Earlier this month, I happened to come across a rebroadcast of Michael Krasny’s Forum where he interviewed Carlos Santana on his recently published autobiography, Universal Tone: Bringing My Story To Light. The book talks about his struggles through poverty and sexual abuse, from the streets of Tijuana to the love-ins in San Francisco, to his rise to fame as the legendary guitar wizard.
Through the interview, they talked about his music, his spirituality, his deep respect for women, the snake he tamed (that’s his guitar!).
I found the background on the song, “Evil Ways” interesting. He wrote about women who worked as prostitutes just so they could feed their children. He said, women represent the sacred and the divine to him. That we can learn a lot from women. They are able to articulate a lot, not just in the spoken word, but from the body language, the gestures as simple as caressing a child.
When asked how he handles his success, he became quite philosophical. It’s easy for fame and new fortune to get to you, to corrupt you, to shorten your memory of what it was like to struggle and to have nothing.
This was when he talked about “shaving your cactus.” Everyday, he said. Everyday, it’s a struggle to run away from the “ego.” It’s a daily battle. And the conscious act should be as regular as brushing your teeth or applying deodorant, he explained. You don’t do it for yourself. You do it for others because you don’t want to be offensive to them. You shave your cactus daily to remove your prickliness. So you are not hurtful, whether unconsciously or deliberately.
He talked about how having convictions, strong beliefs and principles, are all good things. But, these don’t give you the excuse to be judgmental and self-righteous.
“How do you balance your supreme conviction with humility?”
Figuring this out is a daily struggle. I have not met a musical icon so self-aware as Carlos. I have a lot to learn from the man. We had purchased a 2002 biography written by Marc Shapiro a few years back. I remember playing his music as I read the book. One of my all time favorites is “Samba Pa Ti,” a true testament to the man’s guitar genius and his snake! I have been a fan since the 70’s. After finishing the book, I had a totally new-found respect for the man and his art. Now, I will have to read his memoir.
I was also struck by his approach to a complex number of people he encounters. “I would rather identify with the mightiness in you rather than the wretchedness in you. ” As for societal dictates that enslave: guilt, judgment, condemnation, fear, all these just serve to incarcerate your mind. (Sounds to me like a few religious groups’ MO’s. Even a few social groups’ MO’s.).
I will remember to “shave my cactus” whenever I can. Maybe I’ll put a reminder beside my toothbrush so I will remember to do it every morning when I wake up.