2004 brings in a New Year Column of Musings from AsianConnections' Renaissance man: Ben Fong-Torres.
So, happy new year. As for the old one, it was another dozen months that flew by all too fast. Heres how it goes: Happy New Year! Suddenly, its tax time. Yikes, its summer. What? The World Series? And while youre carving your pumpkin, stores are putting up Christmas lights. And another year bites the dust.
As for carving a pumpkin, forget that. Who had time to do anything? We were always in a rush; over-extended; overwrought; hung over.
And yet, looking back, it was an amazing year. Scary, no doubt, between our dolt of a President and our celebrity madness, which makes stars of the Scott Petersons and Paris Hiltons of this world and governors of musclebound action-picture stars.
My own year was the usual stir-fry of highs and lows. The high came courtesy of Larry Ching, the legendary nightclub singer. Ive written enough about producing the 82 year-old crooners first (and last) CD that Ill just say Thanks one more time to Larry, who died in early July, a week after a triumphant CD listening party at the Chinese Historical Society of Americas museum in Chinatown. And congratulations, too, to all involved. The CD has sold out its initial run of 1,000 copies. Just one note: Alumni of SF State University may see an article I wrote about Larry in the next issue, and the February edition of the new music magazine, Paste, will also carry a story about what it was like for me to produce a recording for the first time in my career.
The lowest low came with the death in April of Buster, Dianne and my pet Shih-Tzu of 15 years. Its amazing how much I continue to think of him, and miss him, seven, eight months later. But, actually, its not amazing at all.
But there were plenty of bright spots. My alma mater, San Francisco State University, honored me as Alumnus of the Year and tossed me into its Alumni Hall of Fame. I did...
Art is on my mind these days.
Art is on my mind these days. I dropped in on an exhibit of paintings and drawings by Grace Slick at the Hotel Monaco in downtown San Francisco the other evening. Yes, that Grace Slick -- the so-called "acid queen" of the Sixties rock scene, who soared with Jefferson Airplane with such hits as "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit." Nowadays, she paints white rabbits -- and many other subjects, including fellow icons like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison. The work ranges from amusing to amazing, and Grace draws and paints in numerous styles. "I get bored easy," she told me. "I can't imagine being stuck in one style." She isn't, and her work is stunning, funny, and true. Check out her paintings of Jerry Garcia and of herself, back in the day. Caustic as she could be, she was -- and is -- a true beauty.
Grace isn't the only rocker who's gone from the stage to the canvas. At the San Francisco Art Exchange downtown, I saw several excellent paintings by Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones ?mainly of fellow Stones. His work is a reminder that many rockers started out with pens and brushes before picking up guitars and drumsticks. When I first met Joni Mitchell in the late Sixties, she'd done not only a new album (Ladies of the Canyon), but had painted the album cover herself. Jerry Garcia was also an accomplished visual artist, and his work is being seen, today, in everything from paintings to neckties.
Art is also on my mind because of Indigo Som, a Berkeley, Calif.-based artist who's made it one of her missions in life to collect every Chinese take-out menu in the country. Wacky? Not really. As she says, Chinese restaurants "are the most pervasively visible manifestation of Chinese American presence in this country," and she is exploring this visibility.
The 37 year-old Ms. Som isn't sure what she'll do with her growing stack of menus, but I'll be writing more about her soon. Meantime, she's got...
As my regular readersboth of youknow, Dianne, my wife, and I like to hit New York City every year.
AsianConnections is proud to present the adventures of Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broadcaster, and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine. This guy's our hero! Ben was a featured character and immortalized in the movie "Almost Famous," the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning film by Cameron Crowe.
As my regular readersboth of youknow, Dianne, my wife, and I like to hit New York City every year. We got around to it in early October and had a blast, courtesy of the Carlyle, which put us up in one of their grandest suites (in fact, it included a baby grand piano in the living room), and of several restaurateurs and chefs, who helped us secure some of the hottest tickets in Manhattan: namely, reservations at their restaurants.
I won't bore you with culinary details. Suffice it to say that we had a blast. We werent weight-watching; we were just waiting for the next amazing course at Babbo, Aureole, Gramercy Tavern, Tribeca Grill, and the Biltmore Room. The reason we got into those hotspotsnot to mention Icon for a lunchwas that I did a story in the October issue of Gourmet magazine, on chefs who are also musicians and manage, amidst their 24/7 schedules, to rehearse and play at various gigs and fundraisers.
And when we weren't busy with our four-star meals, Dianne could shop to her closet's content, and I visited various friends, including my fellow Asian Connection, Lia Chang (who, small world, took the photo of me that appears in the contributors page of the current Gourmet ), and magazine editors, and enjoyed a Manhattan (what else?) or two at the Carlyle's cocktail lounge, where a fine pianist/vocalist, Chris Gillespie, filled the hours before our evening excursions.
We scored tickets to watch a taping of Late Night with David Letterman. One of Letterman's cast of characters is Rupert...
Can you be Chinese American ... AND a baseball fan? Plus, a highly regarded civil rights lawyer, Dale Minami, gets royally roasted.
When I'm sworn in as Governor of California oh, you didnt know I was running? I'm going to try and do something about the stupid people.
It's been several weeks now, and my sunburns just about peeled off, but I'm still smarting from a comment I got as I was walking toward Pacific Bell Park for a San Francisco Giants baseball game. Alongside, I had Richard, a brother-in-law visiting from Los Angeles. Thanks to Larry Baer, the Giants' executive VP, I'd been able to buy a pair of tickets right behind the backstop, about eight rows back from the Giants' on-deck circle.
So we were feeling pretty reet petite this Sunny San Francisco Saturday, heading up Third Street to Pac Bell, when, all of a sudden, a man standing on the street, not heading toward the ballpark, looked at my Giants baseball cap, and then at me, and yelled, "Hey, you cant be for the Giants. You Chinese!" I ignored the man, and Richard didn't hear him, but I couldn't believe it. The man was African American, and he'd unleashed a remark that hurt more than a 90 mph fast ball to the head would have.
And here we were, heading off to see a game that has, in recent years, become a true melting pot of not only African American and Latin players, but also numerous Asians, including Ichiro Suzuki, Shigetoshi Hasegawa and Kazuhiro Sasaki of the Seattle Mariners, Byung Hyun Kim of Boston, Hideki Matsui of the Yankees, Jae Weong Seo and Tsuyoshi Shinjo of the Mets, the veteran Hideo Nomo of the Dodgers, Tomo Ohka of Montreal, So Taguchi of St. Louis, and Hee Seop Choi of the Cubs. They can all play ball at the major league level, but they'd better not be in civilian clothes and wearing a Giants baseball cap, looking to do nothing more than to enjoy a few hours of the American Pastime.
Michael Chang, Champion: Speaking of Asian jocks,...
It was typical Larry Ching.
As producer of his CD, I had just presented him with a dinky Plexiglas plaque that displayed his CD cover and the disk itself, both showing him as the star he was back in the 1940s at the Forbidden City nightclub in San Francisco. Then, George Yamasaki, his pianist, lauded Larry and presented him with a proclamation from Mayor Willie L. Brown, declaring that day, June 28, as "Larry Ching Day" in San Francisco.
It was typical Larry Ching.
As producer of his CD, I'd just presented him with a dinky Plexiglas plaque that displayed his CD cover and the disk itself, both showing him as the star he was back in the 1940s at the Forbidden City nightclub in San Francisco. Then, George Yamasaki, his pianist, lauded Larry and presented him with a proclamation from Mayor Willie L. Brown, declaring that day, June 28, as "Larry Ching Day" in San Francisco.
In front of him, some 150 family members, fans and friends, among them a number of women who had performed with him at Forbidden City, cheered. Here at the Chinese Historical Society of America Museum in Chinatown, they had been buzzing about Larry, delighted with his latest accomplishment: recording a debut album at the age of 82. He had been showered with media attention. That very day, the San Jose Mercury News ran a long profile, written by Marian Liu and featuring a large photo of Larry back in the day, surrounded by four Forbidden beauties. My own article about the project, in the San Francisco Chronicle 's Sunday magazine, was out and on display. KRON-TVs Vic Lee had done a wonderful piece on Larry, and Vic was there to add to the applause. Sydnie Kohara of KPIX-TV, there to do a feature for NPRs Pacific Time show, held up her Minidisc recorder to capture the moment.
Larry approached the microphone and said, simply, "I'll let my songs speak for me."
They always did, and they always will.
Almost exactly one week after this festive...