In 1984, five years after the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Red Guards took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, and while the Ayatollah was still in power, I got a visa from the Iranian Embassy in New Delhi. I traveled by bus across Pakistan to the Iranian border. I hitched a ride from the immigration post with a Spaniard named Ramon Baro, who was on his way home from India. He traveled six months out of the year in his Land Rover, replete with a great stereo and a modern music collection. He gave me a ride across Iran and half of Turkey, all the way to Cappadocia. The first stops were Shiraz, Perspolis, and Esfahan.
Perspolis, in southern Iran, was one of the most interesting ruins I had ever visited. The stone reliefs were excellent. The motif in the photograph of a man sitting in a circle in the wings of a bird, holding a similar circle in his hand, was memorable. It is known as the Faravahar, a symbol of Zoroastrianism. Zoroaster’s teachings influenced Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
In Qom, we got caught in the middle of an anti-American demonstration. Women in black shawls raised their fists. The crowd bellowed, “Marg bar Âmrikâ.” When I was asked where I was from, I said, “England!” The crowd was fanatical and I think if I’d said loudly “American” and pointed to myself that I’d probably be dead now.
Ramon knew a family in Tehran, so I got to spend the night in an Iranian home. The young women were a welcome sight – they did not wear a “hejab” (shawl) in the house. There was no other time in Iran that I saw a woman without a shawl.
Once, a man asked where I was from, and I said, “America.” He said, “I don’t believe it! I don’t believe my government would let you in. If you were from America, I would kill you.”
During my ride across Iran, I concocted a story called Land Sailing in Persia. This writing used the convention that any form of locomotion is “sailing.” (This was a reference to the sailboat journey I had taken across the Pacific at the beginning of my 26-month trip around the world. Iran was month 18.) These writings also cryptically referenced the concept of “The Pilot,” which I employ in the lyrics of the songs Computer Man and Computer Land.
What I learned: The people of Iran were generally friendly and hospitable. Yet those who were involved in political rallies were emotional and unstable, just like at home in America. This reinforced my conviction that people all over the world are good – but that propaganda that influences people negatively against inhabitants of foreign lands is a tool of governments to suppress enlightenment for the purposes of control.
Excerpts from my journal while in Iran…
Adventuring On the Asteroid of Syrie
May 19, 1984
Under stars in the desert outside of Bam, Iran
LAND SAILING IN PERSIA 1
The hills have ears. I pour myself into the desert. My freckles become the polka–dotted hills in the distance, a hazy silhouette. There are camels that sit, a family that walks. The sitting ones must look at their domain through eyes of wisdom. The Western music on the stereo brings back to Persia something that the desert hills inspired eons ago. And the hills yearn to hear it. Land-sailing requires constant speed and the clouds above, even if they are mere angels of white, not threatening. They melt into the haze that settles on the mountains. If I only believe it, there is a family of black hills in the foreground. Poised, they stare at me from every angle. A whirling cloud of sand plays on the plains, a spirit here, then gone, skirting the sage that dots the plateau, madly in harmony. I am not the only living thing sailing on the plains, on the plateau. The living rock observes our presence in as many moods as they have standpoints. To unlock the mind, here is the key: unfettered creativity. Man is a creature of bondage that has bound animal and science and even himself. But the camel in the desert, unlike her cousin pulling the cart in the city, sits with noble pride and envisions her own perceptions.
May 20, 1984
Under stars in the desert outside of Neyriz, Iran
LAND SAILING IN PERSIA 2
The morning mountains greet me Hello. I am filled up with Persian pear juice. The first fresh wind streams in through the window as we begin. Things are so GOOD! Woke up on the Earth at 4am. The pre-morning desert wind making my arse cold. I slept till 7am’s first warmth. The spectacles these mountains have witnessed, the ghosts of ancient caravans tread slowly beneath their moon. Like a new babe, beginning to see light and shade, what will I envision when I see form, then detail? The mountains have time to wait. They puckered up from the surface, stood under a great ocean whose shifting tides ground mountains to rubble and sand, then departed, and withered in pools under the hot sun; and the mountains stood by gently, observed the desert that was left. And the camels walked out on the vast domain and winked at them from the desert plain.
May 21, 1984
LAND SAILING IN PERSIA 3
I went to sleep under the desert sky wishing science had not made the universe so rational, fantasizing being a nomad’s son who believes the constellations were spirits, eying me during the night, where, if austere, the world was never lonely, the mountains also being alive. Happy to wake up in such a well–decorated setting, the birds chirping and seeming curious as to the bundle of printed Indian cloth on the ground.
We left the motor sailer in Shiraz and went foot-sailing around the mosque. Uniformed in black capes, the specters skirted the grounds. We also used foot-sailers around Takht-e-jamshid, otherwise known as Persepolis, once capital of Persia.
The walled reliefs in stone,
Beautiful to the core, revealed
Horses, sailors, lions eating horses,
Chariot-sailers, musicians on foot-sailers,
Servants holding umbrellas over Lords.
But most impressive was the strange
Symbolic winged vehicle, where at the
Neck a circle held an upright man
Who in turn held a ring in one hand
and another raised in pledge, a bearded
fellow, seemingly heading towards the sun,
portrayed as a globe on his left
And a line of men paying
Tribute, approaching winged lions with
Men’s heads and long beards, on either
Side and below the gent with the ring
Who is seeming to depart their strange
But awesome presence on a sky sailor of
Unknown make and origin
Perhaps the hieroglyphics neatly chipped
Away from the stone below state model no.
[The pilot looks on…]
May 22, 1984
LAND SAILING IN PERSIA 4
The pilot is the only one who distinguishes between what is real is unreal. Let us get this straight. The real and unreal both exist. “Unreal, man!” The pilot is real. He looks upon the realm of thought as unreal. Much of what he sees is unreal. The pilot notices a thought flash by that suspects there are other pilots, a good half of them female – radiation is visible which would indicate this. However, the source can’t be seen in any fashion, as it is completely invisible. Another thought streaks by, a wry one, which says that the notion of male and female pilots leaves a condescending look of pity for that misinformed thought on the pilot’s face (if a pilot could have a visible face), expressive of a reaction one has when in view of a complete absurdity.
Sailing by Indian music
I take an excursion inside my mind
And there I find no gods nor demons nor
Rubbish, only two components I find
A pilot and a thin momentum
I am the pilot, I am watchful
The momentum is thin, ethereal
It has no direction, it has no hidden
Potential energy, no kinetic energy
It is clean as the sides of a
The pilot has nothing on his mind
He is too busy watching.
(Why do you think I’m such a good land sailor?)
He is looking at the universe
Through an expansive windshield of glass
The momentum is going nowhere, will go nowhere, and the pilot will do nothing. But he has eyes and thus it could be said he is aware. He has no thoughts (they
Are on the other side of the glass),
But he is no dummy, I am
happy and the ship is moving.
Not all mountains are alive,
I saw one yesterday that was a
Mere skeleton, pretty, but dead.
Ramon is at the helm.
The mountain on my left looks like a
Work mountain; being harnessed by man
for his own purposes, even
though it is obviously above it all.
The mountains on my right shout in
Complete agreement when I write that
There is no force real or unreal
That can possibly harm or destroy
The Pilot, not even Fear itself (a
Mere cloud, contrary to popular belief).
The Pilot has vision and is outside of Time.
The body amuses the Pilot. It also
Non-amuses him, in equal degree.
Depending on the width of the momentum
To a greater or lesser degree.
And anyway the sum is zero amusement
This is economy.
The body says, see how good I am?
See how bad I am?
The pilot observes.
Which leads one to ask: Who is
Running the show?
The body is concerned with telling a lie.
The Pilot watches the lie Explode,
fragmenting into visible pacifism,
Observing colors and splinters.
Rest and Repairs to the craft.
LAND SAILING IN PERSIA 5
The Pilot probably desires me to be as
Conscious as I can be.
I’m riding into a never-ending picture
The waves of tingling which stream
Through my fiber, my chest
my thighs, my back, in the muscle and sinew,
is the answer to my being good,
Opening up to the flow of the universe.
Cruising into Qom (Ghom).
The place of fanatics.
What we don’t know is that there is soon to be a demonstration, a police motor-sailer escorts past the picturesque mosque to an intersection where a black cow is dragged in front of an expensive white motor-sailer of German manufacture, whereupon the neck is half cut off while blood spurts ten feet away and a massive red river flows in honor of the passenger.
We dock down the street, where a crowd of people on foot-sailers honors a young man who’s just lost both legs in the conflict with neighboring Mesopotamia. (They cry,) “Down with America!” I didn’t know Persians could speak my Mother tongue so well!! My knees are vibrating under my white trousers: a spinal reaction to the stares I’m receiving. The crowd of people moored in place. The women are rigged with black mainsails, and the clergy, the Mulai, are sporting white “turbans” up in the crow’s nest; the military men have their hulls decked in khaki.
Ramon and I cruise over to the mosque. The mosque is crowded with believers, not like the tourist mosques in Esfahan. In fact, the Infidels (Ramon and I) are not allowed into the inner Golden Mosque. But with my photographic spyglass, I catch some good photos from outside. A foot-sailer with a black mainsail is talking to me, being friendly, and I sink into her eyes but am afraid her easy manner will draw attention from the believers.
Chanting. We go outside to witness the regatta of military and clergy, caped women and cheerleaders sail by us, fists clenched yelling out in morse which I don’t understand except for “America.” They seem angry.
Two-foot-long guns in the back of a gold German-sailer. In the last 1½ hours, I changed nationalities from American to English to Spanish to English to Spanish and now I’m American for the time being.
On the open road again, in the dusk, a salt lake to our right. Lucky to leave Qom alive.
May 25, 1984
Today is a Friday, and thus, in Islam, not much is happening as far as stores being open. We walked about. Went into a carpet shop. We are to later find out that it is illegal to take carpets out of the country. In the evening, Ramon called his friends. We went to their house, and there we met Ali, Muhammad and their two sisters, one of whom I took an attraction for – her name is Nastan. For me, she has a peculiar beauty, most prevalent in her eyes and the way she smiles. At first we had nice eye contact, but later it seemed, from shyness, she looked at the floor. Diary, you and I both realize that I haven’t even seen a girl in so long that I’m an easy target for Cupid… but maybe I’d even feel warm to her in any setting… anyway, it seems just about impossible to do anything but look.
May 26, 1984
Ramon called our friends. They drove us up to the ritzy section of Tehran, up in the hills near the Hilton. Then we went back to the main part of Tehran, and were brought to Muhammad’s brother–in–law’s (sister’s) house where we were served a royal feast.
We sat on carpets. After dinner, a huge tray of fruits was brought on, but everyone was so stuffed that we didn’t finish even one-quarter of it. On the way back, we were stopped by boys wearing military outfits. We were all amazed. They must have been fifteen-years old. They wanted to know where we were going. (Muhammad: “Home! Silly boy.”)
May 27, 1984
Had breakfast with the girls there. Nastan has nice eyes.
Retrospect: Today was quite interesting. First we went to the museum of contemporary art. Almost without exception, the art was war-oriented with many “fine” anti-US works. There were some photos of the war with Iraq – explicit, bloody. Next we visited the adjacent carpet museum. The carpets were magnificent. From the early twentieth century, nineteenth, eighteenth, seventeenth!! The highlight was a carpet from Tabriz from the last quarter of the fifteenth century!! The carpets ranged from about fifty–five/sixty knots per square centimeter to one hundred and fifty knots per square centimeter.
Later, we walked by the old American Embassy. I took three photos. An Islamic guard (whose headquarters is now the former embassy) ran out with a gun in his hand, wanted my film or my camera. But we were able to talk him out of it by saying I only took one photo of the words written on the wall (with the interpreting assistance of an Iranian man and a small crowd). Before I went to sleep I practiced the guitar for two hours, going over and over riffs as I pleased.
May 28, 1984
This morning, we went to the Russian Embassy. The Consul was very friendly, articulate, even warm. It was enough to up our opinions one notch for the Russians. In the evening, we went to Muhammad’s house for dinner. Nastan, his sister, pleased me with her eyes again and I fantasized about her, etc. The mother returned from the mountains and she made a simple but satisfying dinner on short notice. We had a nice time, lots of laughs. We saw the Ayatollah on TV. After dinner, we got into a political discussion, which lasted until 12am. I stated that I thought there would be one-world government in an expected seventy years. Ramon and I both stated our disapproval of nationalism. Slept at Muhammad’s house.
May 29, 1984
On beach outside of Chalous, on Caspian Sea, Iran
Woken early by Muhammad’s brother. Went to breakfast with family. Had my last look at Nastan, his sister, who I’d like to ____ with fury. Thinking of writing and asking her to be my pen pal.
Driving out of Tehran, into the mountains – up, up. Amir Kabir dam is quite nice… climbing. The air is chill. We reach the pass and descend. The rocky mountains have been cut by the bold hand of God. Clouds roll in from the Caspian. There is more green. Down, down, listening to David Byrne, Adrian Belew, Eno & Fripp.
Climbing higher and getting colder and Adrian Belew is getting hotter. Warmed by teas over the pass, soon to see the Caspian Sea. Mt. Damarand is behind us, 5601 meters, 18,300 ft. The Caspian green is on the mountains. Dragons stripped of their scales hang, waiting for the fire. Workmanship in wood creates an art deco fence beneath the canopy of swaying green. The thick smell of rich earth pervades my space. Walls of stone, rolling roads, bubbling streams, homes nestled in the green. Ego & Fripp complete the trip, which ends out on the flat here in Chalous. The Pink Wind Cafe Orchestra drops us off. We do some shopping in Chalous. Then we drive to a spot on the beach. In the sand, I played the guitar for two hours and drop off to sleep at 11pm…When I first saw the sea, I let out a whoop. When my toes first touched the water, I yelled. Then I sent a message to my friends.
May 30, 1984
On beach outside of Bandaré (Enzeli) on Caspian Sea, Iran
Greetings diary. I have a beach house to myself tonight, and I am laying down writing by lantern-light. I have just been drawing out all my travels in my atlas, and thinking about it evokes images in my mind of the places I have been and the moods and thoughts that occupied my psyche at the time.
This morning, I awoke on and off while fishermen came to the concrete structure on which I slept, starting at 4:00 or 5:00am. Ramon and I had tea and then we got to work and cleaned out the Land Rover and washed it thoroughly. We went swimming and then bathed in a fresh stream that flows into the Caspian Sea. This is a banner time for me. This area is intriguing. It is 28 meters below sea level. We started off at 1pm, had lunch and continued.
Planting rice in the fields were strings of women and girls in aprons of differing design and color. The mountains are carpeted with trees. The towns along the road have photos and drawings of their war heroes. A lot of boys must have died there (in Iraq)…We saw four men on a motorcycle. (That is not unusual here.)
Interesting propaganda art, some very well done. Cows on the Caspian beach. The Caspian itself is like a sea, fairly cold. Nice swimming.
May 31, 1984
A few days ago (on the 27th), I thought: I am getting almost nowhere on the guitar. I can never seem to find a suitable time to practice. Having a 10pm bedtime is fine, but with it, I never seem to get it on with the guitar. I thought: I love music so much, I am willing to sacrifice for it. If it means improper rest, then I am willing to go for it. So I made this determination: every other day, I will practice before I go to bed for a period which will complete two hours practice for the day. If I’ve not practiced at all in a day, then it means two whole hours.
We drove around the coast to Astara, the border with Russia. (Served bread in the morning by the friends who let me sleep in their beach hut.) We climbed on a gravel road, up, up to expansive green rolling mountains. Toward Russia were more jagged mountains covered with trees. Iran was pasture. Over the pass and we are on a plateau. We drive through a light rainstorm and reach Tabriz at 9:00pm. I took a hotel.
All day we listened to David Byrne, Adrian Belew, Cabaret Voltaire, Dylan. I really got the feeling of the changing format, the strange noises and free form of D. Byrne. When I got in my hotel room, I practiced for two hours. It seemed towards the end as if I was making progress. My approach was to play free form, like inventing a song on the spot. I tried to remain loose and creative. This approach enabled me to have more fun and also to create, which makes me feel like I’m getting someplace (in a desired direction, rather than forcing myself into boredom).
LAND SAILING IN PERSIA 6
Across the universe of sage brush
A purple blue band flashes
Across the middle of rocky hills,
A flash that will last no more than
A million years.
The best way to navigate a
Land-sailer in twilight is not
To pretend you know a damn thing.
They are not other land-sailers
Cruising by. They are flashes of
Light cutting across my field of
Vision, a belief system may
Help me cope, but they are all
Entirely false. If you don’t
Believe me ask the Pilot.
Imagine it to be inexplicable.
Totally. Now you’re getting
The hang of it.
You’re not on Earth, you don’t
Know where you are, what
Time it is, nor what you’re doing,
This is the last day of Land Sailing in Persia.
(Listening to the Stranglers)
Turkish gas tanker trucks role by
I want to be part of something,
I role up my perceptions
And stuff them in my bag.
I gather my freckles from the
I lose sight of the ancient caravans.
I see tractors and plains.
When the stars come tonight they
Will be hideous burning masses of
Hydrogen gas across space,
Of a distance incredible.
They won’t be spirits.
The skies are yelling at me not to leave.
The clouds are making faces to make me laugh.
They roar in unison their message,
But they see me streaking for the frontier.
No one can verify my story,
Or prove it a hoax.
They might come and cross into this land
And sit and wait a year to read the sky.
But the clouds will be mute.
The living mountains will veil themselves in such a way they will
Appear in a coma, not breathing.
I have sailed into and out of a dimension that won’t be visited again. But if you should be land sailing
and think you are seeing things the
way they are
if you should see the determined fury
of a whirling dervish, if you
should read of a camel’s interior
wisdom in her eyes, if the message
of the sky and earth should appear
unfolding for you,
then the image will be reinforcing
The pretty banded hills on my right
Tell me they will be here
To greet me if I should return
In the future.
They smile. They have time to wait.
Every thing in this ghost world that
Reaches my eyes is
In living fragments, living wholes, each
Subset a separate entity.
I erased the concept of my superior status in the
Universe (that I am the highest form
Of intelligence among living things and
That living things were on a higher order
Than inorganic matter which had no
Awareness) from my mind, and in
Return I was empowered to see.
Some plants have voracious egos
And not without cause. They
Have a lot going for them.
And as I said before, the
Mountains are above
It all anyway.
Plants from outer space border the
Road. They are sea creatures in
A sea of atmospheric gases.
By the time it reaches my eyes,
It is a ghost.
When I cross the frontier,
Everyone will be walking or
Riding in cars.
There will be
No one on foot-sailers. I won’t
See a single motor-sailer. We’ll
Dismantle this one and
Reassemble it as a Land Rover.
Don’t listen to non-leaders,
Don’t listen to me. Don’t even
Listen to the sky.
Listen to the Pilot,
Who does not speak
Who views all behind the
Expansive windshield of glass.
Time is running out…
Only seconds more.
I can see the magical mountain
Over the border.
I can tell once it breathed fire,
Now it is covered in ice.
There is no more time to
Write while Land Sailing