Busier Than Ever, After a Plug is Pulled

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres - on Saturday, 22 February 2020

Busier Than Ever, After a Plug is Pulled
Ben Fong Torres San Francisco February 22, 2020 Last year, just about this time, I lost my Radio Waves column, soon after the San Francisco Chronicle brought in a new arts and entertainment editor. I’d been writing it every other Sunday for 15 years (plus another three-year stretch earlier on, before I took a break to publish a couple of books). He gave me a reason that made no sense. Radio Waves wasn’t getting enough clicks on the digital side. But...

Like a Rolling Stone

'Twixt Teen and Michael Jackson

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Tuesday, 17 June 2003

Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man -- author, broadcaster, and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine -- visits with pop icon Pat Boone.

Twixt? Whats THAT mean? The word was part of the title of the best-selling book back in the late Fifties by pop star Pat Boone. Its short for betwixt, as in, betwixt and between. Its one of Dianne, my wifes favorite phrasesespecially at restaurants. Shell tell the waiter, These two entrees both sound good. Im betwixt and between.

Anyway, Pat Boones book was Twixt Teen and Twenty, and offered advice to teenagers. Im thinking of Pat because I just interviewed him in front of a gymful of high school students at Campbell Hall in Los Angeles. (The assembly, part of the schools focus on diversity, was produced by Diannes sister, Eileen Powers, an administrator.)

Pat, who is almost 70 but looks nowhere near that age, had a lot to say to teens back in the Fifties and Sixties, when he was a bigger pop star than anybody, except Elvis. Pat had almost 40 Top 40 hits, including April Love, Love Letters in the Sand, Aint That a Shame, Tutti Frutti, and Moody River.

In a month dominated by the fear of war and the disturbing visage of Michael Jackson on TV whenever some reality show wasnt on, it was good to spend some time with a true role model.

For many, Pat was too squeaky-clean back in the day. He was the safe alternative to the hip-swinging Elvis. A devout Christian, Pat was (and remains) a good family man. His idea of wild fashions was to wear white buck shoes. He was wearing a pair at Campbell Hall, where he good-naturedly fessed up to having been opposed to the concept of dancing when he first emerged on the pop scene, and to wanting to change the line, Aint that a shame to isnt that a shame.

Squaresville. But look at whats happened all around him, over the five decades of rock and roll. Look at Michael Jackson.

Im just as sick of hearing and talking...

In the Trenches with Trent, Jon Lovitz, and Johnny Rivers

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Tuesday, 17 June 2003

Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man -- author, broadcaster, and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine -- was a featured character in the 2000 movie "Almost Famous." Everybody still asks him about it--even comedian Jon Lovitz.

In the end, it doesnt really matter whether Sen. Trent Lott is outwhich he should and may well be, by the time you read thisor remains the majority leader of that private party we call Republican. What his remarks added up to was yet another reminder that weve always lived among racists, and always will. Just when you think, for example, that Asian-Americans have made a bit of progress, you run across one of the numerous Web sites that are devoted to Asian jokes. Every slur and stereotype youve been working to squash is there, available for people of all colors to laugh at. Is that equality or what?

One Asian-American had a letter published in the New York Times, in the immediate aftermath of Lotts self-exposure. Wrote Bell Yung of Pittsburgh:

For countless immigrants like me and those Americans born after the 1960s, the furor over Lott is indeed an invaluable national tutorial. Even more important, it clearly demonstrates how the practice of equality among all has been a constant battle that is still being fought today in America, more than two centuries after its declaration of independence.

As the United States exerts increasing power over other nations and people, it behooves the administration to recognize this struggle at home, and to exercise patience and forbearance as it demands similar practice from other nations that may have a much shorter history of such a struggle.

Random Notes: Speaking of the New York Times, I got mentioned the other Sunday. In a superb piece about Gram Parsons, the country-rock pioneer who was the subject of my first book, reporter Neil Strauss surveyed the continuing interest in Parsons, who died young, 30 years ago, and never had a hit...

The Pioneer Performers of The Forbidden City

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Tuesday, 17 June 2003

Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broadcaster, and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine, reunited with the stars of the Forbidden City nightclub and vows to make a record with one of them.

In the black and white photographs, they are impossibly dashing, daring, devil may care. There's Larry Ching, "The Chinese Sinatra," surrounded by four babes. There are the five leggy Devilettes in sheer, short outfits, but still showing far less than Noel Toy, the "Bubble Dancer" who performed in the nude. And there are the graceful looking Toy & Wing, "The Chinese Fred and Ginger," as in Astaire and Rogers.

I say "impossibly" dashing and daring because these were Asian Americans working in nightclubs and lounges in the Forties and Fifties, when Chinese, along with other ethnic minorities, weren't seen (and, in many cases, accepted) as entertainers, except in roles like Susie Wong and Fu Manchu.

In the late Thirties in San Francisco, a showbiz-loving visionary, Charlie Low, opened the Forbidden City, a nightclub and restaurant near Chinatown, San Francisco, featuring floor shows with singers, dancers, chorus lines, acrobats and magicians. His was not the first or only such club, but he made his the best known, and it became the model for the nightclub in the C.Y. Lee book and Broadway musical, The Flower Drum Song.

Larry Ching, at age 82, still sings, quite beautifully (and, by the way, in no way resembling Sinatra; Larry's is a much sweeter, tenor voice). So does Frances Chun. Mary Tom Mason, Ivy Tam, and Stanley Toy still dance, Toy still twirling at age 88.

And so they did the other night, at a theater at San Francisco State University, celebrating the DVD edition of Forbidden City, U.S.A., the award-winning documentary by Arthur Dong about their nightlife and times.

I was co-MC, with Emerald Yeh, at the world premiere of the original film in 1989; I was MC again for the fundraising...

A Letter to Writers, and How the Wiest was Won

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Tuesday, 17 June 2003

Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broadcaster, and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone, responds to queries about how to get into writing. He also recounts a a busy day, including a gig with Sheila E. and a chat with Oscar-winning actor Dianne Wiest.

One recent Saturday, I emceed a lunchtime fundraiser for Oakland High School, featuring fellow alumnus Sheila E, did a reading as part of Litquake in San Francisco (one author every ten minutes-kind of like a Wordstock), then raced up to Marin County to conduct an onstage interview with Dianne Wiest for the Mill Valley Film Festival.

And I didn't have a heart attack. Woo-HOO!

Sheila was great, improvising on timbales with a swinging Oakland High School Band at Yoshi's, the jazz club in Jack London Square. Litquake, taking place in two theaters in Civic Center, was hopelessly behind schedule when I arrived at 4:30 for my 5 o'clock spot, and I wound up following a bright hip-hopper from Youth Speaks. Fortunately, I chose short excerpts about three artists who are hipsters in widely differing ways: Rickie Lee Jones, Rodney Dangerfield, and the Rolling Stones, and the audience members held back their rotten tomatoes.

At the Rafael Theater in San Rafael, Dianne Wiest, Oscar winner for Bullets Over Broadway ("Don't speak!") and Hannah and Her Sisters, swept in just before our 7 p.m. start time. We said hello as I escorted her into the theater, and, minutes later, there we were, chatting away in front of a packed house. Well, "chatting" is not quite accurate. Overcome by nerves, she giggled her way through her first answers. We'd begun by showing clips from several of her earlier films, including Footloose. Saying that she doesn't watch her own films, Dianne claimed that she couldn't even remember some of the scenes we'd just seen, and laughed some more. Much more, actually. I told her not to worry. Willie Nelson, who I interviewed earlier this year, told me...

A Singing Career? Oh, I Think Not.

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Tuesday, 17 June 2003

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. And, now, singer? Not really, but he's certainly had his moments.

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 in the movie "Almost Famous," the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning film by Cameron Crowe.

As I was exiting from the Exit Theater, a woman spotted me and asked, "So, is this a third career?" She'd just seen me doing some Dean Martin and Elvis in "Exit Laughing," one of the entries in the San Francisco Fringe Festival of 55 one-hour plays and performances of all sorts, crammed into a handful of theaters over a dozen days and nights in the seedy Tenderloin district. She either knew, or had just read, in the playbill, that I was a writer and broadcaster. And, now, a singer, too?

No way. This was just for fun. Ruby Unger, the saucy, sassy, and somewhat silly founder of WUFF (Women United For Fun) decided to do a one-woman show celebrating the 20th anniversary of her social group, and, since WUFF has a men's auxiliary (Men Who Dare), asked me to give her a break during the hour by doing a song, preferably about WUFF, or its philosophy: Party today, for tomorrow, who knows?

So I rewrote the Dino hit, "Memories Are Made of This," and, since WUFF's avatar is a rubbery, plastic fish (or, as Ruby calls it, "the power trout"), opened with:

Take one fresh and tender kiss
Add one stolen rubber fish
One girl, one boy,
One new sex toy
Memories are made of this

You get the drift. When Ruby told me she'd planned on my relieving her of ten minutes of her hour, I added a second number: Elvis Presley's "Teddy Bear." On this one, I didn't...

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