The Epic Life of Carlos Santana

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We go out for lunch to a nice Italian restaurant in a local mall. Santana drives, playing a CD that fuses Miles Davis' music with Gregorian chants and opera. Davis, whom Santana knew fairly well before his death and once, in 1986, played with (the musical highlight of his life, he says), sometimes visits him at night. On Santana's fifty-second birthday, last July, Miles Davis visited for two hours. He was poking fun at a friend, cracking jokes. When Davis appears like this, he doesn't acknowledge that he's dead. "He just seems as cool as ever," Santana says. He never doubts that it's really Miles Davis, "I can smell him," he explains. "Even on the other side there is smell. Like, when babies are born, there's two smells – one is chicken soup, which is the flesh, and the other is lilacs, which is coming from the spiritual garden. The spirit has a lilac smell."

A rationalist would say, I interject, that that's your unconscious communing with your memory of a man you used to know. How do you know it's not?

"Well, I know when I'm hungry," he says. "I know when I'm cold. I know when I'm horny." An answer that, like many of his answers on such topics, is smarter and more subtle than it might at first appear.

At lunch he talks about being invited to play for the pope two years ago. "When I read the letter," he recalls, "the main thing that happened to me was . . . " He shakes his head. "I'm a visionary guy, so I see visions, and I started seeing Zapata and Geronimo and Che Guevara and Pancho Villa and Miles Davis and all these revolutionary guys saying, 'You're not going to do this, are you?' And I was like, 'Hey, hey, back off, man. I just got this letter – let me finish reading it.'" But he knew they were right. He has also turned down President Clinton. "I've got nothing against Christianity per se," he says. "I just have a problem playing for politicians and the pope."

After lunch, driving to his house, Santana waits and waits at an intersection for a dawdling car to pass. "This century, thank you," he mutters. He is only human.

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