Letters for February 23

Readers sound off on our music journalism, Whole Foods, and Leonard Peltier.

“The Blackman-Santana Fusion,” Music, 2/9

Where’s the Integrity?

Talk to any OG at the bus stop in Oakland. He’ll tell you. Any teenager with her phone blasting crumpled beats on the bus will tell you. Any pasty kid at Mama Buzz who is trying to get you to come to his show at the Stork on Thursday will tell you: Bay Area music never gets enough respect. Sly, Hammer, even E-40 to a degree, get more hype for eccentricity than for their talents.

That’s why there is no excuse for the superficiality of your music journalism. I’ve been playing music in the Bay Area for almost ten years and most of the time the things you cover have little to no traction in what I’ve experienced in Oakland. That’s just me, of course, but it is coming from someone whose projects your publication has been kind to. I also write music reviews for a certain web site and so I know the importance of research. I also know when someone is just towing the line to crank some copy out, maybe take a date out with some comp’ed tix.

When an arts and culture publication is at its best, it enriches and interacts with the creative community. Unlike the other arts coverage in the Express, the music writing barely engages beyond the point of “public interest,” and as a result could never represent our rich and diverse music community.

You should try!

Cindy Blackman coming to town to celebrate Tony Williams is kind of a big deal, you guys got it right. Fusion is an oft-maligned genre, you got that right, too. Least important is the presence of Blackman’s new husband, who arguably did do bad things for “jazz-fusion.” But you got it right again, he did “hit his peak” in the Seventies, and then won his Grammys much later. Aside from Cindy Blackman being a total badass, the article does go on to state that she brought some heavy hitters with her. Perhaps your writer in attendance was unimpressed, or figured there was no need to remind the readers who those heavy hitters were.

Vernon Reid, of course, was behind Living Colour, founded the Black Rock Coalition, and since then has cut out an impressive and diverse career. I know he’s not Santana or anything. John Medeski may have the jam-band stain on his shirt like Santana, but he came up with heavy cats like Thomas Chapin and Bob Moses in the Downtown NY scene. He is the only organist out there who could “stand in” for Larry Young. I’m glad his “sounds” were amusing to the writer. It’s true they don’t do that in church.

And then there’s Jack Bruce. He handled the bass chair for The First All Star Power Trio, while the guitar was handled by a hairy little guy that many people affectionately know as “GOD.” Yes, Jack Bruce sang “Sunshine of Your Love” and “White Room.” Aside from inspiring Lenny Kravitz, Jack Bruce was one of the inspirations for the Tony Williams Lifetime. Even though Lifetime initially employed Larry Young’s left hand in place of a bassist, they were a power trio. Later, Jack Bruce joined Lifetime when Cream split up. The bass player for Clapton & Co. jumped ship for some avant-garde jazz? Weird, dude! The Seventies!

But Reid and Bruce, who the article states started this new group, are merely passed off as “hagiographers” — as if they are Warcraft-geeky about him? Then there’s this assertion that it’s Cindy Blackman bringing the street cred. She’s talented, she’s charismatic, she’s versatile … but she’s not the one packing the street cred in his scenario.

There was also no mention that much of Lifetime’s output sounds better today than it did then. It has more context now. In his seminal recording Emergency, you can hear the cannon fired that would eventually inspire no wave, punk, and grind-core. Emergency is a punk rock record made by jazz cats before the MC5 even kicked out the jams. There are moments that sound like Hella, Suicide, and even on “Via The Spectrum Road” you could say Williams sounds a little like a Devendra Banhart wannabe … before Banhart was born. It’s pretty shocking to hear all of this in Williams’ music with or without consideration to the maligned jazz fluff it spawned.

Another word of advice on music journalism I’d like to pass on is that any self-respecting music journalist gets up and leaves when Santana sits in at the end of the night. I’m not saying he hasn’t earned the right to. By the age of MTV, Williams was turning to folks like Carlos for work. He could play a mean disco. There’s no mention that Williams plays on Santana’s first Grammy-winning record in 1988. Also, back in the day when people used to call him Devadip, Santana had the same guru as John Mahavishnu McLaughlin, who was the original guitarist with Lifetime. Those two got off all right considering the first most popular guru for fusion musicians was and still is LRH. Together, Mahavishnu and Devadip took “spiritual fusion” into some of the most indulgent places, and sure as shit presaged New Age World Musak.

Carlos Santana taking the stage and ripping into The Doors is the transformation of a deserved tribute into a messy confluence of “Dancing with the Stars” and listening to AOR really loud with your uncle in his finished basement. I’m sure it drove people crazy, it made their nights, but the Carlos spotlight is unnecessary. The dude humbly invokes all the saints and John Coltrane, and then wanks out the same sloppy Chuck Berry shit over and over.

Now, back to the OG at the bus stop. He would never tolerate my trash-talking Santana. I’ll never succeed in convincing him Santana is a two-trick douche. I’ve played this scenario out many times. OG declares in his defense that “‘Black Magic Woman’ is the greatest rock song ever written!” I gently remind him that it’s a Fleetwood Mac song, which is either interpreted as fighting words or grounds for dismissing me as a kid who doesn’t know anything about classic rock.

You guys better get your music journalism up to snuff or I’m going to have to come knock your door down and etch myself onto your payroll.

Nehemiah St-Danger, Oakland

“Whole Foods or Major Headache?” News, 2/9

Bring on Whole Foods

I find it amusing that some people seem to think that you just ask a business to move to your city and they’ll come, or that you devise a business strategy and business will respond. It doesn’t work that way. Businesses decide where they would like to locate based on market conditions. Cities can influence that but really have little leverage unless they’re offering tax breaks or free land, which is a whole other issue.I think this is a good location for Whole Foods, and that the biggest threat is to my pocketbook. I might be enticed to shop there more often, though it won’t be stealing money from small Albany stores, just some big stores across the city line in El Cerrito Plaza.

Michael Cabanatuan, Albany

Don’t Listen to the NIMBYs

I live within walking distance of this site. And virtually all my neighbors on Cornell Avenue in Albany and Berkeley support this well-thought-out project. The “opposition” is a handful of people. This “meadow” until one year ago was filled with WWII vintage housing that was falling apart.

The San Pablo area has been underserved for years. And now that the horrible bingo parlor is gone we can finally get something great. Providing another walkable shopping opportunity with additional retail and a great one like Whole Foods makes perfect sense. The anti-new business NIMBY folks are afraid of everything. We need projects like this. And, on top of it, inclusion of senior housing is fantastic. By the way, this project will include opening up the path along the creek all the way to the railroad tracks and will add a cafe. How come none of these amenities are mentioned in the article? These inclusions all came from local neighborhood input, by the way.

Let’s get on with it. We can’t wait for this project to get underway!

Steven Donaldson, Berkeley

WinCo Over Whole Foods

This sounds like a well-thought-out project with the exception of Whole Foods. There is a better, more affordable alternative in WinCo Foods. This is an employee-owned store that would be a better fit for the area than an expensive corporate food chain. Albany should check out this alternative. The two closest stores are in Vacaville and Pittsburg; check them out.

Whole Foods can go to the Safeway location on Moeser when Safeway closes that store. A Whole Foods store is bound to be infinitely better than what the El Cerrito planners have as a part of their “smart growth” jihad, infinitely better.

Alan Hanger, El Cerrito

“The Payoff,” News, 2/9

A Cover-Up?

Great article. Sounds like a cover-up of some pretty disgusting, perhaps criminal, goings-on with the county prosecutors. Jane Doe was a huge threat to somebody or many somebodies, and I don’t discount the rape charges, either.

Ann Williams, Pinole

Kudos to Gressett

Mike Gressett is one of the few prosecutors in that office who I would trust. He has tremendous integrity and is honorable in all his dealings. He truly lives up to the language of United States v. Berger, which says that a prosecutor must strike hard blows but fair ones. I have practiced criminal law in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties for 46 years.

Dennis Roberts, Emeryville

“Shane’s Campaign,” News, 2/2

Why Support Peltier?

Gray and his admirers appear to be in need of enlightenment. Perhaps we should start with a flagrant disregard for US Fish and Wildlife Service prohibitions against a white man possessing migratory bird parts, especially red-tailed hawks. Then we might progress to matters of falsely representing Indians and joining the wannabe club of do-nothing back-patters. Followed by a diligent study of the legal case against Leonard Peltier and a truthful history about his sick pity schemes, and why adults act like children when they begin to get a whiff of this phony and have trouble dealing with it. Finally, we could graduate to comprehending the extreme abomination of canonizing a guilty killer and likening his name to a truly great name like Crazy Horse. Lot of ground to cover, particularly when it’s choked with weeds of ignorance and political ideology. Class starts now.

John M. Trimbach, Peachtree City, GA

“Is Batts Going to Quit?” Seven Days, 2/2

Give Batts the Boot

Batts needs to go, and he needed to leave yesterday. Whatever Jane Brunner said or didn’t say is immaterial. He clearly doesn’t want to be here and has lied to city officials and residents. It’s unfortunate his contract can’t simply be terminated by the city.

John Seal, Oakland

Robert Gammon Responds

Batts’ contract can be terminated, but the city would have to pay him the remainder of what he is owed.

“The Bingo Kingpin,” Feature, 2/2

Conflicting Councils

It’s funny that there are two Berkeley governments — the council that worries about dying sparrows in Bangladesh and the bureaucracy that must have had a hand out for some of those dollars.

Maybe the council should worry about internal corruption. That would be PC.

Ross Travis, Richmond

“OpenTable Reconsidered,” Feature, 1/26

A False Calculation

It’s sad that people get easily manipulated by the inflated figures quoted by that restaurant owner Mr. Pastore. The industry average of 5-percent profit is for all restaurants, not his restaurant or any other high-end restaurant in a city like San Francisco. The calculation used the $515 OpenTable monthly fee divided by the number of new diners. Why? Doesn’t the system help keep track and manage all customers? The true cost is: Fee divided by total customers = X. Worst of all, Pastore multiplies the inflated number by four, to quadruple the cost portion. The correct cost is $1 per diner plus X, which is nowhere near the $10 quoted. No matter what restaurants say, in the end the customers pay for the costs. I’d suggest the author write another article to explain how these same whining restaurants in San Francisco purposely add a 4 percent surcharge to customer bills to pay for employee health insurance — instead of paying that expense from their own pockets. And how that 4 percent exceeds actual insurance costs, so they get to pocket the difference. That’d be a good exposé.

Luis C. Mendoza, San Francisco

“Top Ramen for Life,” Feature, 11/10/10

Fighting for Sanity

Salle Mae has ruined my life. This article is spot on. The privatized loans are the worst and they’ll lend to anyone if you can find a way. I had my mother co-sign and when the recession hit and she lost her job I wasn’t able to file for my senior-year loan. I left school and my loans have haunted me since. Without a job I have no way of coming up with over a $1,000 a month to repay. I feel exactly like everyone else in this article and want to fight back for my sanity and a normal life. This is predatory lending at its worst and I believe this is the next crisis to hit the American people. If our government doesn’t wise up and do something we’ll see this problem come back to haunt us and eventually stigmatize many people’s view of higher education.

Josiah Fields, Oakland

“Yelp Extortion Allegations Stack Up,” News, 3/18/09

Yelp and the Business of Extortion, 6.0

When I first moved to this area, I was also contacted by a Yelp representative who tried a hard sell after I listed my business on Yelp. When I told her the price for the ad campaign she had in mind was too high for me, the couple of reviews I got were mysteriously removed (hidden). I called her back to complain, and she said she had no control over them, that they were removed because there was something that must have not seemed “legit.” And that if I took part in the ad special, that the exposure would turn things around for me, and those reviews would most likely reappear. Extortion!

Cookie Segelstein

Owner, The Macmama


Oakland Metro Advertisement, 1/26

OG Punk Rock

The Dead Kennedys and Flipper at the Metro! These guys are still around after all these years.

Punk-rock grandpas.

I could say more about the old days but who cares any way? Who cares what I say?

Douglas D. Douglass, Oakland


In our February 16 music story, “Bring the Noise,” we misspelled the name of Noise Pop festival producer Stacy Horne.

Miscellaneous Letters

Brown’s Proposal Tortures Logic

Although there is a new governor of California, the frame is changed but it is the same ol’ picture regarding state government continuing its unprincipled and misguided effort to abscond with local government funds. Such actions exacerbate the polarization between state and local government. Brown’s budget proposal has been called “refreshingly honest” by some supporters who acquiesce regarding the electoral larceny attempt. Governor Brown claims that everything is on the table and that the fiscal crisis requires sacrifice from every sector of the state because “we have no choice.” In point of fact, Governor Brown has proposed to balance the budget on the medically indigent, early childhood development, community college and university students, welfare recipients, the differently-abled, state employees, and local government. His budget proposal is tantamount to an obscenity of injustice.

If Governor Brown had the political will, instead of cannibalizing local revenue he could propose an oil severance tax, sales tax on Wall Street transactions, taxes on the wealthy whose income has increased over the past twenty years, tax corporations, and tax Internet sales. If he had the courage, he would propose to reform Prop 13 to compel commercial property to be assessed at fair market value as a matter of equity. Fourteen percent of federal taxes come from California but only 11 percent, amounting to $52 billion, returns to the state. He could lead the state Legislature in petitioning the 55 California members of Congress to return an equal portion of federal taxes. California has the third largest number of Fortune 500 companies after Texas and New York. Some of these firms have paid as little as $800 in taxes annually. The $2 billion in tax breaks that many corporations received in the midst of the fiscal crisis ought to be rescinded.

The state government proposal to eradicate redevelopment as local revenue undermines the constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1952 as a tool to address blighted urban areas. The call for the eradication of redevelopment goes against the voters who supported both Prop 1A and Prop 22 that prevent the state government from borrowing or redirecting local government funds. Let us not forget that the state government already owes cities more than $900 million from previous borrowing. It is totally absurd to force local government to bail out state government in the midst of cities dealing with their own budgetary issues attributed to property and sales tax decline and the mortgage foreclosure crisis. In proposing to shift local economic development to local government, Governor Brown advocates eliminating redevelopment as a catalyst for economic development. This tortures logic.

Governor Brown and his supporters in the state Legislature have done little to justify any claim to leadership in terms of fiscal management. As the epitome of hypocrisy, members of the state Legislature who served in city and county government now seek to take away funds from cities in their own Assembly and Senate districts. The proposal to eradicate redevelopment and assume its debt service, which has doubled since 2000, makes about as much sense as the rescinded proposal to sell off state property and then rent it back at a higher rate that the original mortgage. California has suffered more job loss than the rest of the country during the recession and the unemployed workers outnumber the available jobs five to one. Yet, Governor Brown proposes to eliminate the $40 billion in goods and services and the 304,000 jobs generated by redevelopment in the midst of an unemployment rate of nearly 13 percent.

In some instances, redevelopment has been used as a vehicle for “urban renewal” and gentrification of low-income and working-class and non-white communities. This is a manifestation of racism and class bias, not the fault of redevelopment. For the most part, redevelopment helps flow investment dollars into historically neglected urban areas and has been a catalyst for economic development for construction jobs, infrastructure, transit-oriented development, and small-business development. The vast majority of funding for affordable housing comes from redevelopment agencies, the second largest funder of affordable housing after the federal government.

Critics claim redevelopment funds have been misspent and divert dollars to developers and away from schools and other local services. By such reasoning, one could claim that fire services take funds from housing, public safety takes away from human services, education diverts funds from economic development, and housing redirects resources from infrastructure. If the discussion is about subsidies to corporations then the discourse should point to the corporate welfare that abounds. The zero sum game pits essential social services against one another and begs the question of what is more important: education, housing, employment, park, recreation, infrastructure, health care, or child development? Of course, they all are critical human needs and services. Governor Brown’s budget proposal further erodes confidence in the state government’s ability to be a fiscal steward.

Leonard McNeil

San Pablo City Councilmember

Professor, Political Science, Contra Costa College

San Pablo


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