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...
Renaissance man Ben Fong-Torres muses about reunions, memories, and congratulates the Community Youth Center in SF Chinatown. The CYC has a brand new home, and unveils a plaque honoring Barry Fong-Torres - his late brother.
ALL YOU CAN REMEMBER: For a 50th year reunion of a junior high school class, it was a low-key affair. Actually, it was not a full-blown reunion of the class of 59 at Westlake Junior High, three-year home away from home for the kids of Oakland Chinatown. Organized by Lucky Owyang, it gathered just a couple dozen alumni, mostly Asian American. It did not take place in a hotel banquet room or an outdoor picnic. We met at Fortuna Buffet, an all-you-can-eat emporium in Chinatown, where seniors (thats us!) could load up to our heart conditions desire for $7.99.
That is my kind of reunion!
Anyway, we had a blast especially once we figured out who we all were. (There were no name tags; no program; just show up and hang out.) This was on the eve of that Telling Your Story series I was kicking off at The Redwoods (see my previous dispatch) in Marin County, so I was already open to nostalgia. Sure enough, a woman sat down next to me and proceeded to tell me that at Westlake (where I was student body president) and Oakland High (where I became Commissioner of Assemblies and produced the almost-weekly programs), I was looked up to.
This was not an easy feat, as I was just about the shortest kid in school. But, she pressed on, You were on the student council, and...
You know our Ben, the writer, the editor, the broadcaster. But Ben, the songwriter?...
AsianConnections presents the adven-tures of Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broadcaster, karaoke nut and former writer and editor at Rolling Stone. Ben was a featured character in the acclaimed film, Almost Famous.
First, before the musical portion of this column, a couple of quick hits: If you've been waiting and waiting for a bright, hip TV show focused on young Asian Americans, all you gotta do is stir it up -- that is, find Stir , a 30-minute maga- zine show produced by Jeff Yang. Hosted by four attractive youths, Jeannie Mai (who's also on MTV), Sabrina Shimada, Brian Tong, and Tony Wang, the show covers lifestyles, personalities, trends and issues. It's on the International Channel and various indie stations, including KTSF-San Francisco, whose studios serve as Stir's home base. The hipness quotient declines severely when I make an appearance, interviewed by Jeannie. For more info, go to the show's Web site, www.stirtv.com...And for a sober look at the William Hung phenomenon, check out Emil Guillermo's essay, "William Hung: Racism, Or Magic?" at www.sfgate.com...And I'm with Leonard Chan, editor of the newsletter for the Asian American Curriculum Project, a bookstore in San Mateo, Calif., when he writes: "If you're interested in an Asian American that truly could sing, we still have some Larry Ching CDs. The Chinese Frank Sinatra beats the Chinese Ricky...
Ben joins jazz singer Cookie Wong in a tribute to pioneer music makers. And then he takes off for Vegas!
October, for me, was chock-a-block with events: I officiated a wedding; MCd a set of readings at LitCrawl, an annual literary event in San Francisco.
Did an onstage interview with Albert Maysles, the legendary documentary filmmaker for the Mill Valley Film Festival; hosted a dinner celebrating the 30th anniversary of Asian Mental Health Services (with David Henry Hwang and Tamlyn Tomita as keynote speakers), and sat on a panel of music journalists at UC Berkeley, sponsored by the Asian American Journalists Association and the Journalists of Color at Cal.
Oh, and I began production on a radio show of my own. Must write about that someday.
But one of the most illuminating -- not to mention rockin' -- events was Dancing on the Roof, a dinner and show honoring San Francisco Chinatown dance bands from the 1930s to the 70s, which I co-MCd with Cookie Wong. (We did the 70s group, while Doris Him Grover and Gerrye Wong covered the pioneer bands that played from the 30s to the 60s, such as the Cathayans and the Chinatown Knights.) The dinner was presented by the Chinese Historical Society of America to raise funds to repair its museum roof. The banquet room at the Marriott was packed, and the roof has been patched up nicely.
Cookie and I brought on members of such bands as Jest Jammin, Majestic Sounds, the Intrigues, and one group that went through five names: Persuasions,...
Supervisor Ed Jew gets into trouble; our Ben Fong-Torres gets into People magazine.
One of the biggest political stories in San Francisco is also one of the saddest especially for Asian Americans.
The subject is Ed Jew , who was elected late last year to the city's Board of Supervisors and is its lone Asian American member. He beat out two strong fellow Asian Americans in the district election, and represents the Sunset District, which includes, among other mini-communities, the so-called Second Chinatown, centered on Clement Street.
The problem is, Jew, who is also one of the Board's most conservative members, is required to live in the district he represents, and, it appears, he does not. And if he doesn't, then he's not qualified to have run for his office, or to occupy it. Investigations by the City Attorney and the District Attorney have resulted in reports that Jew has failed to provide proof that he lives in a house, owned by his father, in the district. Jew's wife and children live out of town, in the suburb of Burlingame, and Jew operates a flower shop in Chinatown. Investigators, checking utility bills and talking with neighbors and mail carriers, believe that he has been living in Burlingame since 2003. (However, they say, Jew used that address for voting in recent years, and stated that he lived there when he filed his candidacy papers last year. That would be a violation of election laws.) Jew has claimed that he splits his time among all three locations. And...