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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

Gawk and Roll at the Hall of Fame
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.

It was a night for gawking. For six hours -- and four or five more, if you had the connections and the stamina to attend the parties after the show-the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction dinner and attendant bashes, in and around the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, New York, kept your head spinning.

I never schmoozed more in my life, from 6 o'clock with Felix Cavaliere of the Rascals to well after midnight, when I met Paul Shaffer at Phil Spector's annual post-induction party.

In between were the legendary Spector himself (for you young ones, he produced a heap o'hits back in the day, including just about everything you know by the Righteous Brothers, the Crystals, the Ronettes, Darlene Love, and that musical gem by Ike & Tina Turner, "River Deep, Mountain High." Hanging with Sir Phil was Nancy Sinatra. And next to them stood Robert Shapiro, who you recall from the O.J. Simpson defense team. Gee, did he think the O'Jays were being inducted? (You know: They smile in your face, then they take your place, the Back Stabbers...)

At a ringside table, there was Keith Richards. I hadn't seen Keef since covering a Stones tour in Hawaii in the early '70s, but he granted me an interview when I wrote my book on his buddy, country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons (Hickory Wind). After only nine years, it was nice to have a chance to say thanks for the chat. And, just a seat away, there was Paul Allen, the Microsoft billionaire who's the main force behind the other rock museum, the new Experience Music Project in Seattle.

They were part of a warm evening of tributes, many of them from younger to older generations. It was Mary J. Blige who brought on the great -- and I mean that literally -- Solomon Burke. Ricky Martin inducted the late Ritchie Valens and did a medley of Ritchie's hits, including "Come On Let's Go," and "La Bamba." Some people at my table, mostly media types, grumbled that it should've been Los Lobos performing, but, hey, this induction is now a VH1 TV show, and bookings are clearly driven by demographics. Thus, Moby wondered, aloud, what he was doing, assigned to induct Steely Dan.

Plus, thus, there's N'Sync to induct Michael Jackson. There's Marc Anthony for Paul Simon. David Grohl and Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters introduced and jammed with Queen. And Kid Rock inducted Aerosmith.

There were a couple of peer to peer inductions. The Flamingos were saluted by Frankie Valli. And Keith Richards took care of the two sidemen who were enshrined: Johnnie Johnson, Chuck Berry's piano player, and James Burton, who backed Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, and dozens of others. That only made sense, since, as Keith reminded, he himself is a sideman.

For most fans, the highlight is the all-star jam that closes the dinner. After various inductees returned to the stage, sometimes with surprise guests -- Melissa Etheridge here, Dion there -- Solomon Burke came on stage, with James Burton, Richards and Robbie Robertson on guitar, and Paul Shaffer, leader of the band on David Letterman's Late Show, all blasting away on "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love." Solomon kept pointing to people in the front of the stage and called them up. Pretty soon there were a dozen fans up there dancing and getting their pictures taken with these Hall of Famers.

That's a fan's moment. This fan's moment came a bit later, at Phil Spector's party at a nearby Italian restaurant. There, at a back table, I met two surviving members of the Flamingos. That's the vocal group who had the hit, "I Only Have Eyes for You," back in 1959 or so. It was the sweetest of love songs, right up there with such doo-wop standards as "Sincerely" and "In the Still of the Night."

A fellow rock journalist saw me grabbing autographs from the Flamingos. "You're really a fan, aren't you?" he said. For too many years, I hid that fact. I never asked to have pictures taken with people I interviewed; never asked for autographs; worked to maintain an objective distance.

Tonight was not a night for distance. Tonight, I was a fan-and proud of it.

I'LL TAKE MANHATTAN: While in New York, I hooked up with two of the actresses I met on the panel we did in Cambridge for the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association at Harvard Law School. Christine Toy Johnson and Arista and I had BBQ and other delicious stuff at Houston's, took questions from other diners (just kidding), and then, the night always being young in Manhattan, Arista and I headed for Chinatown, to Winnie's, a funky karaoke bar.

While I did song after song (paying a buck apiece, in NYC tradition), Arista, who did a documentary on Asian stereotypes, sat fascinated, watching a parade of Asian-Americans stepping up to the mike and singing a wide range of pop and rock songs, in both English and Cantonese.This, she said, would make a fascinating documentary, showing people who've been stereotyped as, among many other things, studious, introverted, and reserved, performing with abandon.

After a couple of Dewars rocks, I certainly did, ending my stint with Elvis' "Treat Me Nice." For some reason, the noisy bar quieted down as the first notes of the song blasted out. Maybe it was because I didn't look at the lyrics, as most karaoke singers do. Or because, the previous song, I'd done my ragged Dylan voice on "Blowin' in the Wind." And, before that, my Dino on "That's Amore." Whatever, Arista called the song "a showstopper."

And for a moment, I felt like I was in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Well, almost.

WHAT'S YOUR NAME: With Puff Daddy following J-Lo's footsteps and adopting a name even sillier than what he already had -- P. Diddy -- New York music publicist Ida Langsam has announced that she is now I-La, and invited friends to change their handles, too. So, from now on, call me B-Fo. Not to be confused with Afta.

 

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


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