The Year of Sheltering Dangerously
By Ben Fong-Torres
March 3, 2021
Well, hasn’t THIS been a fun 365?
As we approached the anniversary of the shelter-in-place orders for the San Francisco Bay Area, on March 16, I thought of some of the changes we’ve been through.
In February, our calendar was packed with restaurant dinners and a large, loud gathering at Harbor Villa, saluting our friend, the civil rights attorney Dale Minami.
And there was my 24th time as co-anchor of the Chinese New Year Parade, on KTVU. The Year of the Rat. Indeed.
Early in March, we had more restaurant get-togethers, including dinner at the House of Prime Rib (almost as hard to get into as Hamilton) and a family luncheon for Chinese New Year at the stellar dim sum restaurant, Yank Sing. One evening, I went to the dive bar, El Rio, for the monthly jam staged by Los Train Wreck, and did my usual, a parody of a Dylan classic, “Rainy Day Women 12+35,” with lyrics I ripped from the headlines:
They’ll stone you when you come to see the band
And make mistakes, like shaking people’s hands
Los Train Wreck’s easy going, and all they ask:
Is when you’re talking with them, use a mask
And you will not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned!
On March 13th, I went to the Record Plant, the fabled studio in Sausalito, to be interviewed for a documentary about the Plant.
Just three days later, on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, this...
Ben Fong Torres
February 22, 2020
Last year, just about this time, I lost my Radio Waves column, soon after the San Francisco Chronicle brought in a new arts and entertainment editor. I’d been writing it every other Sunday for 15 years (plus another three-year stretch earlier on, before I took a break to publish a couple of books).
He gave me a reason that made no sense. Radio Waves wasn’t getting enough clicks on the digital side. But the Chronicle never featured the column on its sites. Readers had to search my name, or drill through the TV and movies windows to, with luck, find Radio Waves.
My readers found me the old-fashioned way, but like so many major papers, the Chronicle is going new-fashioned, trying to drive readers online, where the advertisers are.
The new editor was open to my doing pieces on media in general; on music; on my life and times in music and broadcasting. I thought that would make for a decent column. But he asked me to pitch him for every article.
I had no interest in becoming a freelancer, especially given the paltry fees doled out to non-staffers. Fifteen years of being underpaid was quite enough.
I moved on, accepting a consulting gig with the Music City Hit Factory, a hub for musicians and fans, encompassing, in one building, a hostel, a music school, a suite of rehearsal spaces and recording studios, performance spaces and cafes, and, throughout, exhibits celebrating the history of San...
Debuts Feb 22!
Fears for Tears: Turning a Memoir into an Audiobook
By Ben Fong-Torres
February 12, 2021
“In the funny parts, laugh. In the sad parts, go ahead and cry.”
That was advice I got, on the eve of my recording sessions for an audiobook version of my memoirs, The Rice Room, from Susie Bright.
Susie is a producer and personality at Audible, the leading producer of audiobooks, and she’s done her share of laughing and crying.
So when Audible contracted me to turn two of my books – Willin’, about the band Little Feat, and The Rice Room– she was on the case.
I’d never recorded a book before. Public speaking? Sure. Radio DJ? That’s moi. Voice work for radio and TV shows? No problemo.
But audiobooks are a whole ‘nother world. First, it’s long-form. A radio DJ show is a bunch of bits; a radio or TV program, or a podcast, involves segments that might add up to an hour.
A book? Think ten hours. And, as I learned, it takes about double that time to record enough, after editing, to get those ten hours.
The editing is immediate, with a director, Jesse, listening and directing by Zoom from Los Angeles. Also listening is Miik, the engineer, who’s in a control room, across from me. I’m in a small announcer’s booth (which seems only right, since I’m a small announcer).
While I’m reading, off an iPad on a music stand, the two men catch every error, every stumble, every...
Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broadcaster, and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine, added record production to his credits with 'Till the End of Time' by Larry Ching. Read all about it.
AsianConnections is proud to present the adventures of Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broadcaster, and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine. This guy's our hero! Ben was a featured character in the movie "Almost Famous," the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning film by Cameron Crowe.
If all goes well, which it rarely does in the recording industry, the Larry Ching CD I produced should be available by early June.
It has been a long journey, getting Larry recorded, learning the ropes of the record biz, and getting the CD out.
As Larry and I, along with a great support crew, give birth to the recording, called Till the End of Time, I am going to let you in behind the scenes of the making of a record.
I would like to begin by giving you what I am sending to radio, TV, newspapers, magazines and Web sites. Although this is a very small project, just about everyone who has heard Larrys story wants to know more about him. So I have put together a fact sheet. With designer Kelly Low (of Treehouse Studio in San Francisco) and Web developer Jennifer Breese, I am also helping build a home page for Larry, at www.larryching.com. There, beginning in early June, you will be able to see stories about Larry and the CD,...
Ben Fong-Torres takes a look at a spunky new film, and at the equally spunky promotional campaign behind it.
To help promote Better Luck Tomorrow, Parry Shen, who plays one of the central characters, simply went to his computer and sent out scads of e-mails, telling friends and acquaintances how crucial the opening weekend would be for the film. How this Asian-American teenage-wasteland social satire did in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco would determine how its distributor, Paramount, would treat the movie in other markets. And how BLT did might well determine whether other Asian-American-focused films would get green-lighted.
Just see this film, he implored. That is your vote.
I saw it, and am happy to report that BLT deserves the grass-roots PR blitz. It also deserves the rave reviews its piled up since its showings last year at various film festivals, including Sundance. With its mid-April release, the raves have become a mini-avalanche. And I am happy to say that the theater was packed at the 5:30 p.m. showing Dianne and I attended, and that a long line awaited the next screening.
Im especially pleased for Parry, who first wrote me about three years ago, saying he was up for a role, portraying me in Almost Famous, and could he get some tips on how I spoke. We had several pleasant exchanges, and, even after he (and a couple hundred others) lost the part to Terry Chen, he kept me apprised of his career. It was mostly small parts, until Better Luck...