K.J. Joseph Reviewing | Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres | June 5, 2022
The time is present. The scene starts with a middle-aged man walking into what looks to be a household furnace room or unfinished basement used for storage.
One can almost smell that familiar musty dingy odor where unused items go to retire. The space is colored of grays and rusty browns showcasing exposed beams and cement blocks. No natural light is present thanks to the absence of windows. The only light is from a yellow exposed lightbulb that juts out of the ceiling. The basement wall is lined with shelves and drawers that are stacked with hundreds of cassette tapes.
Without hesitation he starts fumbling through tape after tape listing off all the musicians he interviewed over time. In between listing names, he turns to the camera to present the handwritten labels.
George Harrison, Ray Charles, Tina Turner. His accidental encounter with Jim Morrison...
With each name he lists, questions come flowing out with no explanation, hanging one out to dry, but still, he continues on...
Willie Nelson, James Brown, Carolos Santana, Gerry Garcia, Mick Jagger
Suddenly the once typical basement comes to life with words, rhythm, and soul. It is now that this man’s face comes into focus.
Fong-Torres is known as one of the most talented rock journalists of all time. Now author and once radio broadcaster, he is mostly known for his work with Rolling Stone Magazine, and for his fictional character portrayed in the 2000 movie Almost Famous. If you dive deeper into his life, you understand he represents so much more.
Most importantly he represents what it means to be a second-generation Chinese American. Like many other Chinese immigrants, his parents were searching to build a better life for their family and chase that American Dream. Due to the Chinese Exclusion Act his father, who was born Fong Kwok Seung, posed as a Filipino using a fake birth certificate with the name Ricardo Torres so he and his family could immigrate to the United States. The family later took on the hyphenated name Fong-Torres.
Fong-Torres was able to build a reputation that he could be trusted when it came to interviewing and writing about the rock music community. When asked how he was able to bring out the vulnerability in the musicians he interviewed, Fong-Torres told AsAmNews, “perhaps they’re looking at me in some ways as an outsider. They’re outsiders as entertainers, whatever our culture might be, we’ve chosen this path and it’s not the usual road for most people. So, I think that gives us a bit of connection,”
He may have been a rock journalist, but at that time mainstream music lyrics paralleled the political agenda. Fong-Torres graduated from San Francisco State University in 1966 with a with a B.A. in radio-TV-film. At this time The War in Vietnam, The Civil Rights Movement, The Women's Right Movement, the hippie movement was all happening. Rock music was right smack dab in the middle of everything vocalizing all these major movements in a freely artistic way. So not only was he a rock writer, but Fong-Torres was also in some ways a political writer.
Ben Fong-Torres joined Rolling Stone Magazine nearly at the beginning of its creation. The general public expressed lack of trust in the government and news sources in a way that had never been done before. At that time Rolling Stone Magazine was just a baby and the world yearned for a literary movement of truth. Well guess what?
Rolling Stone Magazine listened. Ben Fong-Torres listened.
And the rest was history...
by K.J. Joseph
Check out the Documentary on Netflix.
Like a Rolling Stone: The Life & Times of Ben Fong- Torres
Documentary | 2021| Written and Directed by Suzanne Joe Kai
Almost Famous Clip: https://youtu.be/nPms9Lmi4LU
Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) | National Archives