Entertainment Spotlight

Catching Up: Santana, Taj Mahal and a déjà vu ‘Blue Christmas’

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres - on Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Catching Up: Santana, Taj Mahal and a déjà vu ‘Blue Christmas’
By Ben Fong-Torres It’s short shrift time. I have a life that’s ripe (and slightly wrinkled) for blogs and tweeting; for facebooking and updating. I’m just no good at it. My last column here on AsianConnections was about the memorial in late July for my sister Shirley. My last posting on the authors’ site, Redroom, was about a radio promo tour I did (20 stops, all on the phone in my home office) for my Eagles book. On my own home page, the last thing was about hanging with...

Like a Rolling Stone

‘Becoming Almost Famous’ On the Howard Stern Show

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Thursday, 15 June 2006

AC's renaissance man, Ben Fong-Torres, is having a two-book year.

SUMMER ALREADY? Time flies when youre on deadline.

Its true. Whats kept me from making more frequent Asian Connections was this book I had to write in about three months, from January into March, on The Doors. You know, Light My Fire. This is their 40th anniversary, and a big book, The Doors By the Doors , is coming out in November. I was brought in after another writer fell through, and given next to no time to research and write a 60,000-word manuscript. And research meant interviewing the surviving three Doors, members of the late Jim Morrison s family, and various associates, as well as poring over about 20 books and going through a dozen radio and video documentaries. Ohand there are a few albums out there, too.

I met the deadline, but then had to plunge into the finishing touches on Becoming Almost Famous , my second compilation of old articles. That book is out now, from Backbeat Books (which also published my first collection, Not Fade Away ). So, as I tap away, Im in promotion mode, hitting radio and TV stations and doing readings at Bay Area book stores. I also had a party, on June 4th at LeZinc, a nice French bistro, to benefit the Noe Valley branch library renovation campaign fund. Besides reading from the book, I did a couple of songs, with guest keyboardists Sam Barry (from the band Train Wreck) and George Yamasaki , to illustrate a couple of the pieces in the bookone about singing with a band of chefs in Dallas, the other about the late, great Forbidden City crooner Larry Ching And, no, when The Doors book comes out, I wont be warbling Riders On the Storm at bookstores

HAPPY 1000TH: Rolling Stone magazine, my first editorial home, put out a very special issue to celebrate its 1,000th issue, with a 3-D cover and a recollection of its 100 Greatest Covers. When I got my copyat the airport, on the way to a week in New York CityI naturally flipped through...

A Fine Film Fest, and a Top Ten List:Why I Love (Hate) ‘American Idol’

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Wednesday, 29 March 2006

A Fine Film Fest, and a Top Ten List: Why I Love (Hate) American Idol

MOVING PICTURES: Asian American films are rocking. That was evident at the 24th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, which screened 126 films and videos over eleven days and nights in three Bay Area cities last month.

Shawn Wongs Americanese, directed by Eric Byler (Charlotte Sometimes) and based on Wongs novel, American Knees, opened the festival at the grand old Castro Theater, where an organist still performs before the curtains rise. The film stars Joan Chen and Chris Tashima (Visas and Virtue), along with Allison Sie (whos also the films exec producer), Kelly Hu, Sab Shimono, and Michael Paul Chan. After the screening, what appeared to be the entire cast and crew went on stage to field audience questions.

Although I cant report that the crowd went wild over this romantic drama, about a Hapa college professor caught in a fragile love triangle, Americanese did come into the festival fresh from SXSW in Austin, where it won both an audience award for best narrative film and a special jury award for best ensemble cast. (For an excellent overview of the film, go to IMDiversity.com and look for a review by Stewart David Ikeda.)

The closing night feature was Journey From the Fall, a feature focusing on the aftermath of the Vietnam warfrom a Vietnamese perspective, from director Ham Tran, with gorgeous cinematography by Guillermo Rosas (in Southeast Asia) and Julie Kirkwood (in California). The film, which also screened at Sundance, tied for the SFIAAFFs Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature, with Water, the third film in a triology (along with Fire and Earth) directed by Deepa Mehta.

The festivals own award in that category went to Punching at the Sun, set in Queens shortly after September 11, 2000 and directed by Tanuj Chopra, with a special jury award to Colma: The Musical and its director, Richard Wong. Colma is a town, south of...

A Sweet Howard Stern, a Sour Adam Carolla, and a Crazed Parade: Oh, Man!

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Wednesday, 15 February 2006

A Sweet Howard Stern, a Sour Adam Carolla, and a Crazed Parade: Oh, Man!

A day or so after the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade which I co-anchored, for the tenth year, on KTVU (Fox 2) I got an e-mail from a long-time friend, Gail Katagiri:

The best part of watching you anchor this year's Chinese New Year's Parade was after the broadcast had ended, and you and Julie disappeared from the screen. But I think your mike was still on, because I heard someone's voice (it sounded like you) exclaim Oh, man!

Yep. That was me, and Im amazed not only that they left it in when they replayed the parade the next day, but that I was so mild. I could well have muttered something like, F---, that was tough.

Because it was. On parade day, Saturday, February 11th, we had gorgeous, springtime weather (it rained on our last two parades). And we had a smooth opening segment, featuring the Yau Kung Moon troupe of martial artists, lion dancers, and a golden dragon. But it went downhill from there. I wont bore you with the details of contingents, whether floats, bands, marchers or dignitaries, that failed to be where they were supposed to be, or do what they had been expected to do along the parade route.

Oh, and we had audio problems, and for a two hour live broadcast (which went half an hour overtime because of the delays), that adds up to a big F---, that was TOUGH.

Still, from all reports, Julie Haener, my unflappable co-host, and I sounded like we were on a boat, sailing breezily in the Bay, not a choppy wave in sight. We seemed to be as happy and chirpy as could be.

That, as Jon Lovitz on Saturday Night Live used to declare, is ACTING!

And the thing of it is, no matter the behind-the-scenes turbulence, its still fun to be part of the parade, to be in the thick of a happy crowd that numbers between a quarter and a half a million, depending on the weather gods and goddesses, to soak in all that color and tradition, and...

Telling Stories and Barking Like Dogs

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Wednesday, 25 January 2006

Chinese New Year: Time to exchange those oranges!

Not long ago, I was invited to participate in the Porch Light storytelling series thats taken hold here in San Francisco. Produced by author Beth Lisick and various pals, it fills local nightclubs with people who wantof all thingsto sit and hear anecdotes. Not standup comedy; not improv sketchesjust plain old stories.

It was astonishing to walk down the stairs of Caf du Nord on upper Market Street and into a packed house, all these friendly people ready to lend an ear to the likes of Chuck Prophet, the singer-songwriter; Oscar Villalon, the book reviews editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, Andrea Michaels, former writer for the sitcom Designing Women and game show contestant (she won a motor home on Wheel of Fortune)and me (I lost an RV during my 1993 stint on the Wheel, but am still driving my prize Acura Legend).

I am not a story teller and cheated by riffing, as briefly as I could, on the topic for the eveningfamily, and then, because it was Christmas (remember that word?) and I was talking (vaguely) about how our family observed holidays, I cheated by launching into Elvis Blue Christmas.

It went over all right, but, still, it was cheating. But it couldve been worse. I couldve ignored a cardinal Porch Light rule and done a reading instead of telling stories.

In fact, until Beth pounded that into me, Id prepared to read from a chapter in my memoirs, The Rice Room. It told of my mother, freshly landed in Oakland, Calif. and left at home while my father worked at his restaurant, got freaked out one night when bands of youngsters, dressed up like ghosts and witches, began knocking on her door and shouting Trick or treat.

Thanksgiving wasnt much more easily explained. And then there was that fat guy in the red suit coming down your chimney. Whatta country.

So, I wouldve picked up with the holiday they did know something about, and read:

While we had...

Prejudice, Pride and Perseverance

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Thursday, 05 January 2006

From the Japanese internment camps came art. Beautiful art.

I am, as always, watching The Daily Show . The headlines are about George W. Bush approving the National Security Agencys wire- tapping of private citizens. We begin tonight, Jon Stewart shouts, as he is wont to do, with the war on terrorism! You know how sometimes during war time civil liberties take a back seat to national security? Nervous laughter from the studio audience.

Well, Ive got good news and bad news! The good news is this: No Japanese people are being sent to camps The bad news, of course, was a joke, about some horrible indiscretion of yours having been captured by the government.

Amazing. Just days before, Id visited a long-time friend, Delphine Hirasuna , to chat about her latest book, The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps 1942-1946. (Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California.)

To set the stage for her presentation of items created by internees who were being guarded by fellow Americans (Gaman is a Japanese word meaning enduring the unbearable with patience and dignity), Delphine tells how the government decided to relocate 120,000 Japanese Americans to ten hastily-constructed camps, in remote regions stretching from California to Arkansas.

If you take the premise that all of this had to be done out of military necessity, by June of 1942, after the Battle of Midway, the government knew there was no danger of a Japanese attack on the coast, says Delphine. But by then theyd already rounded up most of the Japanese. And they were spending $80 million to build the permanent camps, which werent all built yet. So they go ahead and put the Japanese into camps for three and a half years. That time could have been shorter, but the announcement of their release was held through the end of 1944, Delphine says, because it was an election year.

Shades of the Patriot Act and, now, Bushs justifications for spying on...