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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

A Senior Moment and a Reunion with a Pop Star
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.

With Michael Schudson

My commencement speech at Thurgood Marshall College-part of the University of California at San Diego-went over all right. Maybe it's because I didn't moon the audience.

Soon after picking me up at the airport, Michael Schudson, Acting Provost of the college, told me about last year's commencement speaker, Dr. Patch Adams, the unorthodox doc played by Robin Williams in the film, Patch Adams. He skipped the traditional cap and gown, wearing a T-shirt and cutoffs instead. And, at the end of his talk, he invited the student body president of UCSD onto the stage, they turned their backs to the audience, and dropped trou.

The administration was not amused. I did not know any of this when I got an email from the Acting Provost in March, informing me that the commencement committee had recommended me for this year's gig. I was on a short list with a Supreme Court justice, a U.C. higher-up, and an ABC political correspondent whose first name conjures a soft drink and a not so soft drug.

So why me? Turns out many in the senior class of 750 had read my memoirs, The Rice Room, and that an article I did back in the early '80s, about why there are no Asian-American males anchoring TV newscasts (a story sadly still relevant today) had been used in various courses. (Thurgood Marshall, named for the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, features urban, Third World, and ethnic studies, along with a broad liberal arts program.)

What an honor, for a guy who didn't even attend his own graduation (at San Francisco State). But, hey, that was back in the Sixties! I forgot!

Anyway, I accepted the invitation, got to LaJolla, where the 40 year-old university is situated, met faculty members in the green room, put on the robe, did my requested 12 minutes, and, most importantly, kept my slacks on. I couldn't see the chancellor and the deans, who were seated on stage behind me, but the only time I could imagine their eyebrows lifting would be when I quoted Quincy Jones, the legendary musician, telling me that he'd gotten into a little trouble at Harvard when he told a graduating class, "Don't take no shit!"

As the three or four thousand people in front of me laughed, I looked over to a woman standing ten feet away from me, signing my talk. "I wanna see how THAT'S signed," I said. She smiled, but her hands remained still.

Acting Provost Schudson was pleased to know that, for my speech, I'd dug up a quote from a 1978 commencement address given by Thurgood Marshall himself, in which he beseeched students to "use your knowledge and training for improving the lives of others."

I also told the graduates-whose senior class began with the terrorist attacks on America-that we'd gotten back to normal-a version of normalcy, anyway, all too soon; that we were back to hatred and violence, greed and selfishness, "all the things that remind us that we are not always 'America the Beautiful.'" I continued:

"The fact is, we can be. When my parents, young people living, unhappily, in China, thought about coming to America, they knew this country as 'Gum San,' which means golden mountains, or 'Mai Gok,' beautiful country. Through hard, hard work and a devotion to their culture, they forged a life, and raised a family, that gave them reason enough to believe that the United States was, in fact, golden, and beautiful. Even if one of their sons DID wind up writing about rock and roll."

Congrats to seniors everywhere, in high school and in college. May you keep on improving your own-and others' lives.

Leo Sayer: Karaoke Makes Him Feel Like Singing

Leo Sayer's biggest hits came in the mid-Seventies. You may remember "When I Need You," "You Make Me Feel Like Dancing" (which wound up in the Charlie's Angels movie), and "More Than I Can Say." But when he lifts his voice in song these days, you wonder where all those years went.

He did the other day…at our house-Dianne and my home, that is, in San Francisco. Leo was visiting from London, where he's working on a series of reissues of his albums, and on a book. He was in California to gather stories for his various projects, and wanted to talk with me about the interviews I did with him, back in the day, for Rolling Stone and for Evening Magazine, a TV show, and about the role San Francisco played in his career.

That career, he was happy to say, is still going strong, with tours in Russia and China, Australia and New Zealand, and, most of all, Southeast Asia. Little Leo is huge in Vietnam (where, in 1994, he headlined the first public concert after the war). Throughout Southeast Asia, Leo told me, his hit version of the Buddy Holly classic, "More Than I Can Say," is the Number One song at karaoke bars. When Leo toured South Korea and Vietnam, interviewers would take him to bars. Leo, an outgoing sort, was more than happy to sing.

I told him that I have a karaoke system, and it wasn't long before he took the microphone, showing off his Buddy Holly voice, rocking out on "Foxy Lady" and trading verses with me on Dylan's "Positively Fourth Street." That's all good and fun, but when he finally tackled one of his own hits, hours later, it was downright moving. Dianne and I had taken Leo and a friend, Marianne, to one of our fave restaurants, Andalu, where our fave server, Maya, was having dinner with her parents and a bunch of friends, on the eve of her graduation from S.F. State University. We invited Maya and several buddies over for karaoke, and Leo performed his signature hit, "When I Need You," with Maya and two girl friends dancing behind and around him. He got deep into the song, hit all the high notes, and took us back in time. The girls didn't know about Leo, although Maya's parents certainly did. But here, at our house, they swooned to the sound of a classic love song, perfectly sung.

This column is dedicated to the memories of Vincent Chin, who was murdered June 19, 1982, and of my brother, Barry Fong-Torres, who died on June 26, 1972. We will never forget.

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


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