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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

Old Memories, a New Museum.
And Yes, Let’s Give a Damn
by Ben Fong-Torres
March 2003

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.

The other Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a letter from one Vic Dertimanis, saying: “On Feb. 22, I met Ben Fong-Torres at a benefit for the beautiful Signe Anderson [the original lead singer for Jefferson Airplane]. I expressed to him how much I missed the joy of hearing him on the one and only KSAN and reading his articles in the Pink section. The next day, as I was lazily making my way through Sunday Datebook, I realized that I was drawing steadily nearer to the Aidin Vaziri zone. [Note: Mr. Vaziri does a Q&A interview each week with a pop artist.] Even as inspired as I was by the great happiness of my chance encounter the night before, I realized that there was only an outside chance that Vaziri's writings wouldn't be caustic, cynical and uninformative…

“When I'd finished his column, I felt solemn, then decided to get up and take on the day. But first I thought back to those earlier days and smiled at how much fun it had been to read articles by someone who gives a damn…”

I am glad to have given Mr. Dertimanis “great happiness,” but, lest you think I’m a 24/7 people-pleaser, let me revisit a comment I ran across years ago on the Internet, on a radio site. This is from a broadcaster named Bob Gowa:

Just look at Ben Fong-Torres. A brilliant writer, but when he turns his attentions to radio, he becomes a whiney, smug, pompous pissant…complaining about how radio isn’t the eclectic art form he thinks it should have been (but was never intended to be).

[The posting also carried this response to:]

Sorry, Bob, but you are wrong. It appears that you are someone who has never experienced radio prior to the Nixon Administration’s clamp down on material content in radio and the subsequent though almost unrelated accelerated move by syndicated radio to take away any vestige of personal choice by individual DJs to play what they want.

Outside of college and high school radio, there is almost NO chance of personal choice offered to present DJs on the air.

The eclectic days of radio are over, and [Fong-Torres] is entirely correct in his whining concerning those lost days, which we all now cherish, the days of truly eclectic radio. That is what radio should be, for it was like that at one time.

--Purple Stuff

It turns out that Mr. Stuff and I were right. Radio, at its best, was an art form, dating back to the first Golden Age, before television came along. Today, because a handful of corporations have gobbled up most of the stations, the medium is in worse shape than ever. I just got a call from a publicist for the National Association of Broadcasters, asking how radio might get a positive story in the national media, and why there’s so little talk about high-definition radio (which, frankly, I hadn’t heard of) when satellite radio is getting all the hype.

I told her that it was because conventional, commercial radio sucks. Everything’s formatted and programmed by computers; music is limited to superstars and songs that have been tested, by phone calls, and deemed safe enough to air. Commercials take up increasingly more time, and local DJs are being replaced by voices from some other city, or by an engineer punching buttons to trigger music, pre-taped announcements and, of course, all those commercials.

As for HD radio: That means we’ll be able to hear that mediocrity more clearly. Whoopee!

So I get home and see that the new issue of Rolling Stone has arrived. I open the news section, and what’s the headline?

WHY RADIO SUCKS

Anyway, I’m more glad than ever that I went and got a satellite radio receiver late last year. The ten bucks a month subscription is a bargain, for the variety of music I get, and for the commercials I don’t. In fact, I like the innovative programming on XM radio so much that, rather than be restricted to hearing it in my green and girly Golf, I’ve added one in my home office. Thanks, XM, for the great happiness.

Speaking of which, the Asian Art Museum has opened in its new space. After several decades in the shadow of another museum in Golden Gate Park, the Asian, as locals refer to it, is now in the heart of San Francisco’s Civic Center, having taken over and transformed the old Main Library.

The facade of the Asian Art Museum, as seen from Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco (more pictures at the bottom).
Photo Credit: Kaz Tsuruta

It took about $160 million, 1,300 workers (led by Italian architect Gae Aulenti), and several years, but the Asian is a gigantic gem—at 160,000 square feet, twice the size of its previous location, and the biggest Asian art museum in the country. It’s a marvelous showcase for the Museum’s $4 billion collection of 14,000 pieces.

If you’re going to San Francisco, you must visit. You’ll be educated, illuminated and made proud of your heritage, wherever your ancestral roots may be. That point was made clear in an excellent special on KGO, the local ABC station, whose news staff, including David Louie, Heather Ishimaru, Thuy Vu, Caroline Yu, Elizabeth Bermudez and Sandhya Patel, linked their ancestors’ homelands—China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines, and India—to exhibits at the Asian.

They, and the Museum, serve to remind just how small is this troubled world of ours, and how senseless it’s been over the years to wage war with one another.

RANDOM NOTES: Congrats to Greg Pak, who’s been featured on this site for Robot Stories, his first feature-length film after years of brilliant shorts. I had the pleasure of hosting the closing night at the SF International Asian American Film Festival, which chose to spotlight Pak’s film. Joining Greg on stage were one of the stars, Sab Shimono, along with co-producers Kim Ima and Karin Chien, and the editor, Stephanie Sterner. The film also co-stars Tamlyn Tomita. But it was Greg who wrote, directed, co-produced and even acted in the film, for which he won the Best Screenwriter award at last year’s Hamptons International Film Festival. Definitely a guy to watch … The Rolling Stones are playing Beijing in April, and the Chinese government has pulled an Ed Sullivan on the boys, banning four songs, including “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” whose lyrics Sullivan forbade back in ’64 (the Stones made it “let’s spend some time together” instead). The others that got nixed: “Beast of Burden,” “Honky Tonk Woman” and “Brown Sugar.” The Chinese could’ve censored half the Stones’ catalog, but I guess they aren’t exactly aficionados … Meantime, the Larry Ching CD I produced is moving along, and should pose no problems to the powers that be in Beijing. It’s all American standards, and the raciest song is probably “All of Me” …



Chinese Buddhist arts on the third floor of the Asian Art Museum.
Photo Credit: Kaz Tsuruta

Treasures from the Song and Qing dynasties (960-1911) on the Asian Art Museum's second floor.
Photo Credit: Kaz Tsuruta

Objects from the Mimalayas and the Tibetan Buddhist world at the Asian Art Museum.
Photo Credit: Kaz Tsuruta

 

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


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