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...

In a Confused State of Mind

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Monday, 12 May 2003

Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man -- author, broadcaster, and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine -- wishes you a happy year of the ram. Or is that goat? Black sheep, anybody? Also, he confesses to being a TiVo-maniac.

Happy Year of the...What?

Its the Year of the Ram. Or is it? Weve had a minor controversy recently at KTVU, the station that broadcasts the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade. One sponsor insists that its the Year of the Sheep. As the co-host (with Julie Haener), and as a guy whos been around the Lunar cycle a few times, I resisted. But then I went online, where InfoPlease.com says its the Year of the Sheep, or, alternately, the Year of the Goat. To make matters even Ram-tougher, I happened onto a Chinese New Year site out of Scotland, where the year 4701 is called the Year of the Black Sheep.

Now Im totally confused. I already cant wait for it to be the Year of the Monkey. Or is that Chimp? Gibbon? Ape? Primate?

You Are Cordially Invited

It was my birthday, and there was a party, but it was NOT my birthday party. You know what Im sayin?

Of course not. Im just bitching and moaning about being an item in a recent San Francisco Chronicle gossip column, called The In Crowd:

Kimberlye Gold reports that when "A Whiter Shade of Pale" played at Ben Fong-Torres' karaoke birthday party at Yet Wah in Diamond Heights, the birthday man called it "Trent Lott's favorite song."

Immediately, the calls and e-mails started coming in. Not...

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...

Free Lunch? No Such Thing. Free Long-Distance Calls? Sure!

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Wednesday, 19 July 2006

Ben Fong-Torres judges a gay beauty contest and offers the scoop on Skype.

Free Lunch? No Such Thing. Free
Long-Distance Calls? Sure!

This is your lucky ten minutes, or however long itll take you to read this column. Im about to save you scads o cash especially if you make a lot of long-distance calls and have a computer. If so, you qualify to read on:

So. Youve no doubt heard about telephony by Internet, or VOIP (voice over Internet protocol). You may have demurred because, as in the early days of Internet radio, you didnt want to have to be tied to your computer to enjoy the new service. Or youre frightened by your computer (as you well should be). Or you didnt understand why youd need anything besides your cell phone. Especially when you heard that Vonage, for one, charged $24.95 a month for its Internet phone service. Skype has no monthly fees.

I recently began using Skypethis is about eight months after hearing about it from Spark PR, a spunky young company in San Francisco. Now, I realize that Ive been wasting money on the phone company for eight months.

As hard as its going to be to believe, heres the deal on Skype: Its free. You download the software (at www.skype.com), hook up a cheap computer microphone (if your PC doesnt already include one) or a headset/microphone combo, and youre set.

You can begin making calls to any Skype customers around the world for free. Until the end of the year, you can also call land and cell phones anywhere in this country and...

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...