Santana: An average guy and his angel

Santana, with new success, stays grounded when mom preaches humility. There is also a spiritual entity, he says, who told him to give back by speaking out about his past.
Los Angeles Times, Nov. 3, 2002
By Agustin Gurza, Times Staff Writer

Concord, Calif. — Carlos Santana doesn’t always act like a spiritualist rock star who communicates with angels to help him inspire humanity through his music. Sometimes he lets the mundane irritations of life get to him too.

A moment ago, he was bristling about the pressures of having his large family show up for his concert at the Chronicle Pavilion east of San Francisco, his first hometown appearance in two years. Siblings and nieces and cousins and their spouses, all clamoring to get in. That’s “emotional chaos” before a performance. So he vows next time he’ll greet relatives after the show, to avoid the distraction from his job.

Once the clan is settled, though, a serene Santana takes a seat at a plain patio table with half a dozen members of his inner circle. He’s respectful, leaning close to speak in Spanish with his gray-haired mother, who’s in a wheelchair. He’s polite, standing up to greet his sisters with a kiss on both cheeks.

If the Santanas weren’t gathered in this VIP courtyard behind the stage, they could be any Mexican immigrant family out for a picnic. Nobody fawns over the brother just coming off a comeback album that became one of the top-selling records of all time.

“Supernatural,” Santana’s 1999 release, sold 25 million copies worldwide, a success so intense it can distort an artist’s life, even change the way he looks. Surely, the “Supernatural” phenomenon must have altered Santana somehow, at least the way he looks at himself.

“No, man, I’m still the same guy who crossed the border, who was washing dishes,” explains the guitarist, 55, during an interview in his dressing room. “I’m still my mother’s son. I have four sisters and two brothers. When I go home, I feel like a shrimp that’s chopped and diced like a Benihana by my two daughters and my wife. I still take the garbage out.”

Nothing supernatural about that. Like many an average guy, Santana has struggled with marital problems. He claims he perceives five dimensions to human existence, but for a time he was able to show his family only one: anger.

He had met his wife Deborah at a 1972 Tower of Power concert in the San Francisco suburb of San Rafael, the city the couple calls home. She had remained his loyal companion and advisor ever since. But then came the crisis that threatened to end his marriage of 30 years. In those drifting years before “Supernatural,” when his career was going nowhere and he seemed destined to remain a relic of the psychedelic ’60s, Santana’s temper became unbearable. Deborah issued her husband an ultimatum: Either get help or get out.

Santana consulted a therapist and was forced to confront the trauma of childhood molestation, which he revealed in February in a Rolling Stone magazine interview and again last month on “60 Minutes II.” “I adore my wife,” says Santana, as lean and longhaired as in his prime. “I adore my kids. So I felt I had to become brave and have the courage to go inside the ring and face my bull. You know, face the moment of truth. And the moment of truth for men who have been molested is to go see a psychiatrist or an analyst and shed your skin.”

The average man, though, doesn’t shed his skin on national television. That public disclosure is something Santana would have rather avoided.

But the angel said he must do it.

He has spoken frequently in interviews about the celestial visitor who shepherded his career revival. At night, when his family is asleep, Santana lights a candle and waits to hear from the jolly, white-bearded angel named Metatron.

Metatron inspired his comeback. “Supernatural” wasn’t magical, though. Santana’s worldly moves made it happen. He wiggled out of record contracts he considered stagnating, and he searched out his old mentor Clive Davis, who had originally signed him to Columbia Records in 1968.

Davis came up with the idea of finding fresh songs and young collaborators for Santana, an approach they’re reprising on “Shaman,” the recently released follow-up album, which soared toward No. 1 in its first week of release.

To Santana, both albums have a spiritual mission: one accomplished, one to go.

Spiritual warrior

In the dressing room, he pops open a bottle of beer, sinks into a comfortable couch and explains.

“Look, the first message was to stop the shootings in schools, which obviously have stopped,” he says. “That was the first message for ‘Supernatural,’ and the last [time] people were shot was at Santana High School in San Diego.”

He states the stunning claim with nonchalance. It’s up to the listener to connect cause with effect — his comeback album was released the year of the Columbine High School massacre, then came a lull in shootings after the Santee incident at a school with his name on it.

Santana simply calls the coincidence “fascinating.” Later, talking about something else, he says that coincidence is one way that spirits reveal themselves.

They also deliver messages directly. At the peak of the “Supernatural” phenomenon, Santana heard Metatron, the angel, say: “We’ve given you an enormous experience, and we want something back. We want you to speak about your child molestation.”

That was a message he didn’t want to hear. “At first, I was horrified I would have to open that part of me so personal. And I couldn’t sleep for days.” Santana tried to negotiate with the spirits.

“And they said, ‘No, it’s not for bargaining, because a lot of men are going to benefit from it. And sure enough, I started getting e-mails and men crying, different men from all over the world, saying, ‘It happened to me, too, and we commend you for being so brave.’ As soon as I said that, like a domino effect, all of a sudden all these men started coming out about all the molestations with priests.”

As outlandish as some of this might sound to the average fan, Santana has always said that artists have the power to change the world. “If you’re not doing that, then you should be a plumber. Do something else.”

But has he started to take himself too seriously? Even the title of the new album sounds self-aggrandizing, as if he were anointing himself as the grand shaman, healer of the world.

“My wife warned me people would take it like that,” he says. “But I don’t have illusions of grandeur, man. I’m not saying I’m Superman or Batman or Jesus or Buddha. But I am saying we all have powers that we’re not using.”

Outside on the patio, Santana leans over to give his mother a soft kiss. It’s time for him to start the show. In his pocket he carries a handwritten statement that he and his wife drafted the night before. He intends to read it during the concert, announcing “Shaman’s” spiritual mission.

“Hopefully, with ‘Shaman’ we can invite people to … ” Santana pauses. “To see the big picture. When you see the big picture you say, ‘God bless humanity.’ You don’t say, ‘God bless America.’

“I adore this country and everything. It’s been really good to me. But I will not say ‘Sieg Heil’ in the name of the United States.”

Santana knows that his adoring Bay Area audience will be receptive to his antiwar message. From the stage, he calls on President Bush to soften his heart and “see that the highest goal of life is compassion and goodness.”

He pulls out the paper and reads his rock sermon.

“Spiritual warriors are the architects of today,” he declares. “By faith they make the invisible visible.”

‘M’hijo, remember … ‘

Even as a boy, Carlos seemed special to his mother, Josefina Barragan de Santana. He was her middle child, born in the Mexican state of Jalisco. He stood out because his lips were full and red and his complexion was lighter than the others, considered a blessing in Mexico’s color-based society.

But his spirit seemed special, too. “Carlos has a big angel,” his aunt would say, meaning his life was charmed. “The boy is going to grow up to be a bishop,” she told his mother. “He’s going to preach to the multitudes.”

To this day, Mrs. Santana makes sure her son doesn’t stray from what she taught him. First and foremost: Be humble and be afraid of money.

Sometimes, Carlos calls her from the road and tells her how well things are going. People are flocking to see him, and he tells her how much money he’s made.

“M’hijo, remember that every time the good Lord gives you much, you have to feel even smaller.”

“Mami, you’ve told me that many times,” says the musician, who once realized that certain of his solos are tuned to the sound of his mother’s scoldings.

“Just in case you forget,” she tells him. “I don’t like people who are vain and egotistical. I don’t want you to take your feet off the ground and blow up like a balloon.”

That’s precisely why Santana doesn’t hire somebody to throw out the garbage for him.

“No, I don’t want people around in my house all the time,” he says with a trace of annoyance. “I’m not surrounded by a bunch of people to protect me like that, man, and to do everything for me. That’s how you lose perspective.”

Backstage, Santana calls to his daughter Angelica. “H-i-i-i-i-i, precious,” he says. “Come on in. Say hi to me.”

The sassy 12-year-old at first ignores the call, then bolts through the door. “You’re my biggest fan,” she says, cocking her head as if she were the celebrity.

Santana looks stunned, leans back and laughs. He seems to enjoy being put in his place. And Metatron is probably smiling too.

Going back to the well

Clive Davis knew the gods and the odds were against another “Supernatural,” Santana’s phenomenal 1999 bestseller. “People would say, ‘Oh, this could never happen again; lightning could not strike twice,’ ” said the fabled label executive, who first signed Carlos Santana’s band to Columbia Records in 1968 and masterminded his comeback 30 years later for Arista. “We just said, ‘Look, we will not be intimidated by the all-time success of “Supernatural.” ‘ ”

For “Shaman,” released Oct. 22, Davis stuck to the “blueprint” that worked “Supernatural” magic. Santana picked half the songs to suit his style and Davis picked half to suit radio formats, all pairing the veteran guitarist with young collaborators. They wound up with so much material this time — 50 songs — that Santana for a while wanted a double album. There’s still talk of an all-Spanish release.

One that didn’t make the new album, though everybody loved it, was called “Your Satellite,” written by Rob Thomas and sung by salsa-pop star Marc Anthony. “Marc was on fire, and the chemistry was amazing,” producer Lester Mendez said. “Clive was not letting that one go.” But Santana said contractual problems between record labels (Anthony is with Columbia) eventually scuttled “Satellite.”

As for expectations of matching the 25 million worldwide sales of “Supernatural,” Davis says: “People will be surprised that we can get anywhere near it. And I sort of like that surprise.”


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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday November 4, 2002.
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