Documentary on Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres, an Asian American trailblazer, at Mill Valley Film Festival

Just after viewing “Like a Rolling Stone: The Lifestyle & Times of Ben Fong-Torres,” it was distinct to me that this is more than an entertaining documentary about the seminal many years of rock journalism.

At a disturbing time when Asian detest crimes are on the increase, it tells the uplifting story of a young journalist who grew to become a trailblazer as the 1st Asian American editor of a main nationwide journal.

“It’s coming out at a pitch-fantastic time because we can really entertain a broader viewers, and it does not subject what politics they have,” states Suzanne Joe Kai, who wrote, generated and directed the movie. “They may be coming to see Carlos Santana or Elton John (who are both of those in the doc), but they’ll also be released to Ben Fong-Torres, who is a Chinese American, and they may like him since I never know everyone who does not.”

Depend me among the Fong-Torres enthusiasts, and I’m in very great organization. In addition to Santana and Sir Elton, showing up in the film are Bob Weir, Steve Martin, Quincy Jones, State Joe McDonald, Marvin Gaye, the Doors’ Ray Manzarek, Jim Morrison, Linda Ronstadt, Big Brother and the Keeping Co.’s Sam Andrew, and early Rolling Stone photographers Baron Wolman, Annie Leibovitz and Robert Altman.

Fong-Torres was tunes editor in Rolling Stone’s first 10 years, when it went from a two-coloration tabloid to a nationally regarded magazine, turning into the iconoclastic bible of the rock technology nearly right away. I’m not sure he’s that satisfied about it, but he’s finest regarded for the unrealistic portrayal of him in Cameron Crowe’s 2000 film “Almost Well-known.”

“The closest my character is to me is in the loudness of my shirts,” he claims in the film.

‘A short bridge’

Fong-Torres, now 76, was previously steeped in the counterculture and youth activism when he came to Rolling Stone in 1968 just after a baptism of fireplace in journalism as an editor and reporter for the San Francisco Point out University newspaper, the Everyday Gater. In the turbulence of the ’60s, the campus was roiled by anti-Vietnam War protests, civil legal rights marches, Black Panthers, clashes with law enforcement, dope-smoking cigarettes hippies and plenty of displays by visiting rock bands.

Courtesy of StudioLA

Early Rolling Stone photographer Annie Leibovitz and Ben Fong-Torres are highlighted in “Like a Rolling Stone.”

“It was a brief bridge from just one oasis to yet another,” he shares in a telephone interview. “And which is how we felt. We were on an island of liberty, able to produce our personal rules dependent on the tenets of journalism and part styles that Jann Wenner (Rolling Stone’s co-founder and publisher) created.”

In its early times, the magazine was getting put out each month on a shoestring by a handful of editors, writers and staffers doing the job feverishly in cramped quarters in a hire-cost-free San Francisco loft previously mentioned a clattering printing press. Fong-Torres remembers supplying his individual desk and typewriter.

“We were being grinding it out consistently,” he claims. “Being so immersed in that activity, I did not believe that for the reason that I assigned the tales and the writers in the midst of all this musical and cultural modify that I was in some way impacting it. It’s only in retrospect 50 yrs afterwards that people today can say, ‘This is what Rolling Stone was about and experienced this extra which means.’ But, when I glance back again, it’s just that we put out the detail and we did a very fair occupation simply because we got an huge amount of money of business and important acclaim from our brethren in journalism and the magazine marketplace.”

At the exact time he was functioning at Rolling Stone, he was also a DJ on KSAN-FM, the top rated freeform rock station in the state in the 1970s, web hosting performers like comic Steve Martin on his display. He experienced the fantastic fortune of coming aboard Rolling Stone when rock was younger, just before the new music business enterprise grew to become corporate and controlled, when journalists nonetheless experienced the type of obtain that allowed them to in fact commit excellent time with the stars they profiled. He retained cassette tapes of several of the interviews he did, and snippets from them include colour and depth and immediacy to the film. It is like becoming in the space though these artists, some of them extensive considering the fact that deceased, had been speaking intimately to their youthful interviewer all these many years in the past.

Courtesy of StudioLA

Ben Fong-Torres retained cassette tapes of quite a few of the interviews he did at Rolling Stone.

Enjoy of R&B

When questioned to title his most memorable cover tale, he invariably brings up his award-winning piece on Ray Charles. A 1st-generation son of Chinese immigrants, he would pay attention to Charles and other R&B stars on the radio when he was a child operating in his parents’ Chinese restaurant in Oakland.

“I would listen to ‘Hit the Road Jack,’ or ‘What’d I Say’ and the music actually assisted,” he suggests. “For no matter what purpose, I gravitated towards R&B.”

Throughout an editorial assembly at Rolling Stone in 1972, he instructed a profile on Charles, who was in town at the time, even however the soulful singer and pianist was not what you would connect with a significant rock cultural figure in people days.

“They questioned me, ‘Why him?’ And I said a thing about how we actually wouldn’t be listed here executing this issue if it weren’t for Ray Charles and a few other folks,” he states. “And I know he’s obtained a remarkable tale to inform simply because I’d browse it about the a long time, and I’d like to have a Rolling Stone solution to it.”

Immediately after getting the go-forward, the eager younger reporter followed Charles all-around for concerts in a few various metropolitan areas, sitting down with him as he unburdened himself in strategies he hadn’t carried out in advance of with other interviewers.

“He was a vocal, indignant, proud artist and gave me a huge job interview, conversing about issues in depth that he experienced not spoken to Playboy or DownBeat about,” he says. “That piece received the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award and was probably my initially major award as a journalist.”

The movie also contains areas of Fong-Torres’ interview with the late Marvin Gaye, whom he remembers for his “beautiful honesty, fragility and humor.” We also see a a great deal-publicized picture of him hanging out with Paul McCartney, the two of them sporting similarly garish Hawaiian shirts.

Allure and elegance

“He’s a grasp of the media,” suggests Fong-Torres of McCartney. “He knows how to make you experience like you’ve had a successful session with him due to the fact he does give you a successful session, laden with appeal.”

And then there’s Linda Ronstadt.

Courtesy of StudioLA

“I did not feel that since I assigned the tales and the writers in the midst of all this musical and cultural modify that I was in some way impacting it,’” Ben Fong-Torres suggests.

“She was just attractive in so numerous approaches. I beloved the idea that we ended up equipped to present her as who she was,” he suggests. “And that was as not just a intercourse image, but a pretty clever, thoughtful, energetic producer as perfectly as performer. She’d enable decide on songs and musicians and was just a enjoyment gal to chat with.”

As I outlined previously, this documentary also shines a light-weight on Fong-Torres activism in the San Francisco Chinese group. Though he was with Rolling Stone, he volunteered for the Chinatown newspaper East-West and was when roughed up in the road for his problems. The film involves a heartbreaking phase about his more mature brother Barry, who led a nonprofit to aid at-risk youth, and was shot and killed in a Chinatown murder that has in no way been solved.

The tragedy was a single cause Fong-Torres and his spouse, Dianne Sweet, decided to keep in San Francisco when Rolling Stone moved to New York City in 1977. He was now his family’s No. 1 son, an important part in Chinese society, and required to be shut to his grieving mother and father.

For a time, he served as senior West Coast editor for Rolling Stone, wrote rock stories for Parade magazine, and authored publications on Gram Parsons and the Doors. He also honored his parents and his Chinese heritage with a memoir, “The Rice Home.” In it, he discussed the origin of his hyphenated title. His father experienced improved his surname from Fong to Torres and posed as a Filipino in get to immigrate to the United States.

Award winner

As co-host of the Chinese New 12 months broadcast on neighborhood Tv, Fong-Torres gained 5 Emmys and has grow to be a Bay Region celeb, emceeing functions that have lifted millions for nonprofit businesses. He’s acknowledged for his location-on imitations of Elvis Presley, Dean Martin and Bob Dylan, impersonations he’ll be executing in a present at Sweetwater Audio Hall subsequent Sunday’s screening. He’ll be joined by Bay Location musicians Annie Sampson, David Freiberg, Maria Muldaur, Glenn Walters, Scott Mathews, Kimberlye Gold, Kurt Huget, Roger McNamee and the Soul Delights.

“Like a Rolling Stone” is the fruits of extra than a ten years of operate by director Joe Kai, who commenced her job as the initial woman Asian American on-digital camera journalist and documentary producer for KRON-Television, the regional NBC affiliate.

“Suzanne started out functioning on the movie 11 several years ago when we didn’t have these troubles of racial hatred and amped up racism in this region,” Fong-Torres states. “If this movie had been designed a ten years back, it most likely would not connect to the current discourse the way this movie could. And with or without the need of Asian and other hatred, the story would have to have incorporated the immigration aspect because that impacted my parents and their solution to lifestyle in The united states and their hopes for their young ones to do what they weren’t able to do themselves.”

Get in touch with Paul Liberatore at [email protected]


What: “Like a Rolling Stone: The Lifestyle & Occasions of Ben Fong-Torres,” portion of the 44th Mill Valley Movie Festival

When: 5 p.m. Sunday at CinéArts Sequoia in Mill Valley and 2 p.m. Monday at Smith Rafael Movie Middle in San Rafael.

Admission: $8 to $16.50 Present only $40 to $45 movie and display $50 to $55


More: Live clearly show with Fong-Torres at 8 p.m. Sunday at Sweetwater Tunes Corridor in Mill Valley

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