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Ben Fong-Torres
The Facts on Larry Ching
May 2003

'Better Luck' This Weekend
April 2003

Old Memories, a New Museum
March 2003

'Twixt Teen and Michael Jackson
February 2003

In a Confused State of Mind
January 2003

In the Trenches with Trent, Jon Lovitz, and Johnny Rivers
December 2002

The Pioneering Performers of The Forbidden City
November 2002

A Letter to Writers, and How the Wiest was Won
October 2002

A Singing Career? I Think Not.
September 2002

Sheryl Crow: All She Wants to Do is Have Some Lunch
August 2002

Bruce Springsteen: Still the Boss
July 2002

Commencement Speech at Thurgood Marshall College
July 2002

A Senior Moment and a Reunion with a Pop Star
June 2002

We Love New York, Part 2002
May 2002

A Flick, a Rock Fantasy, and An Alternative to the Laptop
Apr 2002

March Madness, the Musical, and a Joint Effort with Willie Nelson
Mar 2002

Bringing in 4700 with a Parade of Wild Horses
Feb 2002

Taking a Q from Quincy Jones - It's His Party
Feb 2002

Asian American Males on TV: Old News is Bad News
Dec, 2001

Life's Lessons from a DJ and a Songwriter
May 2001

Gawk and Roll at the Hall of Fame
Apr 2001

Shakin' It Up at Harvard
Mar 2001

Creole Ladies and Crazy Times Down in New Orleans
Feb 23, 2001

A Parade of Dragons, Lions, Serpents -- and Strippers?
Feb 5, 2001

Creole Ladies, and Crazy Times Down in New Orleans
by Ben Fong-Torres

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.

Bobby Cure, leader of one of two bands playing at the wedding of TV anchor Sydnie Kohara (of CNET TV) and high-tech executive George Laplante in New Orleans, couldn't believe his eyes and ears. On his stage was Sydnie herself, glowing in her beautiful satin wedding gown, belting out Gloria Gaynor's who-needs-a-manthem, "I Will Survive." A few songs later, she was back, this time to do one of her favorite songs, Patsy Cline's "Crazy."

I knew you'd love me as long as you needed
And then someday you'd leave me for somebody new?

Cure loved her performance, but couldn't help scratching his head at her song choices. But there was no mistaking it: Sydnie was in love with her brand-new husband. Take it from me. I married them.

So that was another thing that probably had Cure thinking that this was one of his more curious gigs. Here was Sydnie telling him, with no warning, that she wanted her minister to do a little Elvis. And I take the microphone and do "Can't Help Falling in Love" while the newlyweds swirl around the dance floor, soon joined by dozens of others. And, later, I encore with "Teddy Bear." 

"Bite Me"
Photo Credit:Dianne Fong-Torres
Of course, in New Orleans, odd moments are taken in stride. We were, after all, in the Big Easy on the throbbing eve of Mardi Gras, with parades coursing through town and various suburbs. (One of them, Barkus, featured dogs dolled up to the theme, "Saturday Bite Fever.") The weather zigged and zagged, from humid heat to 40 MPH winds and a splash of rain, to 30-degree nights. But no one cared. The streets were jammed and jamming. Bourbon Street was its usual frat party-meets-rave. Philip Kan Gotanda, the playwright/screenwriter, his wife, actress/producer Diane Takei, my wife, Dianne, and I lasted maybe a dozen blocks before we escaped down a side street, back to the Omni Royal Orleans.

We were in the Crescent City because Sydnie is from Louisiana, and chose to have her wedding close to family. A couple dozen of her California friends made the trip; others came from Arizona, Colorado, New York, and London. Pals included television personality Jan Yanehiro, who helped get Sydnie and George together two years ago; her agent, the civil rights attorney Dale Minami; San Francisco Chronicle entertainment editor Liz Lufkin, and several former fellow reporters on KGO-TV in San Francisco.

(Top L to R): Liz Lufkin's husband Bob, Susan Serrano, Dale Minami, DIane Takei
(Front L to R): SF Chronicle's Liz Lufkin, Philip Kan Gotanda, Ben Fong-Torres

All together, almost 200 people attended the nuptials, which George and Sydnie sandwiched between a welcoming reception and an afternoon of up-close parade watching at a house they rented on Napoleon Avenue for a Mardi Gras Brunch. That's where we screamed for and caught "throws" of beads, doubloons and other trinkets from cartoonish characters riding in the floats.

The Laplantes did it up right. I mentioned two bands at the wedding. I lied. Besides Bobby Cure, there was a swing band - but, at the wedding itself, there was also a jazz trio playing the processional, recessional (in full New Orleans second-line style), and a song within the ceremony, Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." I even got into the act, working a few lines of another favorite song of Sydnie's, "Tell Him," before asking her to recite her vows.

"3 Waves and a Broken Nail"
(L to R): Susan Serrano, Dale Minami, Diane Takei, Dianne Fong-Torres
Photo Credit:  Ben Fong-Torres
It's easy to get overpowered by music in New Orleans. Whether on Bourbon Street or down by the riverside, or in a bar at 5:30 in the morning, you're gonna hear jazz and blues and R&B and Zydeco, whether from street performers, legendary bands or just a jukebox. I even spent one breakfast talking with "Mr. New Orleans" himself, Allen Toussaint. The elegant Mr. Toussaint, who showed up in the Rib Room at the Royal Orleans in a suit and tie, has been making music since the Fifties. As a writer, arranger and producer, his credits include "Mother in Law," "Ya Ya," "Working in a Coalmine," "Lady Marmalade," "Yes We Can Can," "From a Whisper to a Scream" (which I used to play constantly on my KSAN radio show), and "What Do You Want the Boy to Do" (covered by both Boz Scaggs and Bonnie Raitt. He's worked with Etta James, Dr. John, Paul McCartney, The Band, and his own mentor, the maestro of New Orleans piano, Professor Longhair.

We were meeting because I'm working with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to gather material for a library being built in the near future, and I wanted him to consider donating documents to the new facility. Mr. Toussaint, who was inducted a few years ago, listened to my pitch and - music to my ears - agreed to help.

I celebrated by joining my wife and four friends for a huge breakfast at Brennan's. (I'd only had coffee with Allen Toussaint. No fool, I!) At this landmark restaurant, breakfasts described on the menu as "typical" run $35 to $50. If you economize by ordering ala carte, then an egg dish - say, a Benedict or a Sardou - can be acquired for a mere $19 to $24. Financing is available.

"Hey, Mister Throw Me Something!"
In a city of voodoo and ya ya, of Hurricanes and dog parades, of boiled crawfish and gators-on-a-stick, of swamps and sidewalk psychics, of Saints and sinners, of grownups walking around in jesters hats and flashing breasts in hopes of a string of beads, and of singing brides and ministers, the twenty-buck omelette was just one more thing to laugh about, and to remember. After all, you could always balance it off by going to Cafe DuMonde for coffee and beignets, costing $4.10 for the both of you.

But, then, balance is not exactly a high priority item in old New Orleans.

 

For more insights by Ben, visit his official website at www.benfongtorres.com


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