Like a Rolling Stone

We Love New York, v. 2003

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Saturday, 22 November 2003

As my regular readersboth of youknow, Dianne, my wife, and I like to hit New York City every year.

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 and immortalized in the movie "Almost Famous," the Oscar and Golden Globe-winning film by Cameron Crowe.

As my regular readersboth of youknow, Dianne, my wife, and I like to hit New York City every year. We got around to it in early October and had a blast, courtesy of the Carlyle, which put us up in one of their grandest suites (in fact, it included a baby grand piano in the living room), and of several restaurateurs and chefs, who helped us secure some of the hottest tickets in Manhattan: namely, reservations at their restaurants.

I won't bore you with culinary details. Suffice it to say that we had a blast. We werent weight-watching; we were just waiting for the next amazing course at Babbo, Aureole, Gramercy Tavern, Tribeca Grill, and the Biltmore Room. The reason we got into those hotspotsnot to mention Icon for a lunchwas that I did a story in the October issue of Gourmet magazine, on chefs who are also musicians and manage, amidst their 24/7 schedules, to rehearse and play at various gigs and fundraisers.

And when we weren't busy with our four-star meals, Dianne could shop to her closet's content, and I visited various friends,...

A Visit with Bill Clinton: Health and 'Heartbreak'

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Monday, 23 April 2007

AC's Ben Fong-Torres meets Bill Clinton and remembers Don Ho.

It was an offer that doesnt come around every day, or even every Administration. Sing Elvis with our band, and maybe Bill Clinton will join in on saxophone.

I, of course, said Yes. Thank you. Thank you very much.

The band is the Eyewitness Blues Band, a collection of anchors, reporters and videographers from KCBS, the all-news radio station here in San Francisco, and CBS 5, its sister TV station. Since forming late last year for a story one of them did about a music school, theyve played company parties and a couple of small gigs.

Now, they had a big one. KCBS was producing Health Etc., an all-day expo at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, on April 14th. Former president Clinton had signed on as keynote speaker. And, somehow, the band got booked to play before and after the speech.

Clinton, an Elvis fan from his youth, famously played the sax on Heartbreak Hotel on Arsenio Halls late-night show in 1992, when then-Gov. Clinton was a presidential candidate. It made perfect sense to think that, 15 years later, hed want to pick up the horn again.

So, when Stan Bunger, the KCBS morning co-anchor (and guitarist) called to tell me about the group, and learned that Ive sung Elvis songs with bands here and there, he asked if I knew Heartbreak Hotel. I didnt, but, hey, its not exactly Shakespeare. I agreed to do Elvis and another song the band knew, Johnny Cashs Ring of Fire. The bands regular lead singer, CBS5 reporter...

The Art of Rock - and of Chinese Restaurant Take-Out Menus

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Sunday, 23 November 2003

Art is on my mind these days.

Art is on my mind these days. I dropped in on an exhibit of paintings and drawings by Grace Slick at the Hotel Monaco in downtown San Francisco the other evening. Yes, that Grace Slick -- the so-called "acid queen" of the Sixties rock scene, who soared with Jefferson Airplane with such hits as "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit." Nowadays, she paints white rabbits -- and many other subjects, including fellow icons like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison. The work ranges from amusing to amazing, and Grace draws and paints in numerous styles. "I get bored easy," she told me. "I can't imagine being stuck in one style." She isn't, and her work is stunning, funny, and true. Check out her paintings of Jerry Garcia and of herself, back in the day. Caustic as she could be, she was -- and is -- a true beauty.

Grace isn't the only rocker who's gone from the stage to the canvas. At the San Francisco Art Exchange downtown, I saw several excellent paintings by Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones ?mainly of fellow Stones. His work is a reminder that many rockers started out with pens and brushes before picking up guitars and drumsticks. When I first met Joni Mitchell in the late Sixties, she'd done not only a new album (Ladies of the Canyon), but had painted the album cover herself. Jerry Garcia was also an accomplished visual artist, and his work is being seen, today, in everything from paintings to neckties.

Art is also on my mind because of...

Steering Toward Rock; Rolling Toward Rats

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Friday, 01 February 2008

Ben blogs about blurbing a beauty of a book.

Happy New Year, for the second, if not the third time (Oshogatsu, anyone?). It's the Year of the Rat, supplanting the Boar and setting off a debate, in lunar calendar circles, about whether it's 4705 or 4706. Not exactly a Blu-Ray vs. HD DVD war, but a debate, nonetheless. Do let me know how it turns out, as I want to get the year right on my checks.

My Chinese New Year rituals including cleaning my house (that is, making sure our house cleaner is OK on Comet and Windex), paying our bills (that is, sending in some minimum payments), visiting family (which goes OK, until we get into that fierce argument about Blu-Ray or HD), and, of course, co-anchoring the New Year Parade on KTVU ("Fox 2" in the S.F. Bay Area).

It's my twelfth time, and, I think, the eight consecutive year with Julie Haener (and with Robert Handa on the streets below, interviewing dignitaries). Eight, of course, is an auspicious number, so it should be a good one, even with all those rats running around the parade route, from lower Market Street through Union Square (where we will be) and into Chinatown.

Speaking of Chinatown: I just got an advance look at Fae Myenne Ng's new novel, Steer Toward Rock. I got it because the publisher was hoping for a blurb. What's a "blurb?" Good question. In fact, I wrote a blog about it for this new Web site for authors and people who like books and writing. It's called Amy Tan 's on there with her first (and quite...

Exit the Dragon by Ben Fong-Torres

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Wednesday, 03 October 2012

Silver Dragon Restaurant Oakland Chinatown 1955

Events are conspiring to hurtle me into my distant past, to my childhood years in Oakland’s Chinatown, where my sisters, brothers and I served time at our restaurant, the New Eastern Café.

First, there was the closing of the Silver Dragon, an institution among restaurants in Chinatown; one of the first ones built for banquets and special events. Since 1974, when it settled in at Ninth and Webster Streets, it was a gathering place for the community, whether it was a young couple on a date or a family hosting a red egg and ginger party or a wedding banquet.

It’s being replaced by Asian Health Services, and that organization had a fundraising dinner gala the other night at the nearby Marriott, with 600 people in attendance. The featured entertainment was a tribute to the Chee family, the clan behind the Dragon.

Sherry Hu, the MC for the event, asked me to speak as part of the tribute, and, although I didn’t have the time, I made time.

You see, my family’s restaurant was sold, in 1954, to the Chees, who turned it into the first Silver Dragon. I was nine years old then, but my time at 710 Webster Street helped shape my life.

As I told the audience at the Marriott, the title of my memoirs, The Rice Room, is about a space in the back of that restaurant. “We were all in the rice room,” I said, “where rice, soy sauce and children were stored.

I continued, “This is where, while my parents were cooking and running a restaurant, I grew up.  This is where I...