Like a Rolling Stone

A Laotian American's View of Golden Gate Park

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Saturday, 23 September 2006

Ben visits an artist who paints whatever he likes, and listens to lots of flower drum songs.

Somboun Sayasane is an anomaly among painters. Hes self-effacing, modest to a fault, and generous with his time and talents. And he loves to sing Chris Isaak, John Lennon and The Bee Gees.

I know this because, since 1991, Ive seen Sayasane at Yet Wah, a San Francisco restaurant that includes a karaoke bar.

Now, after all these years and songs Sayasane has published a book, The Park in the City: Impressions of Golden Gate Park . Its a beautiful, personal celebration of one of the world best-known urban parks, and it gives me all the more reason to introduce him to you.

Sayasane, who is 57, is an American, by way of Laos, and, as a refugee from that country, has reason to appreciate much of what he encounters.

And whenever he sees something he likes, hes likely to paint it.

Everywhere he goes, hes always drawing, says his friend, Henry Arnold . Hes a tremendous artist, and hes a very good-hearted guy.

I first met Sayasane at the Yet Wah. Hed read an article Id written about karaoke, and began showing up with a couple of friends. As a regular, Id begun producing a newsletterthe Yet Wah Tusi (get it?)for fun. It was a mix of news, gossip and slander, with a circulation of maybe a dozen. Somboun began doing cartoon sketches of the singers. Despite our artistry, the Tusi folded, due to a lack of time and ink cartridges. But Sayasane, who was an art teacher in San Francisco, drew on. He...

Asian Americans on TV? What a Concept! And Ben goes to a parade…and the Grammys.

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Tuesday, 22 March 2005

Asian Americans on TV? What a Concept! And Ben goes to a paradeand the Grammys.

If it strikes you as odd that Asian Americans, for all of our inroads into the mainstream, have yet to be seen widely on television, you are not alone.

And, in recent times, there've been some noble attempts to raise APA profiles, ranging from Stir TV (on the International Channel as well as KTSF in San Francisco) to Pacific Fusion, a San Francisco production thats airing locally and on a Hawaiian station.

Now comes word, by way of a report by San Francisco Chronicle TV columnist Tim Goodman, of ImaginAsian TV, which hopes to become the first 24/7 Asian American channel.

Based in New York, ImaginAsian hopes to present what it calls Pan-Asian programming in English. Besides a Web site, a movie theater in New York City, and a radio show in San Francisco, it's launched a sitcom called "Uncle Morty's Dub Shack." According to Goodman, "It's about four friends in a rap groupnone of them too brightwho pick up cash helping Morty dub really bad Asian films into English. Its 'Mystery Science Theatre 3000' meets the Beastie Boys."

ImaginAsian, Goodman says, is pretty low-budget and will be facing some pretty stiff competition soon. For one, MTV is launching three channels: MTV China, MTV Korea, and MTV Desi (aimed at South Asian Americans). For one thing, the International Channel, home of the lively Stir TV show, is planning to drop African, Arabic, French, Iranian, and other programming in late March,...

Hearing Voices Everywhere by Ben Fong-Torres

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Saturday, 12 May 2012

Hearing Voices Everywhere by Ben Fong-Torres

It’s been a while since I’ve written, but I’ve got excuses. For one thing, I was engrossed in The Voice, the singing competition on NBC, because I’m related to one of the singers who made the Elite 8. For another, I’ve been out in public, at the L.A. Times’ Festival of Books at USC, emceeing a sendoff for the president of San Francisco State University (a couple of my jokes even made the local press), and keynoting an Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce dinner, on the eve of Asian Pacific American Heritage month. B.D. Wong, now being seen on the NBC series, Awake, was a late (and great) addition to the program.

I also cranked out an article for The Hollywood Reporter about Dick Clark, based on a sometimes contentious Rolling Stone interview I did with him in 1973, followed by a fun run, a couple years later, through Las Vegas. And I conducted some interviews for my Little Feat book, with Jimmy Buffett, John Sebastian and others.

But forget all that. I had a family tie to The Voice?

Yep. Lindsey Pavao, the most indie of the final bunch of singers, is, if I got it right, a second cousin of my niece Tina’s husband, Matt Pavao. He told me this over brunch at the Foreign Cinema just as the show was whittling the original 48 contestants (a dozen each for celeb “coaches” Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton and Cee-Lo Green) to eight.

I’d been watching the show (I prefer it over American Idol), and had noted Lindsey’s name, but never thought...

C'mon, Baby, Light My Fire

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Saturday, 25 November 2006

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...

A New York Minute with the High-Flying Eagles

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Friday, 10 June 2005

Ben Fong-Torres flies with the Eagles and Al Green, and addresses 21,000 at his alma mater.

Okay, first of all, its the rock band, the Eagles, and not the Philadelphia Eagles. Seems like a lot of people, especially younger ones, dont know about the band from the 70s, the one with all those hits: Hotel California, Lyin Eyes, Best of My Love, Take It Easy, New Kid in Town, The Long Run, Take It to the Limit, Tequila Sunrise, and, take my word for it, tons more.

And thats just the band. As solo artists, Don Henley has had his own library of hits, like Boys of Summer, Dirty Laundry, All She Wants to Do Is Dance, and The End of the Innocence. Glenn Frey, who co-founded the Eagles with Henley, had The Heat is On, You Belong to the City, and Smugglers Blues, which was featured in that slick cop show, Miami Vice. Glenn also did an acting stint on that series. And then theres Joe Walsh, a rocker through and through, who came to the Eagles from his own band and, before that, from the James Gang. Rocky Mountain Way, Life Is Good, Funk 49

In other words, the hits just keep on coming.

Anyway, I interviewed them for TV Guide , for the issue that came out just before their NBC special in early June 1, based on concerts they played late last year in Melbourne, Australia. (The full concert, and more, is available now on DVD.)

The interviews were hit-and-run. I flew from San Francisco to New York just in time to get to Madison Square Garden to say some hellos, have some dinner, and see...