Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broadcaster, and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine, reunited with the stars of the Forbidden City nightclub and vows to make a record with one of them.
In the black and white photographs, they are impossibly dashing, daring, devil may care. There's Larry Ching, "The Chinese Sinatra," surrounded by four babes. There are the five leggy Devilettes in sheer, short outfits, but still showing far less than Noel Toy, the "Bubble Dancer" who performed in the nude. And there are the graceful looking Toy & Wing, "The Chinese Fred and Ginger," as in Astaire and Rogers.
I say "impossibly" dashing and daring because these were Asian Americans working in nightclubs and lounges in the Forties and Fifties, when Chinese, along with other ethnic minorities, weren't seen (and, in many cases, accepted) as entertainers, except in roles like Susie Wong and Fu Manchu.
In the late Thirties in San Francisco, a showbiz-loving visionary, Charlie Low, opened the Forbidden City, a nightclub and restaurant near Chinatown, San Francisco, featuring floor shows with singers, dancers, chorus lines, acrobats and magicians. His was not the first or only such club, but he made his the best known, and it became the model for the nightclub in the C.Y. Lee book and Broadway musical, The Flower Drum Song.
Larry Ching, at age 82, still sings, quite beautifully (and, by the way, in no way resembling Sinatra; Larry's is a much...
Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broadcaster, and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone, responds to queries about how to get into writing. He also recounts a a busy day, including a gig with Sheila E. and a chat with Oscar-winning actor Dianne Wiest.
One recent Saturday, I emceed a lunchtime fundraiser for Oakland High School, featuring fellow alumnus Sheila E, did a reading as part of Litquake in San Francisco (one author every ten minutes-kind of like a Wordstock), then raced up to Marin County to conduct an onstage interview with Dianne Wiest for the Mill Valley Film Festival.
And I didn't have a heart attack. Woo-HOO!
Sheila was great, improvising on timbales with a swinging Oakland High School Band at Yoshi's, the jazz club in Jack London Square. Litquake, taking place in two theaters in Civic Center, was hopelessly behind schedule when I arrived at 4:30 for my 5 o'clock spot, and I wound up following a bright hip-hopper from Youth Speaks. Fortunately, I chose short excerpts about three artists who are hipsters in widely differing ways: Rickie Lee Jones, Rodney Dangerfield, and the Rolling Stones, and the audience members held back their rotten tomatoes.
At the Rafael Theater in San Rafael, Dianne Wiest, Oscar winner for Bullets Over Broadway ("Don't speak!") and Hannah and Her Sisters, swept in just before our 7 p.m. start time. We said hello as I escorted her into the theater, and, minutes later, there we were, chatting away in...
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. And, now, singer? Not really, but he's certainly had his moments.
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.
As I was exiting from the Exit Theater, a woman spotted me and asked, "So, is this a third career?" She'd just seen me doing some Dean Martin and Elvis in "Exit Laughing," one of the entries in the San Francisco Fringe Festival of 55 one-hour plays and performances of all sorts, crammed into a handful of theaters over a dozen days and nights in the seedy Tenderloin district. She either knew, or had just read, in the playbill, that I was a writer and broadcaster. And, now, a singer, too?
No way. This was just for fun. Ruby Unger, the saucy, sassy, and somewhat silly founder of WUFF (Women United For Fun) decided to do a one-woman show celebrating the 20th anniversary of her social group, and, since WUFF has a men's auxiliary (Men Who Dare), asked me to give her a break during the hour by doing a song, preferably about WUFF, or its philosophy: Party today, for tomorrow, who knows?
So I rewrote the Dino hit,...
AsianConnections is proud to present the adventures of Ben Fong-Torres, who, in turn, is proud to present Sheryl Crow.
Just about once a day, I roll my eyes as someone asks about Almost Famous. It's been almost two years since that movie came out, but the curiosity about my being a character in the film rolls on. Whether it's by e-mail or in person; whether it's friends I run into at social gatherings or complete strangers, it never fails: "So, what'd you think? Did you like it? What was it like being in the movie?" My eyes roll and I unreel my stock answer: Loved the movie; it perfectly caught what it was like falling in love with rock and roll in the early Seventies. As for my character and Rolling Stone, and how we treated the kid writer -- that's Hollywood. I was a plot device, and I'm happy to have been of service.
So, one of the most recent inquisitors was none other than Sheryl Crow. We'd just met, for an interview for Parade magazine, and, since we were, uh, almost famished, decided to grab lunch. As we settled into a banquette at the Grand Caf in downtown San Francisco, and as I set up my recording equipment, she popped the question. I could've slapped her, but I didn't. She'd also said that she used to read my work in Rolling Stone. "When I was a kid, I wanted to be like the people that I read about."
And when I pulled out a copy of Not Fade Away, my compilation of old articles, to give her, she shrieked: "Oh my god! We were just talking about this the other day....
Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man -- author, broadcaster, and former senior editor and writer at Rolling Stone Magazine -- still gets called to be a TV talking head. Especially when the subject is pop music, and stars like The Boss, Bruce Springsteen.
For a moment there, I thought Bruce Springsteen had died. Back at my home office after a lunch in San Francisco, I had messages from a TV network and a local station, wanting to interview me about the Boss.
That's usually a bad sign. Previously, I've been called to weigh in on the deaths of George Harrison, John Lennon, John Entwistle, Waylon Jennings, Bill Graham, John Belushi you get the idea. A pop figure dies; my phone starts ringing.
But no. They wanted to talk about Bruce because he'd just released a new CD, The Rising, and it was getting the royal media treatment. The cover of Time. A five-star review in Rolling Stone, which offered "the gospel according to Bruce." A live mini-concert on the Today show, broadcast from his troubled but fabled hometown, Asbury Park, New Jersey.
This is the way it is these days with acts from the Baby Boomer generation. Because boomers now run the controls at media outlets, stories that were sniffed at years ago are now Page One: McCartney weds; the Who plows on, and, of course, anything Elvis.
But Springsteen does give good hype. His recording truly is significant, inspired, as it is, mostly by September 11 [and can we PLEASE stop calling it "9-1-1," as someone on CNBC just...