inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #76 of 120: Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Sun 23 Jan 00 09:49
Thanks, Judy. 
I looked at my log of Rolling Stone pieces, and see that 1972, the
year of my brother's death, turned out to be my most prolific. In
short, I dove into work. First with a piece on the Miracles, headlined,
coincidentally, "What's So Good About Goodbye," then lengthy profiles
of Three Dog Night, Santana, and Ray Charles. Then a tour with the
Rolling Stones, including a stop in Honolulu and a sailboat ride with
Jagger at the captain's wheel, visits with Al Green and the foxiest of
the Ikettes, Claudia Lennear, a column on the wondrous Jane Dornacker
(whom I knew at SF State, and who went on to some fame as Leila of
Leila and the Snakes), a feature on Stevie Wonder, and, finally, the
beginning of a series of reports on payola/drugola charges at Columbia
Records, centered on the one and only Clive Davis. He was finally
cleared of all charges, but by then, he was out. He, too, rebounded.

Anyway, those were some of the stories that helped--or forced--me out
of the darkness in the year following our family's loss. 
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #77 of 120: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 23 Jan 00 19:40
Very sorry to hear about your brother's death, Ben, even though it was
so long ago.

Flippo's wife Martha was TA for a copy editing lab I was in, I think
in '72. Bill Graham came to town for a special set of seminars that the
University of Texas set up, and when I went to hear him speak at the
Armadillo World Headquarters, I was sitting with the Flippos. I recall
Chet bounding away to interview Graham...the interview was for Chet's
dissertation on (of course) Rolling Stone. Wonder if that
dissertation's online anywhere?

Blasts from the past...
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #78 of 120: David Gans (tnf) Sun 23 Jan 00 23:28

Ben, of all your interview subjects, can you tell us about one or two who
surprised you by being smart, funny, or otherwise wonderful?
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #79 of 120: Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Mon 24 Jan 00 12:17
Thanks, Jon. Re Chet Flippo: That dissertation he did on Rolling Stone
is what led him to a job at the magazine. Martha Hume is still with
him (now in Nashville), and still writing and editing.

David: I won't say I was surprised to learn that they were smart, but
the interview subjects who struck me as brighter than some might have
expected were Linda Ronstadt, Steve Martin, David Crosby, Sly Stone,
and Michael Nesmith. As for funny--and I'll try and offer specifics in
a later posting--I remember lotsa laffs with, among others, Mick
Jagger, Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Chris Isaak, Brian Wilson, Tom
Hanks, Rodney Dangerfield, Bonnie Raitt, and Grace Slick. I remember
asking Brian what made him laugh, and he said, "Arguments."
Least funny: Art Garfunkel.  Gee, what a surprise...
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #80 of 120: Judy Bunce (judyb) Mon 24 Jan 00 13:01
What a great list.  You really have had a dream career!
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #81 of 120: Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Mon 24 Jan 00 13:45
I agree, Judy, that I've had a dream career. And that short list of
smart, funny & wonderful people didn't include the guests I had on "Fog
City Radio" during its too-short run on KQED-FM...people like Maya
Angelou, Steve Allen, Kris Kristofferson, Tracy Nelson, Amy Tan, Herb
Gold, Joan Chen and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Not to mention the fabulous
Bud E. Luv. 
Or the people I've interviewed on stage for the Mill Valley Film
Festival, including Amanda Plummer, James Woods, Edward James Olmos,
and, just the other month, Robin Williams. 
Anyway, I promise: Funny lines from the people listed in #79 the next
time I post.
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #82 of 120: David Gans (tnf) Mon 24 Jan 00 14:57
Lookin' forward to that!

I remember "Fog City Radio."  Too bad about KQED...

I was also surprised by Michael Nesmith when I interviewed him.  Not that I
expected him to be a moron or anything, but he came across as a very smart
and articulate man who had some very interesting ideas about the then-nascent
home video industry.  Just the other night I was raving at some people about
the brilliance of "Elephant Parts."
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #83 of 120: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Mon 24 Jan 00 15:20
Who was your most difficult interview, Ben? Have you had interview subjects
that just won't open up, who give monosyllabic responses and appear to wish
they were anywhere else but in an interview?
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #84 of 120: Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 24 Jan 00 16:09

And what about the just plain weirdest?
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #85 of 120: Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Mon 24 Jan 00 19:25
Mike Nesmith, as most WELL dwellers know, was a Monkee. I fact, I
think he got labeled "the smart Monkee," as in "John Lennon, the smart
Beatle." Which left Davy to be the cute one. Peter, I guess, was Spicy
Anyway, Nesmith was a true pioneer of music videos, making them long
before MTV came along, and, in fact, once proposing that a network be
devoted to videos...he also produced the classic indie film, "Repo
Man." I think he worked extra hard to validate himself after being a
Monkee, and after the news got out that his mother made a fortune as
the inventor of white-out, which became Liquid Paper...

As for who my most difficult or weird interview was, if you ask the
people who witnessed it, they'd say it was Amanda Plummber at the Mill
Valley Film Festival two or three years ago. I don't have any tape of
it, and, being onstage, I wasn't taking notes, but she is, how you say,
surrealistically flighty. She'd scrunch up in her chair, or lean
forward and spread her arms, as if to take wing to illustrate an
answer. I asked about whether she was OK with taking direction from
directors, and she launched into a heartfelt, but spacey response that
left the audience with its collective mouth agape. When she finished, I
looked at the crowd. "In English, that'd be a 'Yes,'" I said, and
Plummer joined in the laughter. 
I found her an absolute delight, but to this day, people who were
there tell me how sorry they felt for me. I had a blast, and so, I
believe, did Amanda.

On good old "Fog City Radio," I was excited when we booked Steve
Allen, a boyhood idol of mine. Then I heard that, at age 70-something,
he'd become cranky, and had walked out of interviews he wasn't
enjoying. I lucked out. He appeared on the same show with Richard
Olsen's big band, and Richard, also a big fan of Steverino's, played
"Memories of You," in salute to Allen's portrayal of Benny Goodman in
"The Benny Goodman Story." Then he and the band brought Allen on with
his theme, "This Could Be the Start of Something Big."
Between that and my questions, which indicated to him that I'd dug
back to books he'd written in the early '60s, he was thoroughly at
ease. We even did synchronized "SMOCK-SMOCK"'s...The interview, in
which Allen may have been asked for the first time in his life about
his experience with LSD (he did it as a college study on genius) is one
of my most prized tapes...

I've typed myself silly, but a promise is a promise. Here, now, from
"Not Fade Away," the book I'm flogging, are bits from some of the
artists I said, back in #79, were funny.

WOODY ALLEN was saying how he became smitten with Diane Keaton--in
part because of the way she dressed as she arrived for work in Allen's
play, "Play It Again, Sam." First, remind yourself how Allen dresses.
Now, from the book:
"She'd come in every day with an absolutely spectacularly imaginative
combination of clothes. They were great." Asked for an example, Allen
himself gets imaginative. "Oh, she would--she was the type that would
come in with, you know, a football jersey and a skirt...and combat
boots and, you know"--he is cracking up again--"you know, oven

Keaton herself was a kick. Allen had listed her sense of humor as
another attractive quality. From the book:
"At her kitchen table, we talk about being Capricorns and being
pigeonholed in all the astrology books as humorless. I note that Keaton
doesn't seem to mind a laugh now and then. 

"Just occasionally, you know," she says. "Not very often. I have a
severe life."

Bonnie Raitt has a slightly less dry sense of humor. From "Not Fade
Away," circa 1975:

Onstage in Arlington, Texas, she shook off countdown
nervousness--walking toward the stage, she turned to a friend and
remarked: "This is like the last mile and you're the warden"--and
served up some stream-of-consciousness humor. Freebow, her faithful
bassist through the years, posited himself behind a tuba for "Give it
Up," as Bonnie announced: "Now here's Freebo on oral martial arts,"
teasing him: "A little more practice on that and you'll be ready for

And then there's Mick Jagger. Herewith, a partial transcript:

BF-T: Pople always seem amazed to see you playing harmonica on 'Sweet
Virginia.' It's lip-synced, isn't it?

[Mick, laughing] Yes, I'm tolerable, but I've forgotten it all. You
have to play every day for that--however, your mouth bleeds. That's the
problem. You go home to see your old lady and you're bleeding. [Into a
Manchester growl] "...'Ello, Dahlin'," and your mouth is all covered
with blood...

BF-T: I can just see Ralph Steadman doing your next album cover.

[Mick portrays Steadman submitting his work] "I'm not sure if this is
really gonna sell the album!"

BF-T: So what's the cover going to be like?

Mick: Aw, fuck, you know, some bullshit or other. [Brightly to the
tape machine, to the public] It's what's inside that counts. 'Sgonna be
quite a good album, folks.

Finally, here's my lead from "Rodney Dangerfield: He Whines That We
May Laugh":

Rodney Dangerfield looks as if he needs about ten years' sleep.
Sitting at a table in Room 304 of the Sunset Marquis in Hollywood, he's
dressed in a blue robe, dark blue sheer stockings and black slippers.
His eyes and chest are red, and he's looking forward to a nap before
his evening show at the Comedy Store.

It's his first L.A. concert, every set is sold out, his manager is
trying to accommodate every studio and network in town...and Rodney's
trying to relax. He's telling a story about getting no respect when he
suddenly hears the sound of steady hammering, steel pounding against
concrete. Outside his room, right under his DO NOT DISTURB sign,
they've begun to tear up the carpet.

Rodney listens for a second, as if picking up the rhythm. "It's
something about me," he finally says in a thick, tired voice. "Guy
says, 'Who checked in? Dangerfield? It's time to RIVET!'"

Well, after a long day and an almost-as-lengthy posting, I'm pretty
thick and tired myself. Peace out.
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #86 of 120: David Gans (tnf) Mon 24 Jan 00 19:32

Ben, I would love to have you come over to KPFA and play that Steve Allen
tape on my show some Wednesday night!
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #87 of 120: David Gans (tnf) Mon 24 Jan 00 19:34

Wonderful stuff.  Thank you!

More questions from the peanut gallery, please?
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #88 of 120: (ideo) was I ere I saw (esau) Mon 24 Jan 00 22:03
Not a question, but I've been using "combat boots and oven mittens" for
years without knowing where I got it.
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #89 of 120: Judy Bunce (judyb) Tue 25 Jan 00 00:08
Ben, thank you for that long post.  I was wondering if you still get nervous
when you're going to an interview, or whether you've done it so many times
that you now take it as a matter of course.
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #90 of 120: Gordon Taylor (warfrat) Tue 25 Jan 00 08:43
Ben, besides your book, which I'm looking forward to reading, what would
you like to see or do in your future?
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #91 of 120: Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Tue 25 Jan 00 13:39
David, regarding the Steve Allen tape. I'd love to air it on your
show, but wouldn't KQED start screaming "SMOCK! SMOCK!"?...Anyway, it'd
be cool with me.

Judy, I can't honestly say that I get nervous anymore. There's always
an adrenaline rush before you do anything--going on-air, stepping onto
a stage, beginning a speech or kicking off a panel discussion. But I'm
pretty good (my wife would say obsessive) about researching a subject,
or preparing a couple of opening lines, so that I'm quite relaxed about
these things. With rapport quickly reached, an interview becomes what
it should be: a conversation, with one side happening to be asking most
of the questions and taking down the answers. There is, however, quite
a difference between an interview for print, conducted privately, and
an onstager, or one on the air. There, you're performing, whether you
like it or not. There, you have to consider the audience, so that, as
with Robin Williams at the Rafael for the Mill Valley Film Festival, I
knew that, for long stretches, it was best to let him fly, and to hold
off on natural followup questions. After all, he was following himself
quite well.

Gordon, thanks for asking about what I want to do in the future.
Honestly, I'm doing it, mixing a wide variety of media--print,
broadcast, and Internet, between books, columns, consulting a book
line, and working full time at the hot new digital music service, I'm getting this nice award in March from the Oakland
Chamber of Commerce, and was flashing back on some highlights--the ones
related specifically to my hometown. They ranged from emceeing New
Year's Eve and other concerts for Boz Scaggs and his Slow Dancer-ear
orchestra at the Paramount Theater; pitching from the mound at the
Oakland Coliseum (for a cystic fibrosis benefit), working with Tom
Hanks at an educational video awards ceremony (I MC'd; he gave out the
first Hanks Award to a group of teenagers who'd made a documentary
about environmental issues in the city), and doing readings of my
memoirs, with my parents in the audience finally getting a sense of
what it was that their kid did all these years.

I can't complain, and I can't be asking for much more. 
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #92 of 120: Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 25 Jan 00 14:10

I'm positively swooning with admiration at all of these stories, these
experiences, and you still leave me hungry to know more!  

I'd think it would be exhausting to spend much time around Robin Williams
- or I'd laugh myself into exhaustion, I'm not sure which.  Is he as much
of a mensch as he seems?
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #93 of 120: David Gans (tnf) Tue 25 Jan 00 15:02

>David, regarding the Steve Allen tape. I'd love to air it on your show, but
>wouldn't KQED start screaming "SMOCK! SMOCK!"?...Anyway, it'd be cool with

Great!  Let's make a plan to get it (and you) on the air ASAP.  How's next
Wednesday (2/2) for you?
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #94 of 120: Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 25 Jan 00 17:51

Simultaneous webcast right here?
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #95 of 120: David Gans (tnf) Tue 25 Jan 00 18:16
KPFA webcasts at
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #96 of 120: Gail Williams (gail) Tue 25 Jan 00 19:07
Could post here while listening... but it might have to be an alternate
universe from Ben & David's conversation.  Unless you have a way of looking
at a topic during a radio show for ideas & feedback loop purposes?
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #97 of 120: Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Tue 25 Jan 00 19:50
You guys can figure out the technical details; I'll dub a copy of the
show and send it to David. But someone has to get KQED's OK. it's
probably in Joanne Wallace's court...
David, let's talk on the phone about a date for this...

Re Robin: He really is a sweet guy. On the occasion of the film
festival, he --or his people--did let it be known that questions about
past troubles would not be appreciated. Aside from that, anything went.
After his performance--which it was, more than an interview--people
realized that what he'd done was test out some lines and
routines--including a hallucinatory, slo-mo recreation of his
acceptance of his first Oscar -- for his anticipated return to standup.
Of course, he's popped up at comedy clubs over the years, but it looks
like a possible tour of theaters. 

Anyway, we were delighted to serve as his test lab, and it wasn't as
if Robin isn't always on, anyway. My first interview with him was circa
"Popeye," his first major film role. He was still best known as Mork
back then, and, in my visit with him in LA for Parade, he was
constantly joking--though never to the point of not being able to reel
himself back in for serious pondering of a serious question. 

I guess he's just a 24/7 entertainer. Some comedians--like, say, Steve
Martin, Richard Pryor, Woody Allen, Eddie Murphy, and Robert
Schimmel--are off when they're off. As pros, they certainly can turn it
on,and won't resist a good line if it comes to them. But offstage,
doing an interview, they generally choose to focus on the work at hand.
Which is what it is--even when you're a comic.
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #98 of 120: Ben Fong-Torres (fong-torres) Wed 26 Jan 00 11:34
Urgent message: DO NOT COME TO MY READING TONIGHT. That is, if you've
seen the ones at the other book stores I've visited around the Bay
Area. It'll be the same old thing at the Book Depot in Mill Valley at
7. Highlights from the book, a couple of soundbites from Jim Morrison
and Marvin Gaye (singing, impromptu, in his living room), and arguing
with the audience. I did that at Cody's in Berkeley and at A Clean,
Well Lighted Place for Books in SF. So, if you were there, why bother? 
This has been a public service announcement in behalf of "Not Fade
Away: A Backstage Pass to 20 Years of Rock & Roll."
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #99 of 120: David Gans (tnf) Wed 26 Jan 00 15:59
Reverse psychology?
inkwell.vue.63 : Ben Fong-Torres
permalink #100 of 120: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 26 Jan 00 20:14
deja vu all over again...


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