is proud to present the adventures of Ben
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.
THAT mean? The word was part of the title of the best-selling book
back in the late Fifties by pop star Pat Boone. It’s short for “betwixt,”
as in, “betwixt and between.” It’s one of Dianne, my wife’s favorite
phrases—especially at restaurants. She’ll tell the waiter, “These
two entrees both sound good. I’m betwixt and between.”
Boone’s book was “’Twixt Teen and Twenty,” and offered advice to
teenagers. I’m thinking of Pat because I just interviewed him in
front of a gymful of high school students at Campbell Hall in Los
Angeles. (The assembly, part of the school’s focus on diversity,
was produced by Dianne’s sister, Eileen Powers, an administrator.)
Pat, who is
almost 70 but looks nowhere near that age, had a lot to say to teens
back in the Fifties and Sixties, when he was a bigger pop star than
anybody, except Elvis. Pat had almost 40 Top 40 hits, including
“April Love,” “Love Letters in the Sand,” “Ain’t That a Shame,”
“Tutti Frutti,” and “Moody River.”
In a month dominated
by the fear of war and the disturbing visage of Michael Jackson
on TV whenever some reality show wasn’t on, it was good to spend
some time with a true role model.
Pat Boone at Campbell Hall in Los Angeles. (Photo by Dianne
For many, Pat
was too squeaky-clean back in the day. He was the “safe alternative”
to the hip-swinging Elvis. A devout Christian, Pat was (and remains)
a good family man. His idea of wild fashions was to wear white buck
shoes. He was wearing a pair at Campbell Hall, where he good-naturedly
‘fessed up to having been opposed to the concept of dancing when
he first emerged on the pop scene, and to wanting to change the
line, “Ain’t that a shame” to “isn’t that a shame.”
But look at what’s happened all around him, over the five decades
of rock and roll. Look at Michael Jackson.
I’m just as
sick of hearing and talking about him as you must be. Thing is,
I interviewed Michael, along with his brothers, back when he himself
was ‘twixt teen and twenty. Twice, in fact. First when the Jackson
5 were the hottest thing in the pop world, in 1971, when little
Michael was 13. Then, five years later, we met up again, at Dianne
and my flat in San Francisco, for a TV interview.
Jackson, 18, looks at Michael Jackson, 13, at Dianne and
Ben’s flat in San Francisco in December, 1976.
So when ABC
broadcast the British documentary, Living With Michael Jackson,
and, as Pat Boone might put it, all heck broke out, I was asked
to go on TV myself and ruminate about this pop idol-turned-freak
I saw the documentary,
and, more than anything else, I felt sad. Here was a performer with
genius in his bones. At 11, when he first burst into public view,
he was an accomplished dancer, a tiny James Brown, and a super seller
of songs, from bubblegum pop to down home blues. He was startlingly
good. He was also painfully shy. It turns out, if you believe Michael,
that he was beaten by his father into becoming that good; that he
was kept from having anything near a normal life; that he’s still
trying to enjoy a childhood he never had.
And so, just
as his father (Joseph, himself a musician) stunted his childhood,
Michael now chooses to believe that he can be a child forever. His
behavior, so bizarre to so many, is rooted in that fact that he
was never allowed to be normal. How can one expect him to be normal
now, or ever?
The thing is,
most child stars do work out a balance between celebrity and normalcy.
Many pop stars, ranging from the clean-cut Pat Boone to wilder guys
like, say, Mick Jagger, were already young adults when they became
famous (Boone was 21 and already married; still is), and they’ve
weathered pretty gracefully.
still moonwalking, backwards and forwards, precariously ‘twixt and
course, was also the month for the Lunar New Year, and, for the
seventh time, I co-hosted the broadcast in San Francisco of the
Chinese New Year Parade on KTVU with news anchor Julie Haener. It
was our third time together, and we were charmed, by good weather
for the first half of the two-hour broadcast, despite week-long
warnings about a storm. Rain did arrive, and thousands of firecrackers
went unlit. But, across the way from us, hundreds of bright red
umbrellas blossomed and only added to the color. Behind the scenes,
Julie and I, as always, fended with last-second changes in the order
of parade units, flipping wildly to find script pages while adlibbing,
then reading the copy as casual as could be. As Jon Lovitz would
on our parade: With Julie Haener and a hundred umbrellas
on KTVU, San Francisco. (Photo by Kenny Wardell)
It’s the year
of the Ram (Julie’s year), said to be a time for harmony, compassion
and peace. One can only hope.
parade and the interview with Pat Boone, I also spoke at California
State University in Hayward, a town where I did a bit of growing
link), and oversaw the recording session for the CD by Larry
Ching, the former star vocalist at the Forbidden City nightclub
in San Francisco back in the Forties, when even Pat Boone was just
first recording session since - well, the Forties. I'll let you
know how it all turns out. But I'm feeling good about this. Both
Larry and I were born in Monkey years. If we can find a Monkees
song to mix into the American standards he's cutting, we'll have
a hit, for sure.