Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres Image

NEW TO NETFLIX! Director Suzanne Kai’s delightful Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres is the overdue launch of the legend of an American giant in journalism. I had never heard of him, but I read a lot of his work in old Rolling Stone issues, though I never caught his name; later, I found it was Ben Fong-Torres. He was their head rock writer and later music editor.

Fong-Torres conducted the last interview Jim Morrison did before flying out to Paris to die. He toured with Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney. He is most widely known for his portrayal of himself in Almost Famous, wherein he hires the teenage protagonist to write for Rolling Stone. I don’t remember his character in that film, to be honest. I remember the parts about Lester Bangs, a crazed rock writer who died of drugs.

Therein is the reason why I never notched Fong-Torres. He behaved, working long, hard hours in the San Francisco office of Rolling Stone. You don’t hear about that. You hear instead about Hunter S. Thompson trashing that same office during a one-man drug riot. Counter-culture history favors the flame-outs and the f**k-ups. Most legends are known for not just their massive talent but for all the questionable things they did to themselves and others. The disasters pull the spotlight from the dependable.

“[Ben Fong-Torres] behaved, working long, hard hours in the San Francisco office of Rolling Stone.”

Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres seeks to correct the fact that you rarely hear about the people who were good at their jobs. You get to hear great things about Fong-Torres from several sources, including members of The Doors and The Grateful Dead. They talk about how down to Earth he was and that he was easy to talk to. Fong-Torres was intertwined into the acid rock scene so deep that there is a painting of him in a Haight Ashbury wall mural. All without drugs. Ben Fong-Torres managed to take the ride.

Kai goes into the man’s life, growing up in Chinatown with a brief, awful detour in Amarillo. The mystery of how his immigrant parents picked up the Torres part of their name is revealed. His experiences as a first-generation Chinese-American during the bad old days shaped his affection for downtrodden underdogs in his pieces. Fong-Torres’ obsession with rock music started with this awesome mini-radio shaped like a rocket ship. These ingredients helped shape him into a great chronicler of a crucial time in popular music history. When Rolling Stone left San Francisco for New York, Fong-Torres stayed behind in his hometown. His life was successful and rewarding, but nowhere near as rock and roll after that.

Fong-Torres never drove a car into a swimming pool or chain-sawed a guitar in half. But he is well-remembered by colleagues as well as classic rock icons. And parades, lots of parades. So whether you are an old hippie or new to the groove, you will expand your consciousness with this well-made documentary. Kai paints her subject lovingly, hitting the classics like the world’s greatest visual jukebox. Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres is a fun-filled look at a member of the old school who wasn’t a class clown.

Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres (2022)

Directed and Written: Suzanne Kai

Starring: Ben Fong-Torres, Cameron Crowe, Jann Wenner, Bob Weir, Annie Leibovitz, Carlos Santana, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres Image

"…you will expand your consciousness with this well-made documentary."

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