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
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."
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.
Photo Credit:Dianne Fong-Torres
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.
L to R): Liz Lufkin's husband Bob, Susan Serrano, Dale Minami,
(Front L to R): SF Chronicle's Liz Lufkin, Philip Kan Gotanda,
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.
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.
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.
and a Broken Nail"
(L to R): Susan Serrano, Dale Minami, Diane Takei, Dianne
Photo Credit: Ben Fong-Torres
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.
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.
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.
Mister Throw Me Something!"
But, then, balance
is not exactly a high priority item in old New Orleans.