It is Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and I am thrilled that Suzanne Joe Kai’s Award-winning documentary, LIKE A ROLLING STONE: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF BEN FONG-TORRES, is now streaming on NETFLIX.
For director Suzanne, this is her third act in her life as a feature director, as she is now over 65 years+, and the film took over 10 years in the making. The result is an incredible portrait of an Asian American journalist who was instrumental in the careers of many iconic music legends. It was no secret that every rock/pop/soul music act of the 70’s yearned to be on the cover of the revolutionary Rolling Stone magazine and be interviewed by Ben Fong-Torres.
Ben Fong-Torres became recognized in the Cameron Crowe film about his own life as a teenage reporter in ALMOST FAMOUS. Now, there is finally a film about this unsung hero of the 60’s/70’s Rock/Pop American Music Scene that changed lives forever and still has influence today. It’s mind-boggling that he has not yet been inducted in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In addition, at that same time period Ben was very active in the civil rights movement and the Asian American movement in San Francisco as he was the editor of the San Francisco State University campus paper during the time of change and reckoning. He and his brother were also active with the San Francisco Chinatown English language newspaper that galvanized many in the Asian American movement. From music to politics to cultural and racial change, Ben was at the forefront as a journalist. It was an exciting time in America, and he was at the center in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Executive produced by Oscar® winning Freida Lee Mock, Oscar® nominated Bryn Mooser, award winning Doug Blush and the late Tony Hsieh, LIKE A ROLLING STONE: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF BEN FONG-TORRES shows us how the legendary Rolling Stone magazine writer and music editor, defined the cultural zeitgeist of the ’60s and ’70s. Featuring incredible archival footage and intimate interviews with Ben Fong-Torres, Cameron Crowe, Annie Leibovitz, Carlos Santana, Elton John, Steve Martin, Bob Weir, Quincy Jones, Marvin Gaye and more, this film brings us the personal story of this legendary journalist.
NETFLIX has released this during this month of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month of May as a way to celebrate this living legend.
About the Film LIKE A ROLLING STONE: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF BEN FONG-TORRES
The lights, the crowds, the music! Ben Fong-Torres covered it all at Rolling Stone as its legendary writer and first music editor. Ben’s life is an epic sweep through the world of rock and roll. The American-born son of Chinese immigrants, Ben grew up in Chinatown with only a radio to the outside world. Driven by a passion for music and writing, his groundbreaking work helped define American culture. He became a voice of a generation which changed America forever.
““Like A Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres” is a must-see for every journalist, for any music fan, and for anyone who’s ever doubted their chances of success”
“If you don’t already know Ben Fong-Torres for his groundbreaking work in 1960s music journalism, buckle up.”
-Town & Country
“What a masterpiece. Grade A+!”
–Jackie DeShannon – KLOS FM
“Not to be missed!”
World Premiere – 2021 Tribeca Film Festival – Documentary Competition
Official Selection – 37th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
Official Selection – 44th Mill Valley Film Festival
Official Selection – 30th Heartland International Film Festival
Official Selection – 22nd Newport Beach Film Festival
Official Selection – 22nd San Diego Asian Film Festival
Suzanne Joe Kai received two Emmy® Award nominations and was named Best Woman News Reporter while a broadcast journalist at San Francisco’s NBC affiliate KRON-TV. She worked at KCBS Radio (CBS) and television stations KTVU (FOX), KGO (ABC), KGUN (ABC), and RottenTomatoes.com. Kai holds a master’s in documentary film from Stanford University.
Ben Fong-Torres was born in Alameda, California, in 1945, and raised in Oakland’s Chinatown, where his parents owned a restaurant. He attended San Francisco State College from 1962 through 1966, majored in Radio-TV-Film and served as a reporter and editor of the campus daily.
He began writing for Rolling Stone magazine in 1968, in its eighth issue. He had a full-time job at another publication: Pacific Telephone’s employee magazine. By night, he was a volunteer editor at East West, a bilingual Chinatown newspaper. In May, 1969, Ben joined Rolling Stone as news editor. His interview subjects included Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, the Jackson 5, Linda Ronstadt, Neil Diamond, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, the Grateful Dead, Ike & Tina Turner, Santana, Diane Keaton, and Steve Martin. The Ray Charles interview won the Deems Taylor Award for Magazine Writing in 1974.
Ben was also a weekend DJ on KSAN, a pioneer FM rock station, from 1970 to 1980. He wrote and narrated a syndicated radio special, San Francisco: What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been, which won a Billboard Award for Broadcast Excellence. He was the host of KQED-FM’s live, weekly arts show, Fog City Radio, and in 2016 created Moonalice Radio, an online station for the jam band. He programs the music and does a DJ show, 9 to 12 am and pm.
Ben has co-anchored KTVU-TV’s coverage of the Chinese New Year parades since the Year of the Ox – or 1997. He and co-anchor Julie Haener have won five Emmys.
Also on television, Ben did profiles on Evening Magazine in 1977, and, in 1982, went to China as scriptwriter for a special, Cycling Through China. His most unique TV credit was his 1993 appearance on “Wheel of Fortune”. Over three nights, he won some $99,000 in cash and fabulous prizes. He also appeared on the nationally syndicated “Your Big Break” in spring of 2000, doing an impersonation of Bob Dylan.
Ben left Rolling Stone in 1981 and has since written for dozens of magazines, including Esquire, GQ (where he was pop music columnist for three years), Parade, Playboy, Sports Illustrated, Travel & Leisure, American Film, TV Guide, Harper’s Bazaar, Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter. He wrote the main biographies for People magazine’s tributes to Jerry Garcia and Frank Sinatra.
In 1983, Fong-Torres joined the San Francisco Chronicle, where he was a feature writer and radio columnist until 1992, when he left to write his memoirs, The Rice Room: From Number Two Son to Rock and Roll, published in 1994 by Hyperion (and in softcover by Plume/Dutton), which reached the San Francisco Chronicle’s best-sellers list.
Ben wrote the main text for The Motown Album: The Sound of Young America (St. Martin’s Press). In 1991, he published Hickory Wind: The Life and Times of Gram Parsons (Pocket/Simon & Schuster). The book was nominated for the Ralph J. Gleason Book Award, and St. Martin’s Press published an updated version of it in fall of 1998.
In 1993, on completion of The Rice Room, Ben joined Gavin, the San Francisco-based trade weekly for the radio and recording industries, as managing editor. He vacated that post in late 1997 to work on The Hits Just Keep On Coming: The History of Top 40 Radio, which was published by Miller Freeman Books in fall of 1998.
In 1999, Ben published Not Fade Away: A Backstage Pass to 20 Years of Rock & Roll, which was followed by a second collection, Becoming Almost Famous, in 2006. He wrote The Doors by the Doors (2007) and the Grateful Dead Scrapbook (2009). A book about the Eagles has been published in two editions. His 2013 book, Willin’: The Story of Little Feat, was released in an Audible version early in 2021, along with The Rice Room. Ben narrated both books.
Fong-Torres is frequently called on to emcee community and fund-raising events, and to conduct on-stage interviews at events like South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, and at the Mill Valley Film Festival. He is also known for his impressions of, among others, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan. Both are featured in one song, “Rainy Day Bookstores,” on a CD entitled Stranger Than Fiction, featuring best-selling authors performing music.
He is a real-life character in Almost Famous, the 2000 film by Cameron Crowe. www.benfongtorres.com
The Knockturnal: On The Scene: Ben Fong-Torres Attends “Like a Rolling Stone” TFF After Party the playlist.net: “Like A Rolling Stone: The Life & Times Of Ben Fong-Torres”: Is A Must-See For Music Lovers [Tribeca Review]