Entertainment Spotlight

  • 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...

C'mon, Baby, Light My Fire

Ben Fong-Torres

Ben writes a book about The Doors and almost has them slammed on him.

Id been kidding when, hours before, at a rehearsal, I told one musician at the Whisky a Go Go that we were headed for a 2006 version of "Riot on Sunset Strip," and that Stephen Stills should drop by and get some inspiration for an update of "For What Its Worth," his classic Sixties song about unrest between kids and cops on that stretch of Sunset Blvd. in West Hollywood.

But, caught in a crush of hundreds of people--not just people, mind you, but Very Important People--all trying to squeeze into a tiny rear entrance of the Whisky, Ialong with Dianne, my wife, and her two sisters and their husbandswas lucky not to get literally crushed, and to just barely make it into the club.

And who were these frantic, excited, and increasingly impatient, frustrated and angry people trying to get into the landmark club to see? A band that broke up 35 years ago. Half a band, in fact, since the breakup began with the death of its lead singer, and, these days, the drummer never appears with the guitarist and keyboardist, having taken them to court.

The band is The Doors , and theyre the subject of the second of my two books this year. Despite its title The Doors By the Doors it was my book to put together. I did it on short notice beginning in January, with a mid-March deadline. In those ten weeks, I had to wade through mounds of research, including several books on the iconic singer, Jim Morrison, alone, along with radio and video specials, magazines, and a dozen other books. Then I interviewed the three surviving Doors, along with several intimates, including Morrison family members whod never spoken out before. And then I wrote, sorting through yet another case of rock Rashomon, with different people recalling events entirely differently.

Eight months later, out popped The Doors By the Doors , more or less in time to spearhead a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the band. Like only a select few bands from the Sixties, the Doors continue to command a huge audience, a fan base that gathers at various sites, including www.thedoors.com. And although thereve been plenty of books and CD reissues, they seem to be eager for more.

And so it was that, on November 8th, thousands of people convened on a two-block stretch of the fabled Sunset Strip. Because drummer John Densmore is estranged from guitarist Robby Krieger and keyboardist Ray Manzarek, he was posted at The Book Soup, a marvelous shop two blocks from the Whisky. There, he hosted a poetry reading of Morrisons works, with Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and Perry Farrell of Janes Addiction, along with poet Michael C. Ford, a childhood buddy of Morrisons.

So that it wouldnt be two against one, which would only raise questions, The Doors management separated everyone. Robby would host a party at the Whisky, signing books to the tunes of Perception, a new box set of CDs and DVDs. Ray would be a few doors down the block, at the tiny Kat Klub, which is on the site of the London Fog, where the band got its start in 1965. They moved over to the Whisky in 66 as the house band, opening for headliners like Love, Them and Buffalo Springfield.

My job, such as it was, was to serve as MC, bringing Ray and Robby onto the stage at the Whisky for a presentation from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame , which had designated the Whisky a Go Go as an official landmark, with special recognition of The Doors' role at the club. The joint was packed, but that could be said for each venue. People began lining up in mid-afternoon, and by 7 p.m., when things began to happen, it was clear that the band's management companys ideathat Doors fans could buy a book and go around the various venues to get them signed by Ray, Robby, and Johnwould never work. Madness took over immediately. Lines everywhere. By mid-evening, those who got their book signed by one Door considered themselves lucky.

A few days later, on the band's official web site, fans wrote about the evening. Some, who'd traveled long distances to be there, felt robbed. Others appreciated getting to be close to members of their all-time favorite rockers. One fan said that I did the right thing, being on the street and signing books as I went. But, of course, I didn't have the responsibilities of the musicians. They would have required security to get through the crowds. And I was just buzzing around Sunset to check on my wife and in-laws, or to park my car, or to pop into the Book Soup, where boxes and boxes of books stacked up, pre-signed by the three Doors and ready to go at $45 a pop. By evening's end, their entire supply, of nearly 900, were snapped up. (And, within days, copies were available on eBay, slightly inflated at, oh, $300.)

Crazy.

The jam session at the Whiskywhich is what that mob was clamoring to get in forwas killer. Slash, of Guns 'N' Roses, joined Bennington, Farrell, and several sidemen to play a half-dozen Doors classics, with Manzarek on keys at stage left; Krieger, the diminutive guitairist (and writer of several of those classics, including "Light My Fire"), on the right. Val Kilmer, star of the movie about the Doors, showed up for a rehearsal, and acquitted himself admirably on "Roadhouse Blues," but pulled out of the jam. Something about not wanting to have to share the stage with other singers, I learned after the show. Nonetheless, it was an amazing night, a testament to the endurance of the bands music.

Backstage, I ran into Phil Chen, veteran rock bassist who works with Ray and Robby in Riders On the Storm, a touring band that plays the Doors repertoire, with Ian Astbury of Creed on lead vocals. Id met him before, when the Riders played the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. But, back then, I was on writing-the-damned-book duty, and didnt have time to schmooze. Chen is a unique musician, one of the few Asian Americans who succeeded, in the studios and onstage, playing with, among many others, Rod Stewart, Jackson Browne and Pete Townshend. Ill feature him in a future column.

'Til then, do take a look at the book. As for the other book I published this year, it was Becoming Almost Famous , my second collection of stuff from the past. Its from Backbeat Books and, Im sorry to say, is not signed by any of the Doors.

BUSY BUSY: The Doors event was only one in two monthsOctober and Novemberof appointments that, among other things, kept me from writing this column earlier. Ill keep it short: October included two appearances at the Mill Valley Film Festival, one of the most prestigious such gatherings focused on independent film. I interviewed Tim Robbins on stage and sat alongside Ray Manzarek for an onstage interview by a reporter from the Marin Independent Journal , Paul Libertore, part of an evening of Doors film clips and music. There were also two events for Litquake, the annual celebration of literature in this word-friendly town. I MCd the opening gala and joined in a reading at the Main Library. Also in October, I was part of a celebrity pool toss to benefit a youth organization, helping get a friend wet for a good cause. The friend was Cynthia Bowman, who was my editorial assistant at Rolling Stone in the good old days, and went on to become the publicist for Jefferson Starship, and to establish her own PR business. Shes such a storyand such a great storytellerthat I just may have to make her my next book.

And, in November, besides the Doors in Hollywood, I did bookstore appearances with Ray Manzarek in Marin County and San Franciscoeven got to sing "Riders On the Storm" with him!, did a reading at a fundraiser for Friends of the Library, and celebrated my sister Shirley's (gulp) 60th birthday, hosted by her pals Cindy and George Chen, owners of Shanghai 1930, one of the classiest restaurants in San Francisco. Shirley was feted by friends and family, including new granddaughter Stella Pavao, and the tour guides who have helped establish Wok Wiz , her Chinatown tour company, as one of the most popular attractions in this gorgeous city of ours. One guide, Hank Quock, did a stunning performance, dressed as and playing the parts of both Diana Ross and Lionel Richie singing "Endless Love." You had to be there.

SEE ME, HEAR ME: Although Asian Connections does not yet stream audio and video, you can see and hear various of my projects. The bookstore event with Manzarek is at www.fora.tv... A homemade Doors special, including soundbites of all the band members, including my chat with Jim Morrison, can be found at www.KYOUradio.com, under "On Demand." More rock and pop star soundbites are at a cool site, still in Beta, called SpotDJ. Search any number of artists, including "Beatles"and "Sheryl Crow," and youll find me Researching lala.com, which allows people to have their own radio stations, I put up a couple of my own, an eclectic one called KREB and an oldies show called "Cruisin" Two of my parody songs, one about Dick Cheney's unfortunate hunting mishap; the other a tape of my version of "Like a Rolling Stone" on the short-lived TV show, "Your Big Break," is at myspace under my name And, to hear some channels Ive programmed for URGE, the MTV Networks/Microsoft music site, go to the radio section and check out Just Folk, Jukebox, Gold, and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. All music, no talk or commercials