Like A Rolling Stone

By Meredith McGrane

When Rolling Stone magazine was birthed in the late 1960s, it began as a place of truth. A Bay Area rock ’n roll rag where counter culture, politics, and deeply felt music would meet and mingle. Enter a young, now legendary music journalist maestro, Ben Fong-Torres, who served as a rock critic for the magazine from 1968 to 1981, leaving behind a legacy that is worthy of a documentary. Like a Rolling Stone:  The Life & Times of Ben Fong-Torres is an intimate portrait of an intimate man. A passionate, lighthearted, and big grinned Asian American journalist who vulnerably opens up about how music, as a youth, tore down racial borders and segregation for him. After school around the soda shop jukebox, immersed in music, was a place where he shares that he finally felt included. Fong-Torres is a committed and impassioned storyteller who, quite simply and inexhaustibly, understands musicians. The film, directed by Suzanne Joe Kai, guides the viewer through a Chinatown childhood, to a myriad of superstar musical interviews, to Fong-Torres’ community and political activism.  


The film dives into archival audio taking us back to the 1960s and 1970s where we hear a young Fong-Torres understanding the poetry of The Doors and ordering food with Jim Morrison. We sit with Stevie Wonder and Fong-Torres as he empathizes with the singer who insightfully reflects on how being an African American hindered him more in life than his blindness. Similarly, a young Ray Charles passionately expounds on the segregation he experienced in the South, even once famous. Marvin Gaye opens up about his insecurities, Elton John shares why he chose to perform in elaborate costumes, Tina Turner playfully recalls teaching Mick Jagger’s moves, and so much more. But it’s a current day Fong-Torres, walking the viewer into the depths of his home basement archives that captivates. I could smell the mustiness of his dank basement. See the wall of metal cassette tape drawers dimly illuminated by downcast ceiling lighting. And as the legendary writer pulls out his favorites, we all walk down a musical memory lane to the sound of sliding and clanking cassette tape plastic, inscribed with names like George Harrison, James Brown, and Carlos Santana, as the man with a commitment to capturing stories, and the sexiest name in rock journalism, has an intimate moment with the viewer once more.