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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...

‘Becoming Almost Famous’ On the Howard Stern Show

Ben Fong-Torres

AC's renaissance man, Ben Fong-Torres, is having a two-book year.

SUMMER ALREADY? Time flies when youre on deadline.

Its true. Whats kept me from making more frequent Asian Connections was this book I had to write in about three months, from January into March, on The Doors. You know, Light My Fire. This is their 40th anniversary, and a big book, The Doors By the Doors , is coming out in November. I was brought in after another writer fell through, and given next to no time to research and write a 60,000-word manuscript. And research meant interviewing the surviving three Doors, members of the late Jim Morrison s family, and various associates, as well as poring over about 20 books and going through a dozen radio and video documentaries. Ohand there are a few albums out there, too.

I met the deadline, but then had to plunge into the finishing touches on Becoming Almost Famous , my second compilation of old articles. That book is out now, from Backbeat Books (which also published my first collection, Not Fade Away ). So, as I tap away, Im in promotion mode, hitting radio and TV stations and doing readings at Bay Area book stores. I also had a party, on June 4th at LeZinc, a nice French bistro, to benefit the Noe Valley branch library renovation campaign fund. Besides reading from the book, I did a couple of songs, with guest keyboardists Sam Barry (from the band Train Wreck) and George Yamasaki , to illustrate a couple of the pieces in the bookone about singing with a band of chefs in Dallas, the other about the late, great Forbidden City crooner Larry Ching And, no, when The Doors book comes out, I wont be warbling Riders On the Storm at bookstores

HAPPY 1000TH: Rolling Stone magazine, my first editorial home, put out a very special issue to celebrate its 1,000th issue, with a 3-D cover and a recollection of its 100 Greatest Covers. When I got my copyat the airport, on the way to a week in New York CityI naturally flipped through it, looking to see if any of my efforts made the greatest list.

Yep. My 1971 piece on the Jackson 5, with a thirteen year-old Michael Jackson on the cover, made it. Alan Light , the former editor of VIBE and Tracks , wrote the accompanying story, and concluded:

It may be hard to find clues to Michael Jacksons future in this story, but one moment stands out. Fong-Torres recounts a bit of shtick that Michael did as part of the introduction for the Jacksons version of Smokey Robinson s yearning Whos Loving You. Dont nobody have the blues like I do, said Michael. I may be young, but I know what its all about. It was played for laughs at the time. Looking back, it doesnt seem quite so funny.

Next: Paul McCartney , 1976. Writer Mark Binelli notes: The story features terrific details about the surreal life of a former Beatle for example, a throwaway line mentioning that McCartney attended a George Harrison concert at Madison Square Garden disguised in Afro wig, shades and a walrus mustache.

(Side note: The cover of my new book includes a photo of Paul and me from that tour. I look so bored, standing next to McCartney, that its funny. But thats how things were back then. I didnt ask stars to pose for souvenir photos. If someone shot us, they shot useven it it was while we were just hanging out backstage, waiting for something to happen.)

Another greatest cover: Rodney Dangerfield , 1980, with a classic Annie Leibovitz photo of a frazzled-looking Rodney trying to hold a crying baby in his arms. Or, as writer Binelli puts it: Dangerfield awkwardly cradles an infant and looks, as Fong-Torres put it in his story, as if he needs about ten years sleep.

Yet another: Steve Martin , 1982, on the occasion of his film, Pennies From Heaven . Plus one I shared with numerous other contributors: the Elvis Presley death issue, 1977.

Five covers among the greatest. Ill take it.

NEW YORK HIGHLIGHTS: Attending a David Letterman taping (with guest Teri Hatcher ) was loads of fun, and being invited to visit with Paul Shaffer , at his bandstand, afterwards, was frosting. Being on Howard Stern s show on Sirius was surrealistic (I write about it in my San Francisco Chronicle Radio Waves column of June 4th, which you can find by going to www.sfgate.com and using "Fong-Torres" and "Radio Waves" as search terms). Dining at Del Posto and being seated at a table next to a party of four, including Tara Banks , was pretty cool. (So was the visit from superstar chef Mario Batali , offering a tray of Italian amuse bouche .) Dinners at Annisa, co-owned by chef Anita Low , and at Perry Street, Jean-Georges Vongrichten s latest, and at A Voce (which, the very next day, got a three-star review in the New York Times ), were transcendant. But the winner, by a wide margin, was Jersey Boys , the musical about the pop group, the Four Seasons. No mere jukebox musical, this is a warts-mobsters-and-all telling of the guys ascendancy to the top of the pop charts in the early Sixties (just before Beatlemania). As lead singer Frankie Valli, John Lloyd Young , in his Broadway debut, is absolutely thrilling, recreating Vallis ungodly falsetto. Its hard to imagine the role played by anyone else, but Jersey Boys will be hitting the road later this year. Watch for it. Or, if youre planning a trip to New York, book tickets immediately.

This just in: "Immediately" may not be good enough, now that the musical, along with Young and Christian Hoff , who portrays group member Tommy DeVito , won Tonys.

AND THE EMMY GOES TO: Congratulations to Thuy Vu , anchor and reporter at KGO (ABC 7)-TV in San Francisco; she not only won a Northern California Emmy award for her report on Operation Babylift (which finds new homes for Vietnamese infants); shes having a baby of her own (with a bit of help from her husband, Tee ), come July Vu was my co-anchor on KTVUs Chinese New Year Parade broadcasts for two years, and I still miss her Karen Lum , a producer and editor with Uth TV, won in the children/youth division for a feature on KBHK, but couldnt make it to the awards gala at the Palace of Fine Arts. Her father accepted for her, and said, If she were here, Im sure she would want to thank her parents Satsuki Ina and Kim Ina also grabbed Emmys for a cultural program aired on KVIE, in Californias Central Valley Other friends of Asian Connections who earned nominations from Emmy judges, but didnt get the statuette, included Emerald Yeh , ex- of KRON-TV; Sydnie Kohara , early morning anchor on CBS 5, andme. My parade co-anchor Julie Haener and I lost out, but Julie grabbed one for a feature news report on KTVU. And, since we did win an Emmy a couple years back, were totally cool. Dammit.