a member of the band Moxy Früvous, but before that he was a 14-year-old Persian-Canadian boy trying to fit in in Thornhill, Ont.
Ghomeshi’s first book 1982, released Tuesday across Canada, tells about that time, with an emphasis on the music that moved him then and would shape his later career.
His 1982 is a collection of 10 music-infused stories that recall the delights of David Bowie, Talking Heads and the Clash.
In 1982, the Commodore 64 computer was introduced, the Falklands War started and ended, Michael Jackson released Thriller, Canada repatriated its Constitution, and the first compact disc was sold in Germany.
"It's based on a 14-year-old who wants to be Bowie. That was me," Ghomeshi said in an interview with CBC News.
"But the stories, both due to my foggy memories and due to some embellishment, can be classified as creative non-fiction. But it's non-fiction. It's my story and it's my story of one year. It isn't so much a life story or a memoir as a coming-of-age year and a really intense look at just how pathetic Jian was, and may still be."
Ghomeshi recalls his life as an outsider trying to fit in in the conservative, then predominantly white suburb north of Toronto in the late 1970s and '80s. His family is of Persian background and comes from Iran. One of his touchstones, he says, was the song Our House by British band Madness.
"When I think about Our House – I don’t think the song was written about a suburban Persian-Canadian family in Thornhill, but I do think about Thornhill and I think the first line in the book after the prologue is, 'In 1982, I lived in Thornhill – that was part of the problem,'" Ghomeshi said.
"The other part of it was just feeling awkward and an outsider, and not fitting in in general and idolizing someone like Bowie and really feeling that Bowie would never hang out in Thornhill, and that was a tough one for me to reconcile."
Police picnic and Freddy Mercury
Ghomeshi recalls his affection for Under Pressure, the collaboration between Bowie and Queen, fronted by Freddy Mercury – "who every Iranian knew had Iranian roots."
"It means a lot to me, even now," he said of the song. "How I relate it in the book is that’s very much the soundtrack of an Iranian in Canada and really wanting to fit in as an Iranian with a Middle Eastern background."
Other musically important moments in the book include the Police picnic, a Police show in downtown Toronto in 1982 which also introduced Ghomeshi to Talking Heads.
Ghomeshi said the experience he tries to capture is not dissimilar to a lot of first-generation Canadians or to other young "outsiders" struggling through high school. When writing, he worked to find his 14-year-old voice and to recreate teen life in the 1980s before iPods and personal computers.
The 14-year-old Jian was often angry and uncertain, but he’d be impressed with the Ghomeshi of today, who rubs shoulders with musicians such as Rush and has interviewed David Byrne, he said.
"One hope that I have with this book is that it'll show another side of me that if you only know me as the Q guy or the musician side you might not have seen, " he said.
His book, 1982, is published by Penguin Canada.