The Revolution Will Be Taped

Read an important excerpt from the new book The Life, Death and Afterlife of the Record Store: A Global History

Alamo Records in San Antonio, TX (Image: Jason Gross)

Record stores may not be the industry it once was, but their legacy lives on in the smattering of shops that still exist.

The Life, Death, and Afterlife of the Record Store: A Global History is a new anthology that explores the impact of these cornerstones of music. Divided into three parts, the anthology looks at record stores as “community,” their “cultural geography” and as “sites for fandom and performance of subcultural capital.” Edited by a panel of four seasoned music journalists and authors-turned-educators, such as Gina Arnold and John Dougan, the collected chapters are equal parts firsthand knowledge and in-depth investigations by a cross-section of academic music experts. The anthology serves as a handy reference book, but it is equally engaging in its storytelling narrative.

Below is an excerpt from the chapter “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, It Will Be Taped: Popular Music Acquisition in Pre- and Post-Revolution Tehran” by Rock and Roll Globe contributor Lily Moayeri. In the chapter, she draws from her personal experiences during the time she lived in that country’s capital city. There, she went from being a regular frequenter of the neighborhood cassette shop to starting her own bootleg mixtape business once music became outlawed after the Islamic Revolution. She also draws from the experiences of family members of various generations, plus present day fans and musicians, finding the thread of Western music in Iran over the course of six decades.


When I was nine years old, I watched the cassette store across the street from our home in Iran, get decimated in the riots that accompanied the demonstrations of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. As the windows were smashed and all the merchandise was destroyed, I felt my insides shatter. I pictured the cassettes I would stare at in the glass display cases, obliterated, and I felt frantic. I wanted to rush out and rescue those little plastic cases and everything they held. My parents told me to get off the balcony where I was watching this music massacre and to stay away from the windows in case of stray bullets—and because the trauma I was experiencing was obvious to them.

Today, I am a full-time music writer, and I remember that cassette store with fervor and sadness, but also with awe. So much has changed in Iran since before the Revolution that it is now unlocatable on Google Maps: even the names of the street which I lived on has changed, as have the businesses that existed nearby. I have tried in vain to find it, but it’s as if it never existed.

And yet, that cassette store is where my childhood obsession with music was nurtured and fed, stocking as it did all the popular Western artists of the time—the Bee Gees, ABBA, Donna Summer, the Osmonds, Jackson 5—and as such, epitomized everything the demonstrators were protesting against. They were guided by the words of the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, who prohibited Western entertainment and directed the arrest of dissidents, who were then imprisoned or shot. In July of 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini banned all music from Iranian radio and television because, he said, it is “no different from opium.” According to The New York Times, the 79-year-old revolutionary leader said, this music “stupefies persons listening to it and makes their brain inactive and frivolous.” Since that time, no musical instruments have been seen on screen in Iran. To this day, they might be heard but never seen being performed.

The Life, Death and Afterlife of the Record Store: A Global History (Image: Bloomsbury)

It’s ironic that cassette stores like the one I called “mine” were a target of these riots, since cassettes were integral not only to the consumption of Islamic doctrine but specifically to Khomeini’s rise to power. In the mid-1970s, when the Ayatollah was exiled in France, his speeches were distributed via that medium and that medium alone. As Simon Adler, speaking recently on “On the Media,” explained it, because the shah had blockaded TV and radio and only allowed sanctioned speakers, “(the leftists, and the Ayatollah) needed an underground, analog way in . . . and cassettes filled this need.” Once a week, while in exile, Khomeini would preach a sermon, recorded on cassette, and his handlers—a network of exiled leftists who were unhappy with the shah’s regime—would then play that cassette over a transatlantic line. Back in Iran, those who’d conference-called in would record it on cassette and then distribute it hand to hand, playing it in cafés, cabs, and restaurants, spreading it from house to house.

According to Adler, at its height, 90,000 mosques were duplicating and distributing his message, via answering machine. But these cassettes were spreading the Ayatollah’s message of rebellion and religion, not music, and the leftists who propagated their circulation did not realize the power of the Ayatollah’s primarily religious message. They thought of him as a tool to remove a corrupt regime of the reigning shah; what they got was a religious fanatic who’s hold on Iran can still be felt today. In an interview with journalist Oriana Fallaci in September 1979, speaking specifically about Western music, Khomeini said Iran “got many bad things from the West” and that he didn’t want Iranian youth to study in the West and become corrupted “by the music that blocks out thought.”

Eliminating Western music must have seemed like a no-brainer to him, but eliminating music, and the love of it, is impossible. In my case, it was too late: my parents came of age during the shah’s reign and that of his father, Reza Khan, when Iran was moving toward modernization, with the latter using “Western nations as his role model.” The shah’s White Revolution, which gave women the right to vote, nationalized forests, reformed land use, updated worker and employee regulations, and ended illiteracy, was met with majority approval. But it also created a backlash from the Islamic fundamentalists who claimed the White Revolution would destroy traditional values. These reforms caused an even greater economic divide and increased the influence of the West in Iran, particularly on the middle and upper classes, including my family, particularly my parents’ generation, the so-called silent generation, and even more so on the boomers.

My parents, like many Iranians of their class at that time, had lived outside of Iran for a while before the Revolution, which is how they became the catalyst for my music obsession. When I was four years old, we were living abroad, and my father gave me a side-loading turntable and a stack of his 45s from the 1950s and 1960s. After the family moved to Iran when I was seven, I was presented a portable record player in a red case with a moveable tone arm. A couple of years after that, my parents gifted me a small tape player for my birthday. It was the mid-1970s, and my mother tasked my cousin (who is my senior by fifteen years and was a frequenter of Tehran’s discos) with collecting mixtapes from the DJs. These mixtapes soundtracked everything we did as a family, particularly every car trip. The songs ran the gamut from Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Fantasy” to Bob Marley & the Wailers’ “Is This Love,” 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love,” and Roberta Flack’s and Donny Hathaway’s “The Closer I Get to You.” At the time I didn’t know the artists’ names, these were mixtapes after all, but I remembered all the songs.


VIDEO: 10cc “I’m Not In Love”


Lily Moayeri
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Lily Moayeri

Lily Moayeri has been a freelance journalist since 1992. She has contributed to numerous publications including Billboard, NPR, Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, Variety, Spin, Los Angeles Magazine, A.V. Club, and more. Lily hosts the Pictures of Lily Podcast, a bi-weekly podcast about her interviewing experiences. She has participated as moderator and panelist at numerous music conferences. She has also served as a teacher librarian since 2004 focusing on guiding students in navigating the intersection of technology and education.

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