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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...

Is it OK to Say 'Happy New Year'?

Ben Fong-Torres

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 what its been called for a couple of spins of the 12-year lunar cycle. But Im old enough to remember when it was known as the Year of the Cock. Can you imagine what the Christian fundamentalists wouldve done that THAT? So, on my radio show, I can play Little Red Rooster, but not Cocktails for Two

Speaking of Which

If all goes well, I soon will be doing a radio show. The idea is an all-night show from the broadcast studios of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. Most nights, a DJ will be there, spinning recordsmany of them by inductees of the Hall of Fameand playing or conducting interviews with various legendary artists. But one nightmost likely Saturday, beginning at midnightitll be me, from studios in San Francisco. Ill get to play a wide range of music, just like I did back in the days of free-form rock radio, and Ill air snippets of interviews Ive done, with the likes of Ray Charles, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, and many others. Once I know when and where were on the air, Ill let you know.

Roosters on Parade

For the ninth year, Ill be in the KTVU/Fox 2 broadcast booth in Union Square, San Francisco, for the telecast of the Chinese New Year Parade. For the fifth year, Im partnered with the delightful Julie Haener, whos the anchor of KTVUs 6 oclock news. And for the first year, we will be working an Emmy award-winning production, having scored trophies for the parade this past year. That should explain the goofy grins on our faces. The parade is on February 19, beginning at 6 p.m.

Star Gazing

As a long-time fan of Bobby Darins (Mack the Knife, Beyond the Sea), Ive been waiting for Kevin Spaceys movie about Darin for a long time almost as long as hes been wanting to make it. At this writing, the film (Beyond the Sea ) hasnt opened in San Francisco, but Spacey, an excellent singer and mimic who sings his own songs in the movie, came through town with his 19-piece ensemble and played the classic North Beach club, Bimbos. This was part of a ten-city tour to promote the movie the best way he knew how, paying tribute to Darin, complete with the singers original arrangements (which Darins son Dodd gave Spacey to use in the movie), and pianist-conductor Roger Calloway, who worked with Darin in the mid-60s. Onstage at Bimbos, Spacey proved himself the right guy to be portraying Darin, even if he is almost ten years older than Darin was when he died (at age 37 in 1973). After the show, local film critic Jan Wahl asked me for a quote. I told her that, at Rolling Stone, I happened to have written Darins obituary, and that, tonight, Kevin Spacey brought him back to life. Then our party, including Sherry Hu (the veteran reporter on KPIX-TV/CBS 5), repaired to the nearby and legendary Tosca Caf, where Hu thought Spacey might show up later; hed hung out there the night before. Sure enough, he wandered in and met our group, including Dianne, my wife, and our friend, the attorney Dale Minami. When I met Spacey, I told him about my Darin obit. Well, he said, I brought him back to life. Is that an echo in here?

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