She loves Hello Kitty, karaoke, and a white guy. What more could you want in a novelist?
You get an idea of what Kim Wong Keltner is all about with the first sen- tence of her bio on the back cover of her first novel, The Dim Sum of All Things , published last year: In the fourth grade, Kim Wong Keltner won a cutthroat spelling bee, which encouraged her aspirations as a writer.
With Dim Sum under her belt (after a stop on the San Francisco Chronicles best-sellers list), shes published her second novel, Buddha Baby. And shes had a baby, Lucy. So, now, the authors note in the new book speaks not of an aspiring, but an established and matured author: When Kim Keltner isnt writing, she collects Chinese porcelain and plays Whack-a-Mole. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and daughter, whose first words were capybara and museum quality.
We met the other evening at Yet Wah restaurant in San Francisco, where she tried the Bens Special, consisting of fried rice with a side of almond pressed duck (and, yes, named after me. The dish, that is, not the duck). I go to Yet Wah regularly for meals and karaoke; she had her Buddha Baby book party there, and signed my copy of her book with a reference to my having sung El Paso. She mustve requested it at the party. Only thing is, I didnt do that song and, in fact, never have before. I figured I owed her one. Thus, Yet Wah.
With The Dim Sum of All Things, Kim, who is 36, made her mark as a refreshing new writer with a younger POV on the whole growing-up-Asian-American experience. She introduced Hoarders of all things Asian (meaning white men who fetishize young Asian women as, in the words of heroine Lindsey Owyang, lily-footed celestials, geishas, fan-tan dancers and sing-song girlies); she wrote about Lindseys passion for The Brady Bunch and Hello Kitty, and she took readers on journeys of Chinatown, of San Francisco, and of China, as well as of her own identity.
In Buddha Baby ,...
Ben Fong-Torres chats with the commanding Donald Sutherland
Over the years, one of my favorite side gigs has been the conducting of on-stage interviews at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Mill Valley is a village of a town, nestled in Marin County, and its the last place youd think of as a host of a film festivalespecially since, right across the Golden Gate Bridge, in San Francisco, theres an annual International Film Festival.
But this years was the 28th Mill Valley gathering, dedicated, as always, to smaller, independent films, but also welcoming of, and drawing, big stars. Pierce Brosnan attended opening night for a screening of his latest, Matador . Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives ), appeared for her stunning new film, Transamerica.
In the last dozen years or so, the MVFF has also paid tribute to a wide range of actors and directors. Thats where Ive come in. Since 1989, Ive sat, usually in front of a packed house, with James Woods, Edward James Olmos, Richard Fleisher (director of the classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ), Amanda Plummer, Helena Bonham Carter, Robin Williams, William Macy, Jr., Dianne Wiest, Peter Coyote and Albert Maysles (legendary documentary filmmaker of Salesman and Gimme Shelter ).
This year, I got two assignments: the tributes to Jean-Pierre Jeunet (director of Amelie and A Very Long Engagement , as well as Delicatessen and Alien 4: Resurrection ) and Donald Sutherland. Mssr. Jeunet was funny, charming, candida perfect guest. But it was Sutherland who was The Movie Star.
At age 70, he is known, to the younger generation, as the father of Keifer Sutherland. But Donald isn't exactly slacking. He is co-starring in the new hit series on ABC, Commander in Chief , as the Speaker of the House and evil nemesis to the first female President of the United States. He plays the part of Mr. Bennet in the latest film version of Jane Austens Pride & Prejudice , starring Kiera Knightley. (It opens...
What did Ben Fong-Torres love about New Orleans? Everything and everyone.
"The moonlight on the bayou, Louis Armstrong sang in Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans." A creole tune that fills the air. I dream about magnolias in bloom, and Im wishin I was there.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Im prepared to miss New Orleans for a long, long time. What a wonderful city it waswith a sad emphasis on the past tense, as it can never fully be restored to its carefree days and ways, of a street called Bourbon and a drink dubbed Hurricane. The classic architecture, borne of its French and Spanish roots; the soulful Cajun cuisine; the life-is-short motif of the natives, who operated voodoo shops, gave tours of haunted houses, and told about the citys history of fighting floods and canes.
I visited the Crescent City several times, including once in 1995, when Gavin , a radio and record industry magazine where I worked, hosted a music biz seminar there. On the eve of that trip, I wrote:
Frankly, my dear, I don't remember much about the last and only other time I was in New Orleans. According to my calendar, it was in mid-March of 1978, and I was there for a vacation and to pop in on the NARM (National Association of Record Manufacturers) convention at the Hyatt. There was a big midnight bash at the Superdome hosted by Rolling Stone magazine, where I worked. But my notes say that Dianne and I spent most of our time at clubs and restaurants. Let's see: The Bon Ton, Cafe DuMonde, Brennan's, Chez Helene's, Maxcy's Coffee Pot, Antoine's, Houlihan's, Marti's. Lots of music, too, at Crazy Shirley's, at Preservation Hall, and at the club I remember best -- La Strada on Bourbon Street.
Not that La Strada is any great Big Easy landmark. But back then, after a hard day's week at Rolling Stone, I had the great reward of a Sunday afternoon show on KSAN, the free-form pioneer. And my theme song was "(I Don't Know Why I Love You) But I...
Our Ben Fong-Torres sings with music legends, then joins Tamlyn Tomita to say 'Happy Birthday' to Mike Honda.
After I did my three Elvis Presley tunes at chef Dean Fearings fund-raising BBQ Bash in Dallas, keyboard player Tony Brown , who was Presleys last onstage pianist, leaned into a microphone and intoned: Elvis has left the building. All around the Mansion on Turtle Creek, the luxury hotel and site of the BBQ, guests called me Elvis, and one man told me, I wasn't into Elvis before, 'till I heard you singing Elvis."
But I dont think Elvis ever sat, a half hour before a gig, in a hotel lounge, listening to his songs over a headset, still trying to memorize Dont Be Cruel and Teddy Bear.
But thats what I had to do, after realizing that just because Ive known a song for most of my life doesnt mean I can perform it with a live band and get it just right.
Ive had that awareness beforelike, say, every time Ive sung in publicbut its especially challenging when the band includes such pros as Brown, who also heads a record label in Nashville and has worked with dozens of country greats, including George Strait, Reba McEntire , and Trisha Yearwood . On sax is Johnny Reno , whos worked with Chris Isaak and many others. Also on board: Richie Furay , of Buffalo Springfield and Poco fame, along with Holly Williams , singer-songwriter daughter of Hank Williams, Jr. And last years guest stars included Jim Messina (of the recenty reformed Loggins and) and Mickey Raphael, Willie Nelsons harmonica player. Intimidating company, to say the least.
As for the audience: Theyre about 500 people a year, the kind of people able and willing to pony up $250 for an evening of grilled and barbequed goodies from a dozen chefs, many of them famous, from around the country. Theres an auction (all this is to benefit a local group that funds performing arts). And theres music, with chef Dean Fearing (on guitar) and his mostly chefs band, the Barbwires,...
Ben Fong-Torres flies with the Eagles and Al Green, and addresses 21,000 at his alma mater.
Okay, first of all, its the rock band, the Eagles, and not the Philadelphia Eagles. Seems like a lot of people, especially younger ones, dont know about the band from the 70s, the one with all those hits: Hotel California, Lyin Eyes, Best of My Love, Take It Easy, New Kid in Town, The Long Run, Take It to the Limit, Tequila Sunrise, and, take my word for it, tons more.
And thats just the band. As solo artists, Don Henley has had his own library of hits, like Boys of Summer, Dirty Laundry, All She Wants to Do Is Dance, and The End of the Innocence. Glenn Frey, who co-founded the Eagles with Henley, had The Heat is On, You Belong to the City, and Smugglers Blues, which was featured in that slick cop show, Miami Vice. Glenn also did an acting stint on that series. And then theres Joe Walsh, a rocker through and through, who came to the Eagles from his own band and, before that, from the James Gang. Rocky Mountain Way, Life Is Good, Funk 49
In other words, the hits just keep on coming.
Anyway, I interviewed them for TV Guide , for the issue that came out just before their NBC special in early June 1, based on concerts they played late last year in Melbourne, Australia. (The full concert, and more, is available now on DVD.)
The interviews were hit-and-run. I flew from San Francisco to New York just in time to get to Madison Square Garden to say some hellos, have some dinner, and see their show30 songs, 3 hours. These guys may be in the mid- to late 50s, but theyve given up life in the fast lane, stay in shape, work hard, and deliver. The multi-generational audience went crazy for them.
The next day, I interviewed them all and grabbed the next flight back. I think the whole thing took only 36 hours, from leaving my home to returning to the nest. I didnt even have time to buy a fake Rolex on Canal Street.
But even in that tiny...