Letters for the week of June 25-July 1, 2003 

If anyone needs a funky rebirth, it's Robert Wilonsky. If anyone needs a new tradition, it's the rodeo.

"Brothers and Sisters," Film, 6/4

You so crazy!
I cannot believe the shoddy and uninformed coverage of Wattstax, by Robert Wilonsky. If ever someone was in need of a funky rebirth, it is truly him! "Then-virtually unknown Richard Pryor"? Perhaps if you were living on an ice floe in Antarctica. His comments that the soundtrack was "lacking in context and soul" reminds me of the opening scene of Dead Poets' Society where Robin Williams tears up the "how to read a poem" book, and throws it in the trash. Perhaps Wilonsky needs to try that with his "How to rate a funk record/film" book. "The performances are not career milestones for anyone involved"? Where were you? Wattstax WAS a milestone in and by itself. And it was a milestone for every performer and every person there. Those were the days when there WERE no black media outlets like BET, and it was long before most white listeners developed their fetish for appropriating black culture, and airing shows like Platinum or MTV Raps.

The people interacting with Rufus Thomas, the massive crowd response when Jesse Jackson removed Isaac Hayes' hat to reveal his smooth, bald, beautiful head, the hush that came over the entire stadium when Luther Ingram begins "If Loving You Is Wrong" (played round the clock on heavy rotation in the Bay Area at the time), the stunned reaction when the Bar-Kays take the stage -- it was ALL a milestone. Unless you were either not born yet (I was eleven) or stuck on the soulful sounds of Peter, Paul, and Mary, all of these performers should be well-known to you. Especially since you took on the brave task of covering this black cultural milestone. This was another time entirely. A time that Wilonsky is obviously unassociated with.

"Wonder what the hell Rufus Thomas was doing wearing a pink sports coat and matching bermuda shorts during his performance of "Do the Funky Chicken" -- what? We're talking about RUFUS THOMAS, man! That WAS his shtick! Where are you from? Did you do the funky chicken? I did! You obviously need to know more about the subject. The Staple Singers' "Respect Yourself" was THE political musical statement of the day, "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get" was THE party track of the year, every other performer was all over local radio (KDIA lucky 13!), and this was the music that was in everybody's ears and heart, if you were anywhere near Oakland in 1972-73. Carla Thomas, the Dramatics, Albert King, and the rest of the Wattstax performers were known by almost everyone. Funk ruled the day. And the night. And my heart. Understand. This is gospel for millions.

You decided to write a funk music review for a paper based in the East Bay. We know and love our funk deep, and don't you forget it. Back-to-school special: I invite you to visit me, bust out your history books, roll up your sleeves, order a combo from Flint's barbecue, and dig DEEP into my stack of old 45s before you THINK about writing another review about '70s funk. Smell my finger? That's FUNK. My invitation stands.
Piero Infante, Berkeley/Oakland

"And the Horse He Rode In On," Feature, 6/4

A cruel tradition
I just wanted to thank you for writing (and publishing!) such a comprehensive story about Eric Mills. I care very much about animals and was thrilled to see you provide so much detail about the cruelties behind rodeos and charreadas. I personally believe that animals were not put on this earth to provide entertainment for humans and that the main reason we dominate over them in such barbaric ways is simply because we can. Bob Fox, the lobbyist for the rodeo, asserted that a calf is not a baby but simply livestock. His perception clearly demonstrates that to do the kinds of things they do to animals in the ring, one needs to take the living, breathing animal out of the equation and instead perceive animals as mere things. They wouldn't be able to perform such acts otherwise. It is this basic perception that perpetuates animal abuse and perpetuated human slavery in the US for 150 years. Humans weren't considered humans and, as Fox demonstrated, animals aren't even considered animals.

Bravo to Eric Mills and people like him who fight every day to get the most basic protection for animals. It's appalling that cruelty is so steeped in our consciousness that people like him have to work so hard to convince others that there is actually something wrong with forcing animals into a ring, pulling their tails, roping them, and slamming them down on the ground. What needs to change is not merely the laws that provide minimal protection for the victims of such "sport," but also the notion that because something is "tradition" it is somehow sanctified. I'm always struck by the "tradition" argument, as if we must continue participating in something -- regardless of how cruel and inhumane it is -- just because we always have, just because "that's the way it's always been done," whether it's cultural, religious, or even familial.

Hopefully, articles like yours will enlighten people about the ridiculous and unnecessary games of grown men and urge them to rethink their own "traditions." In the meantime, thanks to Eric Mills and to you for shedding light on one of the many ways animals are at the mercy of humans.
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, Oakland

An exercise in bigotry
Thank you so much for educating readers by painting the true and graphic picture of what animals endure in the rodeo. As a former humane law enforcement officer for Maryland, I too have seen the horrors of calf roping, bulls with broken legs, and other testaments to man's inhumanity to other forms of life. The rodeo is all about not being compassionate, understanding, or giving a damn for those who aren't just like us. It is an exercise in bigotry, just another form of cruelty but this one based on speciesism.
Ingrid Newkirk, president, PETA, Norfolk, VA

Count the votes
While I enjoyed reading your recent lead article, I must point out one error in the text. The article cites a 117-3 floor vote on the horse-tripping bill in 1994. This is an impossibility, since the California Assembly has eighty members and the Senate only forty. There is no way that any single vote could be 117-3. I suspect that what the writer meant is that the combined votes on the floors of the respective houses totaled 117-3.

This may seem like a minor nitpick, but I wanted to set the record straight.
Robert Feraru, El Cerrito

Editor's note:
Robert Feraru is correct on all points.


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