I will never forget my first impression of Ali.
My wife Manuela and I hosted – with the help of some friends in New York – an exhibition (called Made in Iran) in downtown Manhattan with the Iranian brothers Icy & Sot, two street artists who had just made the transition from Tabriz, their hometown in Iran, to New York – the city they had been dreaming of, where they would meet their friends, musicians, artists and skaters who had already left their country behind them – realizing that the impossibility of returning to Iran would be the price they’d have to pay for the freedom to express themselves: in art.
Manuela and I had already been working with the brothers for some years, staging their first solo show outside Iran, in 2011 in Amsterdam.
Ali was preparing for a performance in the back of the gallery; he would play first, followed by a short gig from the Yellow Dogs.
He was dressed in black, tuning his acoustic guitar, looking quite intense and pumped up. When he started playing, I watched the manager of all the ‘kids’ (Ali’s loving way of describing his friends in the novel that I was not aware of at that moment), also named Ali: Ali Salehezadeh. He mouthed: ‘Great musician. Not an easy guy.’
Needless to say I liked him immediately.
He played a couple of very emotional and powerful songs, and I liked those too.
Usually I am not that into singer/songwriters; I prefer relentless noise and walls of sound. Singer/songwriters – come on, what’s new since good old Bob?
He was the real deal.
I complimented him afterwards, when he and the Yellow Dogs and Icy & Sot were smoking in the back garden.
Back in my hotel later that evening, I googled him and stumbled upon a great performance from years before on YouTube, which resonated with the same intense, powerful, and mesmerizing feeling I had experienced in the gallery. Ali with his guitar, looking a bit like Prince, stamping his feet to accompany himself to the music.
Yeah, I thought, this guy is good.
Two weeks later I got married – for a third and last time – to Manuela, and not long after that, I received an email from Ali.
I hope this email finds you well. We met at Icy & Sot's opening in New York where I played a small set of music.
I have been working on a novel which is now finished and after talking to Icy & Sot about them perhaps doing some cover art for it was told about your publishing house. I looked on the website and was immediately impressed by the roster of authors. Hunter S. Thompson is one of my absolute heroes and to see his face on the top corner sent a shock of excitement through my hungover body.
I have not tried my hand at any publishers, editors, or agents in the States as of yet but will of course try those traditional routes at some point. My idea is to self-publish the thing no matter what happens. The novel is called American Immigrant and is about someone like myself: immigrant, war child, rock n' roller, artist trying to live in a modern world he finds infuriating/exhilarating. There is an insurgent political bent to the writing, also lots of sex, drugs, and rock n' roll. There are characters very similar to the Yellow Dogs as well. I lived with the Dogs for almost two years and we got to have some fun. I think it could be the great Iranian-American novel, or at least that's what I'll call it until someone proves me wrong.
I was wondering if it would be possible for me to send you a manuscript or portions of the book for some feedback.
I realize this might be asking a lot but since this is my first foray into the publishing world I figure I can be a little reckless and attribute it to my inexperience.
I look forward to your response and thank you for your time.
The manuscript landed on my desk another two weeks later. Reading the first two words – American Immigrant – on the stack of paper I thought, “My God, I truly hope the book is better than the title.”
I waited some time before I started reading: I was ambiguous. Was this like saving up the last bite from a delicious plate of food, or, quite the opposite, opening that envelope from your tax man?
I was afraid to be disappointed, obviously.
Then I started reading, and I could not believe how good the novel was – fresh, funny, wild, uncensored, eloquent, raw, uncut. This guy really was the real deal.
How the hell had he managed to pull this off all by himself, without any editorial guidance or advice?
I wrote to him: I will publish this baby, no matter what.
I also wanted to know more about him. This is what Ali answered:
"My family and I moved out of Iran in 89 and went to Germany, then moved to the US (Dallas, TX) in 92. I studied theater and later film production in college, worked in film production until very recently to pay the bills, and played music. I moved to New York in 2003, played music as a solo artist and eventually got a record deal in 2006 with Wildflower Records which is owned by the folk artist Judy Collins. During those years and up to 2009 I was pretty busy with numerous shows and tours, played all the festivals and opened up for among other people Peter Murphy of Bauhaus (North American Tour) and Judy Collins (small tour of England). I was also a part of The Freedom Glory Project (collaboration of Iranian artists against the regime) during the Iranian Elections of 2008. I eventually got myself out of the record contract. Since 2010 I've been involved with the Yellow Dogs as friends and collaborators on shows and music, we lived together for 2 years. I've also made a short film and done documentary work. The manuscript I sent you is my first book but I've been writing or trying to write for many years and hope to write as much as I can."
There was just one problem, I wrote to Ali. I am a Dutch publisher. I’ll need an English/American editor to get the book into perfect shape and then we can publish it – to maximum effect.
Oh, and another thing. Let’s change the title, to Golden Years.
Ali wrote back:
"I like this title a lot, it of course also conjures up the Bowie/rock ‘n roll thing, which is great. And it looks good in print as well."
In the meantime, for I don’t like waiting, I set up a Facebook page for Ali, a Twitter account, and a page on Medium.com, which we use at Lebowski in order to publish stories, poems, and all kinds of texts of note, and we just got started.
We started serializing the novel on Medium.com in October, for I thought it would be a great way to draw attention to the book – from international publishers, editors, fans – and to get it out there on Facebook, on Twitter.
We emailed from time to time, we made plans for him to come over to the London Book Fair or the Frankfurt Book Fair, where we – I had asked Vicki Satlow, literary agent in Milan, Italy, to represent him – could introduce him to all our friends in the publishing world. We were sure everybody would be impressed by both him and his novel.
In the meantime we kept on publishing excerpts from the novel, and Ali wrote that he was thinking of maybe moving to Germany for some months so he could be closer. It would make it easier getting him hooked up with the right people.
A year passed …
On November 10, 2013, I wrote Ali that I had just uploaded another excerpt from the novel. In the evening he answered, just before disaster struck, that he loved the image I had chosen for it.
The next day Manuela and I got a phone call from Kimberley in Los Angeles, one of the friends who helped us big time when we hosted the exhibition with Icy & Sot. Ali Akbar Rafie, a former member from another New York-based group, The Free Keys, who had been kicked out of the band some months before, had gone to the house where all the ‘kids’ lived, with just one thing on his mind: havoc.
He shot and killed Ali Eskandarian. He shot and killed Arash and Soroush ‘Looloosh’ Farazmand, the two brothers who played in the Yellow Dogs. He shot and wounded Sot (Icy remained unharmed), before killing himself.
The book you are holding in your hands, dear reader, has come to light thanks to some amazing people, first of all Ali’s parents, Mahmood and Nadia, his brother Sam, and his sister Baharak. I am very thankful that they trusted me to handle Ali’s literary legacy, leaving me with an orphaned manuscript that needed a home.
And homes we found, Vicki Satlow and I: Lee Brackstone, publisher at Faber Social in the United Kingdom fell in love with the novel, just like we did. We see this publishing venture as a ménage à trois. Lee has been instrumental in getting this ‘baby’ published: not only did he do a fabulous editorial job, he also promoted the book to all his friends – and there are many – in the literary world.
A word of thanks also to Ali, Icy, Sot, Obash and Koory. We are one family.
Golden Years will be published in England, the USA, Spain, Portugal, Romania, Germany, Holland, and Belgium. We hope many countries will follow.
Let’s keep on calling Golden Years Ali’s Great Iranian-American Novel, until someone proves him wrong.