Like a Rolling Stone

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...

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...

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...

She Bangs! She Bangs! Ooh, Baby, I'm William Hung Over!

Posted by Ben Fong-Torres on Wednesday, 24 March 2004

American Idol reject William Hung gets an extended 15 minutes of fame, and Kim Wong Keltner's first novel sets off an online firestorm.

AsianConnections pre- sents the adventures of Ben Fong-Torres, our very own Renaissance man: author, broad- caster, karaoke nut and former writer and editor at Rolling Stone. Ben was a featured character in the acclaimed film, Almost Famous.

Ive got a feeling about this William Hung guy. Hes going to last about as long as an iPod download. Hung, of course, is the diminutive UC Berkeley student who auditioned for American Idol with a goofy version of Ricky Martins She Bangs, got featured as one of the really bad singers (and he dances like a marionette, to boot), and is going through his 15 minutes, and then some, of fame. Hung, a native of Hong Kong who moved to the U.S. in 1993, has been on big TV shows Tonight, Dateline, Entertainment Tonight, and Ellen ; hes being booked for personal appearances, hes got fan Web sites, and hes constantly mobbed on campus, where hes a civil engineering student. Best, or perhaps most frightening of all, he got a $25,000 recording contract and a CD, True Idol , coming out.

All this because, as clunky a performer as he is, he offered an innocently sweet and gracious response after the judges dissed him. I already gave my best, and I have no regrets at all.

And that was it. Because he didnt scream back at Simon Cowell, burst into tears and stomp off and because hes so bad its almost funny hes a cult...

I Write the Songs That Make Nobody Sing

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

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...