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

    Posted by Ben Fong-Torres

    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...

Old Year New Year: A Column of Musings

Ben Fong-Torres

2004 brings in a New Year Column of Musings from AsianConnections' Renaissance man: Ben Fong-Torres.

So, happy new year. As for the old one, it was another dozen months that flew by all too fast. Heres how it goes: Happy New Year! Suddenly, its tax time. Yikes, its summer. What? The World Series? And while youre carving your pumpkin, stores are putting up Christmas lights. And another year bites the dust.

As for carving a pumpkin, forget that. Who had time to do anything? We were always in a rush; over-extended; overwrought; hung over.

And yet, looking back, it was an amazing year. Scary, no doubt, between our dolt of a President and our celebrity madness, which makes stars of the Scott Petersons and Paris Hiltons of this world and governors of musclebound action-picture stars.

My own year was the usual stir-fry of highs and lows. The high came courtesy of Larry Ching, the legendary nightclub singer. Ive written enough about producing the 82 year-old crooners first (and last) CD that Ill just say Thanks one more time to Larry, who died in early July, a week after a triumphant CD listening party at the Chinese Historical Society of Americas museum in Chinatown. And congratulations, too, to all involved. The CD has sold out its initial run of 1,000 copies. Just one note: Alumni of SF State University may see an article I wrote about Larry in the next issue, and the February edition of the new music magazine, Paste, will also carry a story about what it was like for me to produce a recording for the first time in my career.

The lowest low came with the death in April of Buster, Dianne and my pet Shih-Tzu of 15 years. Its amazing how much I continue to think of him, and miss him, seven, eight months later. But, actually, its not amazing at all.

But there were plenty of bright spots. My alma mater, San Francisco State University, honored me as Alumnus of the Year and tossed me into its Alumni Hall of Fame. I did several more on-stage interviews, ranging from pop icon Pat Boone to French singer Raquel Bitton, whos just produced and stars in a tribute to the legendary chanteuse, Edith Piaf (Piaf: Her StoryHer Songs). In between, there was Peter Coyote at the Mill Valley Film Festival. And, offstage, I had a nice lunch just recently in the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel with one of my best pals, Jackie DeShannon. Her songs, Put a Little Love in Your Heart and What the World Needs Now Is Love, continue to ring true, 30-something years after they topped the charts. And, now that I think of it, so does Piafs La Vie En Rose, covered in Cyndi Laupers latest CD

Having returned to the pages of Parade magazine (my cover story on Sheryl Crow was used as the centerpiece of an ad the magazine took out just the other month in Vogue the one with Renee Zellweger on the cover), I also published my first piece ever in Gourmet magazine, all about chefs who like to play music. People occasionally ask about my next book. I have no such plans. For now, at least, Im happy to leave books to real writers like Maxine Hong Kingston, who graced us with The Fifth Book of Peace ; Amy Tan, who offered a collection of writings in The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings ; Frank Wu, who wrote the excellent Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White , and Iris Chang, who proved herself, again, with The Chinese in America: A Narrative History.

As for other media: In 2003, Dianne and I didnt get out for many movies, but she enjoyed Winged Migration, we were both amazed by American Splendor, the inventive telling of the story of comic book writer Harvey Pekar, and got some chuckles out of the folk music parody, Mighty Wind. I also loved the DVD of Dan Hicks 60th birthday celebration (even if I did contribute an on-camera interview with Rickie Lee Jones for it); Somethings Gotta Give, and Lost in Translation, for their humor and intelligence, and for giving Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, and Bill Murray their best roles in a long time. (In Lost, Scarlett Johansson also shined, as did director-writer Sofia Coppola and the settingTokyoalthough we couldve done without all those gags about how the Japanese mix up their ls and rs which they actually dont.)

On TV, my favorite thing was our new TiVo. If you havent gotten it, or dont quite get it, get with it. Youll never watch the tube, or the LCD, or plasma, or DLP, or whatever, the same way. As for programs, I dug Curb Your Enthusiasm, BBC Americas The Office and What Not to Wear, Arrested Development, Cold Case, the CSI shows, West Wing, Monk, David Letterman, Ellen DeGeneres, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, and Queer Eye for a Straight Guy. I also dug that, at a roast for super-attorney Dale Minami, I said that he was so slick and sharp, he was starring in a new show, Straight Eye for a Queer Guy, only to see, a few weeks later, that Bravo was planning a show with that exact title

On local TV, the flat-out dumbest move of the year was made by KRON, which lost its NBC affiliation a couple of years ago and has begun cutting costs. Thats understandable, but the first high-profile person they let go was Emerald Yeh, a stellar presence at the station for 19 years and one of the most generous of all broadcasters when it comes to donating her time and talents to community causes and events. The dismissal caused such an uproar that the Chronicle ran a lengthy profile one recent Sunday. In the article by Annie Nakao, Emerald was as gracious as ever, but her friends, including coworkers still at the station, spoke for her. Said Amy Tan: Its just shocking to me that for whatever reason, a station would let somebody go after 19 years who is that talented. Its a very sad commentary. And, as Dale Minami, the attorney, put it: Weve not heard the last from her. Emerald has a grand view of humanity, which is good for journalism and rare in people in general.