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

Asian Americans on TV? What a Concept! And Ben goes to a parade…and the Grammys.

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Wednesday, 23 March 2005

Asian Americans on TV? What a Concept! And Ben goes to a paradeand the Grammys.

If it strikes you as odd that Asian Americans, for all of our inroads into the mainstream, have yet to be seen widely on television, you are not alone.

And, in recent times, there've been some noble attempts to raise APA profiles, ranging from Stir TV (on the International Channel as well as KTSF in San Francisco) to Pacific Fusion, a San Francisco production thats airing locally and on a Hawaiian station.

Now comes word, by way of a report by San Francisco Chronicle TV columnist Tim Goodman, of ImaginAsian TV, which hopes to become the first 24/7 Asian American channel.

Based in New York, ImaginAsian hopes to present what it calls Pan-Asian programming in English. Besides a Web site, a movie theater in New York City, and a radio show in San Francisco, it's launched a sitcom called "Uncle Morty's Dub Shack." According to Goodman, "It's about four friends in a rap groupnone of them too brightwho pick up cash helping Morty dub really bad Asian films into English. Its 'Mystery Science Theatre 3000' meets the Beastie Boys."

ImaginAsian, Goodman says, is pretty low-budget and will be facing some pretty stiff competition soon. For one, MTV is launching three channels: MTV China, MTV Korea, and MTV Desi (aimed at South Asian Americans). For one thing, the International Channel, home of the lively Stir TV show, is planning to drop African, Arabic, French, Iranian, and other programming in late March, and go exclusively Asian.

But ImaginAsian TV is doing all right, having been picked up by stations and cable systems in Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Reno, and Ventura as well as the San Francisco Bay Area.

Things just may be looking up.

FLOAT ON: For the ninth year in a row, I co-anchored KTVU's coverage of the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade, which means I'm three-fourths of the way through the ol Lunar Calendar. For...

Is it OK to Say 'Happy New Year'?

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Monday, 20 December 2004

A politically correct look back...and ahead.

Looking Back; Looking Forward

Well, I hope you and yours had a merry whatever. Thats what the New York Times called the holidays in a recent headline on an article about how political correctness has pushed the very word Christmas out of the holiday season; how the tree at a lighting ceremony in Kansas was called a community tree, and not a you-know-what, and how conservatives are fighting back to, as they say, put the Christ back in Christmas.

Its a tough call, to be sure. While I understand the sensitivity of non-Christians, and the appeals of using a generic phrase, like Happy holidays, to cover Kwaanza, Hanukkah, and other observations by various people and faiths, it is silly to change the words of traditional songs to knock out Christ and God, or to forbid schoolchildren from singing them altogether.

Olivia Wu, a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle, tackled the issue, saying, with candor, I miss saying Merry Christmas. An immigrant, and a non-Christian, she once railed against Christmas greetings. But, as she grew older, she writes, she grew to miss the beauty and symbolism of Christmas, which, she says shes learned, is itself a blend of cultures and traditions.

To Wu, Happy holidays is white noise that sticks in my throat and hurts my eardrums. It feels empty of heart.

And she doesnt look forward to the day when over-correctness hits Chinese New Year.

In a few weeks, she writes, some people will say Happy Chinese New Year to me, and this too will grate. It is, after all, my new year, and it doesnt need the adjective Chinese.

In my circles, I more often hear well-meaning, but mangled renditions of Gung Hay Fat Choy, which doesnt specify a Chinese new year, but simply expresses a wish for good fortune.

And I find myself amused about what year this is. According to the lunar calendar, its the Year of the Rooster, beginning February 9, and thats...

Welcome to your Chinese American Bandstand

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Sunday, 21 November 2004

Ben joins jazz singer Cookie Wong in a tribute to pioneer music makers. And then he takes off for Vegas!

October, for me, was chock-a-block with events: I officiated a wedding; MCd a set of readings at LitCrawl, an annual literary event in San Francisco.

Did an onstage interview with Albert Maysles, the legendary documentary filmmaker for the Mill Valley Film Festival; hosted a dinner celebrating the 30th anniversary of Asian Mental Health Services (with David Henry Hwang and Tamlyn Tomita as keynote speakers), and sat on a panel of music journalists at UC Berkeley, sponsored by the Asian American Journalists Association and the Journalists of Color at Cal.

Oh, and I began production on a radio show of my own. Must write about that someday.

But one of the most illuminating -- not to mention rockin' -- events was Dancing on the Roof, a dinner and show honoring San Francisco Chinatown dance bands from the 1930s to the 70s, which I co-MCd with Cookie Wong. (We did the 70s group, while Doris Him Grover and Gerrye Wong covered the pioneer bands that played from the 30s to the 60s, such as the Cathayans and the Chinatown Knights.) The dinner was presented by the Chinese Historical Society of America to raise funds to repair its museum roof. The banquet room at the Marriott was packed, and the roof has been patched up nicely.

Cookie and I brought on members of such bands as Jest Jammin, Majestic Sounds, the Intrigues, and one group that went through five names: Persuasions, Sand, City Lights, C.P. Salt, and Earwaves. The audience roared for such seminal groups as the Enchanters, the Illusions, and the Soundcasters, who date back to 1965.

Most of the bands covered Top 40 and R&B hits, but, as CHSA President Lorraine Dong noted, several of them began composing original songs. Fittingly, the evening closed with an ensemble playing a song that Jeff Chan, a member of several of the bands, composed for the occasion, called...

A New High: Getting Organized!

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Tuesday, 14 September 2004

Is your room a mess? You are not alone. Here's how Ben Fong-Torres cleared away 30 years of clutter. It's a neat article.

We are a nation of clutter. Just look at your closet. Your kitchen drawers. Your bathroom ca- binet. Your CD col- lection. The trunk of your car. Your home office. Your garage. Were a massive mess, and were always telling ourselves, Next weekend. Ill get to it next weekend, when I get a couple of hours. But those hours never come.

They are, how- ever, closer than you think. Armies of professional organizers have formed, all around the country, and theyre ready to force you to take that time and make that effort to get organized. You see them on the Home and Gardens network, and all the other channels that are doing home decorating shows. You get the ads in the mail for custom closets. You see the books on how to de-clutter your life. You are tempted. You know you should do it. And you think, Next weekend.

Well, my weekend arrived not long ago. Actually, it was a whole week, split up into parts of two weeks. It was a substantial investment of both time and money, and it required doing something brutally difficult letting go of pieces of my past but I did it, and Im glad I did.

The proof is in the photos. Before, my office at home was almost painful for my wife, Dianne, to walk into. Not for me; I knew where everything was, and, amidst the mess, things like CDs, DVDs and videotapes were actually alphabetized. My books were in categories. My receipts were in a basket. An overflowing basket, yes, but I knew, from the basket and the floor below, where to find receipts.

But the operative word was overflowing. I simply had too much stuff, built up from, what, 30 years? in various media work. Magazines, papers, clippings, mementos, audio and video equipment, from reel-to-reel tape machines to a portable karaoke system. Antique microphones and a brand-new, unopened shredder. Piles of cassettes with no logical...

Report From Dallas: Will Sing for BBQ

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Sunday, 01 August 2004

Ben Fong-Torres sings on stage in Texas with rock legends and lives to tell the story.

[Editor's Note: This article was written for the music maga- zine Paste and will appear, in a slightly differ- ent form, in its October issue.]

We were re- hearsing, and Id just run through my Elvis number when Jim Messina issued a threat.

Hey, Ben, he said, I just want to let you know Im gonna be writing a review about this!

Fair enough. After all, back in the day, when I was at Rolling Stone , I used to write about Messina, who was in Buffalo Springfield and Poco before becoming half of Loggins & Messina.

Standing near Messina was Richie Furay, his bandmate in Springfield and Poco. And huddled in a far corner were Mickey Raphael, the harmonica wizard behind Willie Nelson, along with Tony Brown, Nashville label executive, producer, and former keyboard player foryes, Elvis Presley. Yikes!

We were in the Hunt Suite in the Mansion on Turtle Creek, the Dallas luxury resort hotel where Dean Fearing, the ebullient executive chef and guitar-slinging leader of a mostly-chefs band, the Barbwires, gathers as many ringers as he can every year to play at his fundraising Summer Barbeque Fest.

On this seasonally hot July Saturday, some 600 people would soon show up, at $250 a ticket, to sample grilled and barbequed dishes whipped up and served by celebrity chefs from around the country, and to be coerced into overspending for items in an auction run by Al Roker and Peter Greenberg of the Today show.

But mostly, there were the musicians, and the chance to see renowned Texas chefs like Fearing, guitarist Robert DelGrande (of Caf Annie in Houston) and vocalist Tim Keating (of Quattro, also in Houston) performing with bona fide country and rock stars.

And there was me. Id covered last years bash for a feature for Gourmet magazine, all about chefs who never got over their passion for music, and who were still dreaming the rock...