inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #26 of 120: David Gans (tnf) Tue 18 Jan 00 14:17
    

>I'm working with Miller Freeman Books on a new line that I'm calling Lost
>Treasures, and we hope one of our first titles will be Mr. Gleason's paper-
>back on the Jefferson Airplane and the San Francisco Sound, with additional
>chapters on the Dead. We shall see...

That is such great news, Ben!  I liked that book a lot.
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #27 of 120: David Gans (tnf) Tue 18 Jan 00 14:17
    

Hey Ben, can you get your colleagues at myplay to put some of those
soundbites (e.g. Jim Morrison) up so we can pretend we're at a signing and
hear 'em?
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #28 of 120: Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 18 Jan 00 17:56
    

And please don't forget to tell the Dick Clark anecdote.

I will have mercy on the quiz until you get back to me on your final
answer to the first question.  %^)  I promise that the next question will
be much easier.

In the meantime, though, I am very intrigued by your book about growing up
Chinese-American in Oakland.  Fong is certainly a Chinese name, but Torres
is not.  Was it hyphenated to start with or did you do that yourself?  

Do tell, please, about growing up in Oakland, a city whose charms I
have only recently come to discover.
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #29 of 120: Fred Heutte (phred) Tue 18 Jan 00 18:24
    
I keep forgetting about our local Well customs like carrying our
"pseudonyms" around from place to place....!

Anyway, my recollection about Bela Fleck and Sam Bush being in Hickory
Wind seems to be incorrect; Sam Bush brought Fleck into Newgrass Revival
later in that band's career so I'm just jumbling things a bit here.

The one Hickory Wind review I could find on the net:

http://www.acousticmusic.com/fame/p00667.htm


I found a used copy of an anthology of Ralph Gleason's jazz writings a
couple years ago and was really thrilled by it.  Growing up on the east
coast and not reading RS in the early years, I really had never read any
of his stuff.  I've been both an editor and writer (at the Unicorn Times
in DC in the late 1970s) and can say what I saw in the book matched his
reputation as being one of the best.  What's so interesting is that after
leading the way in extolling the new vocabulary of jazz in the 1950s, he
did the same for rock in the 1960s. 
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #30 of 120: Earl Crabb (esoft) Tue 18 Jan 00 18:34
    
What is the story behind the article on page 6 of the October
12, 1968, RS, headline of "Regrets", that says "Straight Arrow
Publishers, Inc. regretfully announces the departure of Mr.
Ralph J. Gleason from its Board of Directors.  Mr. Gleason has
also resigned his position as Contributing Editor on the staff
of Rolling Stone."
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #31 of 120: Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Tue 18 Jan 00 18:44
    
I think it's great that Miller Freeman Books is willing to bring back
worthy, out-of-print rock & roll (and other music) books, and I'm happy
to play a role in the process. Again, the line has the tentative title
"Lost Treasures," and ideas are welcome.

Sound bites of my old interviews on myplay.com, the new music site
where I'm working? Great idea. In fact, it's already in the works. I
just did an inventory of my tapes, and they include not only Jim
Morrison and Marvin Gaye, who I've been playing at book signings, but
also, among many others, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Jerry Garcia, Mick
Jagger, Grace Slick, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, CS&N, Elton John,
Tina Turner, James Brown, and on and on and on. 

If it works the way we're hoping, visitors to myplay will put music of
their choice into the "lockers" we provide on the 'Net. If it's an
artist I've got tape on, then the user can click on the info button
next to the artist's name on their listing of tracks, and they'll be
led to various things--a bio, a link to a discography...and, I hope, a
link to either an audio or print excerpt of my interview with that
artist. Cool, eh? Check it out.

Now, to Linda. It's Crosby & Nash, of course, and I'm guessing Graham
is the WELL-spoken guy, altho both are quite articulate. The Cros, in
fact, was my first full-length Rolling Stone Interview, and what an
experience that was, to see such a full-blown hedonist reveling in his
life of--yes, sex, drugs and rock & roll. At the same time, he was up
on social and political issues, and had impassioned opinions on just
about everything. It was this very passion, I believe, that led to his
being excused from the Byrds...Anyway, I always enjoyed my times with
the band (and its individual members). We had some great talks, and I
heard some of the finest music of our times.

As for my name. It's in my book, The Rice Roo--Whoops; thought I was
on a talk show. Fong-Torres is the result of my father's frustrations
trying to immigrate to the United States in the early '20s, with the
Chinese Exclusion Act and all. He'd spent part of his youth in Manila,
and there, he learned that he could obtain papers that would help him
try to enter the U.S. as a Filipino. He succeeded, got to Oakland, and
got into the restaurant business. 
In the early '40s, he got married, and on the birth of their first
baby, he and my Mom had a problem. As a family friend pointed out, they
couldn't use "Fong" because he was legally "Ricardo Torres." And they
couldn't very well use "Torres," since his real name was Fong. 
What to do? "Use both," said the pal. And so they did. Dunno who
decided to put the Fong first. And, no, it wasn't hyphenated until the
kids got into grammar and, tired of being thought to have "Fong" as a
middle name and "Torres" as a last name, added the hyphen. 
Nowadays, of course, I'm calling myself Fong-dot-Torres.

Must run. I promise to tell the Dick Clark stories soon.

Whoops: Just saw the inquiry on the notice in 1968 announcing Ralph J.
Gleason's departure. I didn't join 'til mid-'69 and didn't know the
particulars. My guess is that RJG was as strong-willed as Jann Wenner,
and that, as an investor and founding editor of Rolling Stone, he put
in his two cents' worth whenever he felt compelled. He may have had
problems with the way Jann dealt with advertisers, or staff, or
content. Whatever, he must've left in a huff, and then come back,
because he was back with his "Perspectives" column the next month. 
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #32 of 120: David Gans (tnf) Tue 18 Jan 00 19:01
    
"Fong-dot-Torres" is good!

Ben, you ARE on a talk show.  Do not hesitate to mention the titles of your
books!

Your father sounds like a pretty creative guy.  How did your parents feel
about your chosen career?


Re the Crosby interview: was that the one with goofy croz on the cover and
all the photos of David aboard the Mayan?
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #33 of 120: Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 18 Jan 00 21:51
    

And here I come, not too late I see, to offer the hint that your first
interview, referred to just tonight on 60 Minutes II as a "rock legend,"
also appears on the cover of the latest issue of Rolling Stone, and is the
WELL pern in question.
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #34 of 120: Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Wed 19 Jan 00 10:05
    
Ha! Cros at the keyboard. Who woulda thunk? Thanks, Linda. And yes,
David Gans, the Rolling Stone Interview I did with David Crosby
featured all those shots of him on his boat, the Mayan. 

Let's see: That leaves questions about Oakland, Dick Clark, and how my
parents felt about their nice Chinese son slipping off into hippiedom
and rock & roll.

First, I love Oakland. If I wore baseball caps, mine would be the one
with both the A's and Giants' logos on it. I'm always rooting for my
hometown and doing whatever I can to help. Even if Jerry Brown was on
the side of the Eagles in their grudge softball game against Rolling
Stone one day in LA--'78, I think. (Side note: The Chamber of Commerce
is turning the tables soon. On March 2, it's handing out a dozen or so
awards to various native Oaklanders for achievements in business and
the arts, and I'm one of the honorees. For more info, you can go to
www.oaklandchamber.com.) 
Anyway, I used to sneer at San Franciscan elitists like Herb Caen,
who'd snipe at Oakland in his column. I'd fire back in a weekly--very
weekly column I wrote for a shopper called the Oakland Times. "That'll
show him," I'd say, and no one was there; not even a chair...
Now I know that Oaktown and SF are simply two different worlds, and
there's much to value about their diffs. 

You can imagine that, being born and raised, essentially, in
Chinatown, I was groomed to work hard, make good grades, and become a
white-collar success. My parents were NOT happy with my leanings
towards radio and music. They'd never seen any Chinese in those arenas.
Neither had I, but what can you do when you fall in love? At SF State,
I'd win an audition to do a Sunday night spot on KSFO, the
far-and-away Number One station in the Bay Area, and they'd grumble
that I wouldn't be able to wait on tables at our Bamboo Hut in Hayward
that night. They had no idea what I was doing at Rolling Stone, and,
given our language problems, it was difficult for me to tell them. Not
that I would've told them everything, anyway. That's one of the great,
sad ironies of my life: to be in the field of communications, yet
unable to talk with my own parents. They never found time to learn
English; we, as kids, heard one dialect of Cantonese at home, then
another at Chinese school, plus bits of Mandarin, and it was all too
much. I mean, English was quite enough at age ten or so...
Many years later, after the Rice Room was published, and friends told
them about the book, and the Asian American Journalists Association
hosted a gathering for it, my parents finally understood what I'd done.
And it only took about 25 years.

I don't mean to flake out about Dick Clark again, but I just
remembered promising to look up that issue of Fishwrap, the NY zine
about magazines, and look up what I'd said to the editor about Ralph J.
Gleason. Here goes:

"I don't know if Jann would've started Rolling Stone without getting
the approval from Ralph Gleason that it was a good idea. Ralph was
clearly a mentor and became an uncle or a professor figure to all of
us. He had an encyclopedic range of knowledge that went back several
generations, whereas a lot of us wre narrowly focused on what we heard
on the radio. Ralph knew everything. And because of that, not only was
he able to offer insight and opinions far beyond our own knowledge, but
you could call him and say, 'Who was that jazz orchestra leader that
worked with Bix Beiderbecke--and who WAS Bix Beiderbecke, anyway?'
Jann and Ralph were not unlike father and son. Although Ralph was
probably more youthful than many fathers and Jann was more mature than
many sons. Ralph was the one who, with his instincts, kind of roped
Jann in, and yet still let him go with his wild ideas."

And that combo was what made Rolling Stone what it was.

A programming note: For those who've discovered Internet TV: I'm on
Alex Bennett's show today on playtv.com around 2:30. You'll need
Windows Media Player. The Chronicle ran a piece on Alex and his show a
couple of days ago. See you on the 'net tube...
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #35 of 120: David Gans (tnf) Wed 19 Jan 00 10:46
    

>"That'll show him," I'd say, and no one was there; not even a chair...

Neil Diamond reference!
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #36 of 120: David Gans (tnf) Wed 19 Jan 00 10:48
    

Lovely note about Gleason.


>Many years later, after the Rice Room was published, and friends told them
>about the book, and the Asian American Journalists Association hosted a
>gathering for it, my parents finally understood what I'd done.  And it only
>took about 25 years.

I'm glad it happened eventually.  How strarnge to have a language bbarrier in
your own home.  That's kinda hard for someone like me to grok, even though I
am the child of an immigrant (British :^) myself.

So when they "understood," did they approve?
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #37 of 120: Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Wed 19 Jan 00 18:11
    
Yes, I believe that my parents came to be proud of me. Frankly, I
think it was because they heard from others about me, and ran into
clerks, bank tellers, and other people who'd say they knew who I was.
In the Chinese culture, "face" is a (too) strong force, and I felt that
my parents paid too much attention to what others--even strangers on
the streets--might say or think about them. So they frowned on our
interracial relationships, worried about how people would feel about
THEM. They worried about our career choices--because people respect
doctors more than they do disc jockeys (though I don't know WHY...).
Thus, my reasoning on the foundation of their pride. 

Now then, DICK CLARK. I hope there's a way for the guests who were
asking about him to find their way to this post.

It's been a long, strange sorta relationship. My first article for
Rolling Stone was an item about a free concert to promote Psych-Out, a
movie he'd produced about the Haight-Ashbury scene. It ran as an item
in "Flashes," which later became Random Notes. In 1973, on the 20th
anniversary of his hosting of Bandstand, I met him for the first time
(We'd spoken on the phone for another article), and I did a lengthy,
page one piece: Dick Clark, 20 Years of Clearasil Rock. In it, Clark,
well aware of the audience he was reaching, spoke more pointedly that
he ever had. He probably shocked more than a few readers when, after I
prodded him about his capitalist ways, he told me, "The trouble with
you, Ben, is that you're an idealist, and I'm a fucking whore." 

As I wrote in my 1998 book, The Hits Just Keep on Coming: The History
of Top 40 Radio: "Clark has never gotten over that article. Two years
later, when I was in Las Vegas on assignment, and he was hosting an
oldies revue in town, he could not have been more charming, taking my
wife, Dianne, and I out on the town with his future wife Kari. In
recent years, he's agreed to interviews, usually timed with his
production company's projects...Now, 25 years since that Rolling Stone
piece, he kicks off our conversation with a rather provocative remark:
"The writings you laid down still come back to haunt me." Really? "Oh,
people come back and dig that old shit up. Now that we've got
computers, you can pump up anything that anybody ever uttered."

True enough. And I'm not helping matters any by reprinting that
interview in the top 40 book and in Not Fade Away. But, as he showed
when he took us around Vegas, delighting Dianne with backstage stories
about Bandstand and its regulars, and running into Dion DiMucci and a
Coaster or two as we hung out til dawn, he can take his lumps and move
on. 

And, I'm afraid, he'll have the last laugh. As I mentioned, I'll be on
"Your Big Break" sometime in April, costumed as Bob Dylan and doing
"Like a Rolling Stone," which the producers assigned me, over my
protests. I had to memorize THAT? I have no idea what Dylan will think,
but I know that the head of the production company--one Dick
Clark--will be laughing his head off. 

Anybody got any drugs?
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #38 of 120: David Gans (tnf) Wed 19 Jan 00 19:20
    
Fax me a Quaalude!
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #39 of 120: David Gans (tnf) Wed 19 Jan 00 19:25
    

>Psych-Out, a movie he'd produced about the Haight-Ashbury scene.

Dick Clark was in on that movie?  Yow!  I stumbled across it on cable a few
weeks ago and wasn't able to stop watching til it was over.  Quite a cast he
had there (courtesy of IMDB <http://us.imdb.com/Title?0063469>):  Susan
Strasberg, Dean Stockwell, Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Hanry Jaglom, Garry
Marshall...  A cut above "Wild in the Streets," I suppose, but still.

Cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs!
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #40 of 120: Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Wed 19 Jan 00 20:28
    
Yep. It's quite a route Mr. Clark has taken, from a teenagers' dance
show in Philly to "Greed" and Times Square every New Year's Eve until
probably Y3K--with the Haight-Ashbury and "Pyramid" and "American Music
Awards" (didn't those stink?) in the mix. You sure can't call him an
average disc jockey...
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #41 of 120: David Gans (tnf) Wed 19 Jan 00 20:34
    
He might very well be around to usher in Y3K!

So, ben, let's talk about what you're doing now: music on the Internet.

What is MyPlay.com?
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #42 of 120: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 20 Jan 00 07:26
    
Psych Out makes a great double feature with The Trip.
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #43 of 120: Moist Howlette (kkg) Thu 20 Jan 00 07:53
    
And Ben is a terrific singer, by the way.  Not to mention in-house
journalist for the Yet Wah karaoke bar newsletter, and DQYDJ recording
artist...among his many other talents.

Ben, when you get done answering all the questions on the table, how about
this one:  has performing/recording/singing changed your outlook on the
musicians you've been writing about all these years?
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #44 of 120: Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Thu 20 Jan 00 09:00
    
Yow! Good questions, one and all. Now, if only I had some
answers...I'm gonna jump on the freeway and head towards the beautiful
Redwood Shores, to the happy home of myplay. I'll take your q's with me
and deliver a's when I get there. You'll have your answers before
noon, Pacific time. 
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #45 of 120: Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Thu 20 Jan 00 11:59
    
OK. If I didn't say so already--and even if I did--the place where I'm
working is myplay, inc., or, online, myplay.com. It's part of the
digital music revolution. But we are not a downloading site, where you
go and get oodles of music, free and fee, much of it new & unknown.
We're not like listen.com, which is a directory guiding users to
downloadable music. We're not sonicnet or rolling stone or allmusic.com
(which just shut down its 'zine, by the way).
myplay offers free space on the Net--250MB--for users to have as
"music lockers." So, without gobbling up hard drive space on your
computer, you can grab music tracks from almost anywhere: any site that
offers MP3 and other digital tracks; myplay itself (we do partnerships
with labels & artists, ranging from Kid Rock to Willie Nelson, and
offer free tracks), or your own CDs. This is perfect for those who have
piles of CDs and like only a few tracks from each. In your Locker, you
can just store the tracks and listen to them from any computer linked
to the Net, or download fave sounds onto a portable digital device like
the Diamond Rio, or make mixes (playlists) to listen to, or to e-mail
to friends. 
It's all pretty amazing stuffr. Along with the big names, we've been
able to offer exposure and promotion to personal favorites, ranging
from Bob Neuwirth to local (Bay Area) lights like Big Lou, the
Accordion Princess, Glenn Walters, and various members of Kathi Kamen
Goldmark's entourage of rockin' authors, off the CD set, Stranger Than
Fiction. In fact, Stephen King's "Stand By Me" is one of our most
downloaded tracks. Strange indeed...

Which segues into my own recent forays into singing in public, and how
that experience has changed my views on the artists I've covered over
the years. (Quick note: The correspondent is referring to my love of
karaoke, which I've been doing for years, but have taken public only
recently, as part of Kathi's crew, at benefits at Slim's and other
clubs; on the radio, and on CD. Doing book promotion, I've sung on TV
and at bookstores (watch out tonite at Cody's!). 

So, do I now feel differently about artists who do this for a living?
Yes and no. Thing is, I've been a performer, in one way or another,
since childhood. In high school, I ran the assemblies and did
monologues patterned after Steve Allen, and deejayed dances. I wrote
and sang song parodies, culminating, in 1963, in a recording of "Hey
Jackie," on which I did my amazing JFK impression. I've been on radio
since college. And, while at Rolling Stone, I not only did weekends on
KSAN and radio specials on behalf of RS, but participated in the mag's
occasional No Talent Shows. For one, I wrote a parody of Dylan's
"Hurricane" and wound up doing it, with a band, at the Boarding House,
for a mock "Tonight" show mounted by, I think, Rick & Ruby, with help
from Dick Bright and other local wackos. 

But it wasn't until karaoke came along, probably ten years ago, that I
began singing regularly. The thing is, karaoke is actually the
opposite of what a professional singer does. In karaoke bars, too many
people drink, then get coerced to go up on stage, and they try to sing
a song they don't really know, and they stare at the monitor for the
lyrics. Real singers take care of themselves, know and live their
music, and possess performance skills.

It's the seriousness of purpose of musicians, and their inate talent,
that I've come to admire more than ever. Being behind the scenes--at a
recording studio or at a sound check/rehearsal, you see, up close, all
the things that can and do go wrong. With all the pressure on the
central performer(s), you begin to understand why they get cranky, or
demanding. They become perfectionists in protection of themselves and
their craft. They know that what they do is, ultimately, a business
that impacts a large number of people, as well as fans. As easy as they
make it look, it ain't.

I also admire musicians for memorizing songs. After all these years,
and probably in part because we have that crutch of the lyrics on the
monitors, I can recite maybe three or four songs. Singers know
hundreds. How does THAT happen? 

In short, I've always enjoyed musicians and learned, early on, the
process of their craft and the pressures under which they worked. That
appreciation is only greater since my little forays into music.

And now, it's noon. Another deadline met! 
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #46 of 120: David Gans (tnf) Thu 20 Jan 00 12:14
    
Any chance we could hear that "Hey Jackie"?
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #47 of 120: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Thu 20 Jan 00 12:18
    
> As easy as they
>  make it look, it ain't.

That's for sure. Great observation, Ben.

I'd like to know if you were on staff at Rolling Stone when the Groupies
issue came out? As I understand it, that was a major turning point for the
magazine, which had been a small, struggling operation and suddenly became a
major player in the field of Rock journalism.

Did the attention and advertising dollars generated by that issue (and the
full-page ad in the NY Times, I believe) cause any fractures or struggles
among the staff? How did things change at Rolling Stone after that issue
came out?
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #48 of 120: Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Thu 20 Jan 00 15:13
    
Regarding "Hey, Jackie." It has been played in public only once--at my
50th birthday party, because my buddy Tom Gericke, a TV producer,
turned it into a music video. Actually, it was played when it was
released in late summer of '63 by one station in the Pacific Northwest.
I believe the DJ was told by his boss to cease and desist. 
Anyway, it was to the tune of "Hey, Paula" by Paul and Paula (they're
in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, I believe), the the lines included:
"Because of your flair, we make a fine pair; we're A-OK leaders for
our country," sung with an accent that blended Boston with Chinatown.
And, of course, with vigah!

Now, to Linda's query about the Groupies issue of Rolling Stone. I
think I was on board by then, and yes, it did make a big splash. Beyond
the sensational topic, it was the first substantial evidence of what
Rolling Stone aimed to do, in terms of its reporting on a pop culture
subject of interest. We'd shown some of that in interviews and in our
early reporting on what happened to the dough from the Monterey Pop
festival. But here, John Burks, who'd left Newsweek to be managing
editor, oversaw and wrote most of this report, and brought groupies to
detailed life. We spent lavish amounts of space to show them off to the
hilt, via excellent photography and interviews that balanced the
serious with the light-hearted. Jann quickly saw what he had and gave
it the marketing push necessary to give the piece the national
attention it deserved. As staffers, we were delighted to hit that mark.
We did not mind recognition, and had no reason to equate it with, say,
selling out.

As many of you know, John is teaching journalism at SF State, and
still gets plaudits from ex-RS staffers, the latest being from Ed Ward
in the current issue of MOJO. Check the letters section...

Well, I'm off to the expressway of my heart, to Berkeley for the
Cody's reading, so I won't check in again for awhile. But keep on
writing. I'll catch up tomorrow morning.
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #49 of 120: Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 20 Jan 00 15:23
    
Memorizing the words to lots of songs doesn't boggle me that much; I
suspect we all know the words to a lot of songs. When I hang around
musicians, what amazes me is that they memorize lots of tunes to
*play*. And skilled ones can play along in real time to music they've
never heard, and that just blows my mind.
  
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #50 of 120: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Thu 20 Jan 00 18:15
    

Ben, you are one busy dude! Hope your reading goes well.
  

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