Edna Gunderson interviews Carlos Santana in USA Today in front of his new album release next week:
- Collaborating, Santana says, requires more courage than solo work, because defenses tend to obscure talent.
”The only obstacles to the goodies are male egos and women’s insecurities,” he says. ”You dismantle the ego by saying, ‘I want to deal with your heart, not your penis. I’m not here to arm-wrestle.’ I’m still a child in that way. I wake up, and that child wants to learn and associate. It’s beautiful to hang out with children and old people, because they’re not auditioning. People between 17 and 37 can be difficult because they’re more self-absorbed.
….”I like spirituality, not religion or politics,” says Santana, who began meditating in 1972 with his wife of 30 years, Deborah (daughter of the late electric blues guitar pioneer Saunders King). ”Religion turns into ‘My god’s bigger than your god; therefore, you’re a heathen, and you should die, and I’ll take your land and build a temple on top of your flattened house.’ Religion is a corrupt business.
”Spirituality is like water and sun. When it rains, the prostitute and the pope get wet just the same. Spirituality is not memorizing the Koran or the Bible while hurting people in the name of Allah or Jesus or Buddha or oil. We are all chosen. Surely we have the capacity to transmute anger and fear into a masterpiece of joy.”
The faith and philosophy that inform his music are channeled through his longtime guardian angel, Methatron, twin to female Sandalfon. Both figures, found in an- cient religious texts and mythology, have a prominent perch in Santana’s world view.
”Methatron is the architect of the electron and the angel inside the womb of every woman,” he says. ”He makes the fingerprints.”
Santana’s musings may seem fanciful until he points out practical applications. Leaning on angels has nurtured kindness, drained anger and kindled his senses.
”It teaches me to surrender,” he says. ”The more I surrender to my wife, the more masculine I am. When my wife and daughters come after me, I love feeling like the shrimp on a Benihana grill.”
Methatron and company also have dissolved boundaries, be they musical genres or national borders, in his thinking.
”I’m an Earth citizen,” Santana says. ”I feel I can relate to kids in Hong Kong as well as Tijuana. Being Mexican is not all I am. I am Hebrew, I am Palestinian, I am everything. I can grasp the concept of absoluteness. I can go to Africa or Cuba or Brazil or Geneva and be part of the family, not just a tourist. I’m not one aisle in Safeway; I’m the whole store.”
Musically, angelic guidance has rearranged priorities and sharpened his ear. He seeks out sincerity and rawness (”you don’t want to be too sophisticated”) and confesses to only one artistic allergy.
”Synthetic music,” he sniffs. ”Phony plastic lounge music. It’s like dancing with a mannequin in Macy’s window.”
He doesn’t dream in gold or platinum. He describes his fantasies as ”concrete” — that is, attainable — including a desire to organize a humanitarian trip to Africa with two 747s carrying musical icons, AIDS drugs, tools and spiritual books.
He’s less worried about a decline of technical skill or creative fertility than an erosion of innocence.
”There’s nothing more powerful than innocence,” he says. ”If you get stale or bored, remember what it was like the first time you held hands with someone who changed your molecular structure. You get the willies. Well, if I’m not getting the willies, I’ll put the guitar down.”
The new Santana album is Shaman, and yes, Carlos is a bit eccentric. I am a bit skeptical about the whole “collaboration” process: I have to admit that other than “Smooth,” I didn’t much like Supernatural; but I am happy for the success and recognition it brought to weird old Carlos, whose guitar truly does still sound “innocent.”
Coincidentally (or not), and of greater interest to me, Legacy is releasing a two-CD collection of Santana’s Columbia work from the late-60’s through the 80’s next week also, The Essential Santana.
The first disc covers the band’s outrageously great 70’s blend of authentic Latin jazz polyrhythms, unpretentious melodies and (often group) vocals (the later influx of skilled lead singers de-emphasized the group’s real strengths), and the stunning lead guitar work of both Santana and the teen-age Neal Schon (especially from the great Santana lll album, well-represented here with four songs).
Though disc 2 wanders off into the 80’s pop period, my only real complaint with the tremendous collection is the inclusion of only one track (“Europa”) from the brilliant Amigos (though a live version of “Dance Sister Dance” from the California Jam album is included), perhaps Santana’s most tuneful and joyous album.
With The Essential, Santana has finally been done right. Next week Shaman will get all the attention, but The Essential is the release for the ages.