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