Like a Rolling Stone

Old Year New Year: A Column of Musings

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Monday, 12 January 2004

2004 brings in a New Year Column of Musings from AsianConnections' Renaissance man: Ben Fong-Torres.

So, happy new year. As for the old one, it was another dozen months that flew by all too fast. Heres how it goes: Happy New Year! Suddenly, its tax time. Yikes, its summer. What? The World Series? And while youre carving your pumpkin, stores are putting up Christmas lights. And another year bites the dust.

As for carving a pumpkin, forget that. Who had time to do anything? We were always in a rush; over-extended; overwrought; hung over.

And yet, looking back, it was an amazing year. Scary, no doubt, between our dolt of a President and our celebrity madness, which makes stars of the Scott Petersons and Paris Hiltons of this world and governors of musclebound action-picture stars.

My own year was the usual stir-fry of highs and lows. The high came courtesy of Larry Ching, the legendary nightclub singer. Ive written enough about producing the 82 year-old crooners first (and last) CD that Ill just say Thanks one more time to Larry, who died in early July, a week after a triumphant CD listening party at the Chinese Historical Society of Americas museum in Chinatown. And congratulations, too, to all involved. The CD has sold out its initial run of 1,000 copies. Just one note: Alumni of SF State University may see an article I wrote about Larry in the next issue, and the February edition of the new music magazine, Paste, will also carry a story about what it was like for me to...

Telling Stories and Barking Like Dogs

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Tuesday, 24 January 2006

Chinese New Year: Time to exchange those oranges!

Not long ago, I was invited to participate in the Porch Light storytelling series thats taken hold here in San Francisco. Produced by author Beth Lisick and various pals, it fills local nightclubs with people who wantof all thingsto sit and hear anecdotes. Not standup comedy; not improv sketchesjust plain old stories.

It was astonishing to walk down the stairs of Caf du Nord on upper Market Street and into a packed house, all these friendly people ready to lend an ear to the likes of Chuck Prophet, the singer-songwriter; Oscar Villalon, the book reviews editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, Andrea Michaels, former writer for the sitcom Designing Women and game show contestant (she won a motor home on Wheel of Fortune)and me (I lost an RV during my 1993 stint on the Wheel, but am still driving my prize Acura Legend).

I am not a story teller and cheated by riffing, as briefly as I could, on the topic for the eveningfamily, and then, because it was Christmas (remember that word?) and I was talking (vaguely) about how our family observed holidays, I cheated by launching into Elvis Blue Christmas.

It went over all right, but, still, it was cheating. But it couldve been worse. I couldve ignored a cardinal Porch Light rule and done a reading instead of telling stories.

In fact, until Beth pounded that into me, Id prepared to read from a chapter in my memoirs, The Rice Room. It told of my mother, freshly landed in Oakland, Calif....

A Sweet Howard Stern, a Sour Adam Carolla, and a Crazed Parade: Oh, Man!

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Tuesday, 14 February 2006

A Sweet Howard Stern, a Sour Adam Carolla, and a Crazed Parade: Oh, Man!

A day or so after the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade which I co-anchored, for the tenth year, on KTVU (Fox 2) I got an e-mail from a long-time friend, Gail Katagiri:

The best part of watching you anchor this year's Chinese New Year's Parade was after the broadcast had ended, and you and Julie disappeared from the screen. But I think your mike was still on, because I heard someone's voice (it sounded like you) exclaim Oh, man!

Yep. That was me, and Im amazed not only that they left it in when they replayed the parade the next day, but that I was so mild. I could well have muttered something like, F---, that was tough.

Because it was. On parade day, Saturday, February 11th, we had gorgeous, springtime weather (it rained on our last two parades). And we had a smooth opening segment, featuring the Yau Kung Moon troupe of martial artists, lion dancers, and a golden dragon. But it went downhill from there. I wont bore you with the details of contingents, whether floats, bands, marchers or dignitaries, that failed to be where they were supposed to be, or do what they had been expected to do along the parade route.

Oh, and we had audio problems, and for a two hour live broadcast (which went half an hour overtime because of the delays), that adds up to a big F---, that was TOUGH.

Still, from all reports, Julie Haener, my unflappable co-host, and I sounded like we were on a boat, sailing breezily in the...

Googling and Monkeying Around

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Monday, 09 February 2004

Mickey Newbury, the late, absolutely great singer-songwriter, and I were chatting one night a couple of years ago when he mentioned that he had "Googled" himself and was amazed to find several hundreds of mentions of him on various Web sites.

Mickey Newbury, the late, absolutely great singer-songwriter, and I were chatting one night a couple of years ago when he mentioned that he had "Googled" himself and was amazed to find several hundreds of mentions of him on various Web sites. (Today, it's up to almost 9000!) Since then, I've also checked in on myself now and again. Let me go over right now and see. OKI'm just under 4000. It's astounding. Try it out sometime, at google.com. Anytime anyone's written anything about you online, you wind up in most search engines. Just about anything you publish yourself pops up, too. And for me, the surprises are endless. Articles I wrote 25, 30 years ago have been typed up or scanned and placed on various fan sites, usually without my knowledge or permission. It is, as Johnny Carson used to say, "wild, wacky stuff."

Now, a variation of Googling is on Amazon.com. I entered my name the other day and stumbled into a stream of titles of books not just the four or five books I've published, but every book they've got in which I've been quoted, praised and vilified. Unbeknownst to me, numerous authors have lifted material from interviews I've conducted for their own books, crediting, but rarely informing me.

It was a strange feeling rolling...

A Fine Film Fest, and a Top Ten List:Why I Love (Hate) ‘American Idol’

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Tuesday, 28 March 2006

A Fine Film Fest, and a Top Ten List: Why I Love (Hate) American Idol

MOVING PICTURES: Asian American films are rocking. That was evident at the 24th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, which screened 126 films and videos over eleven days and nights in three Bay Area cities last month.

Shawn Wongs Americanese, directed by Eric Byler (Charlotte Sometimes) and based on Wongs novel, American Knees, opened the festival at the grand old Castro Theater, where an organist still performs before the curtains rise. The film stars Joan Chen and Chris Tashima (Visas and Virtue), along with Allison Sie (whos also the films exec producer), Kelly Hu, Sab Shimono, and Michael Paul Chan. After the screening, what appeared to be the entire cast and crew went on stage to field audience questions.

Although I cant report that the crowd went wild over this romantic drama, about a Hapa college professor caught in a fragile love triangle, Americanese did come into the festival fresh from SXSW in Austin, where it won both an audience award for best narrative film and a special jury award for best ensemble cast. (For an excellent overview of the film, go to IMDiversity.com and look for a review by Stewart David Ikeda.)

The closing night feature was Journey From the Fall, a feature focusing on the aftermath of the Vietnam warfrom a Vietnamese perspective, from director Ham Tran, with gorgeous cinematography by Guillermo Rosas (in Southeast Asia) and Julie Kirkwood (in...