Carlos Santana was just 22 years old when he and his band mesmerized 500,000 people who were at Woodstock, the three-day phenomenon in August 1969 that is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most pivotal moments that changed the history of Rock and Roll.
Forty-two years later, Carlos the eternal, cosmic melody man, is still using his supremely magical gift of music to touch us in that deepest, most sensual, primal, spiritual place which can only be accessed by the pure, truthful emotion of Divine Love that connects us to our higher selves.
He says, “My job in this life is to give people spiritual ecstasy through music. In my concerts people cry, laugh, dance. If they climaxed spiritually, I did my job. I did it decently and honestly.”
If you’ve been to a Santana concert than you know that Carlos delivers that spiritual ecstasy that courses through your veins and electrifies every cell in your body. If you haven’t seen Carlos perform live, here are two clips that convey the experience. The first song is a version of “Black Magic Woman” that will knock your socks off. This song remains timeless whether you heard it back in the Woodstock days or in present time as Carlos tours Europe. He was just in Germany, Switzerland, and wowed the crowd with a three hour concert in Kiev, Ukraine. Music is definitely universal.
The second clip is of Carlos with Rob Thomas, from Matchbox Twenty fame who composed and sang vocals on the mega-hit song “Smooth,” which spent a record-breaking ten consecutive weeks at the top of the charts and earned them three Grammys in 1999 when it was released on Carlos’s album Supernatural.
Every time I hear this song I lose control over my own body. My legs don’t ask permission to get up and start dancing they just do; my torso doesn’t ask if it’s okay to start gyrating around the room; it just starts moving. My body can’t do anything but follow the beat until it’s utterly spent.
In a sense I’ve had my own Supernatural experience with Carlos. I had the pleasure of talking with Carlos on three separate occasions and each time he was in a very different place emotionally.
The first time was in July 2006 when I did a phone interview with him and his first wife Deborah, who had written a memoir, Space Between the Stars – My Journey to an Open Heart. I loved the book, which is a real, raw and unvarnished account of Deborah’s life with and without her famous husband.
When I asked Carlos how he felt about Deborah revealing the good and bad parts of their lives together he said, “I was there when all three of our children were born and I’m sensitive to the dimension of both pain and joy. I celebrate her honesty. I’ve learned to be patient with myself because of her.
“A lot of things that happened in my life had to do with how I was introduced to sex. It wasn’t nice, it was brutal. When Deborah learned how I developed from a child to manhood growing up in Tijuana, she thought it important for me to seek therapy otherwise we were going to be divorced because I was subconsciously angry about my loss of innocence.
“Sometimes you have to forget about being bashful or uncomfortable and bring something into the light. Deborah’s book has a lot of light because women write her and say, ‘I have the courage now to voice my thoughts and opinions and not be left in the shadows.’ If it’s empowering for them, imagine what it’s like for me. I love when I am able to make her happy, but I’ve learned that she is responsible for her own happiness as we all are.”
The second time I spoke with Carlos was in April 2010 when I met with him at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas where he was performing regularly. As soon as I sat down next to him in the dimly lit nightclub called “The Joint,” I sensed that beneath his polite persona, he was in a very somber mood.
I knew that Deborah had filed for divorce in October 2007, and I decided ahead of time that I wasn’t going to make Carlos uncomfortable by bringing up her name or reminding him that I had interviewed them both four years earlier.
It didn’t take long however, before Carlos mentioned his ex-wife. When I asked him what three people had most influenced his life, he said: “My mother, who put my four sisters, my brother and me in a car and said, ‘Nos vamos,’ which means we’re leaving, and she took us from the little town of Autlán de Navarro between Puerta Vallarta and Guadalajara, to Tijuana. She did the same thing when we left Tijuana and went to San Francisco in hopes of joining my dad who we hadn’t seen in a year when he went looking for work. We only had enough money for one way and no we had no guarantee we’d find him…”
Career-wise Carlos talked about the influence of musician Miles Davis, record producer Clive Davis, and music promoter Bill Graham, who was instrumental in bringing Santana to Woodstock.
Then Carlos mentioned Deborah. “For 34 years we were each other’s teacher, student and best friend. We were sent to each other by God and we created three incredible children who are now our teachers. I don’t know where Deborah is in her own journey. I trust she’s on the road to self-discovery and her own sense of self-worth away from me…Deborah is a special woman who exudes a certain kind of grace and royalty. Not like Queen Elizabeth in that it was given to her. Some people can be dirt poor like in Gatooma, Zimbabwe, and yet they still carry themselves like Duke Ellington or Nat King Cole. It’s not about the money you have. It’s about your sense of self that allows you to carry yourself royally. I can just look at a woman and tell if she is deeply invested in her illusions rather than her own life.”
I paused for a moment. Raw emotion hung in the air and I sensed the sadness Carlos was feeling. Sometimes when I asked him a question he would close his eyes and speak as if he was channeling the answer from another realm.
“What is your most treasured material possession,” I gently inquired.
“Nothing,” he said. “If I don’t see it, I don’t miss it, including my guitar. That is especially true since my divorce. My mom told me as a child that everything belongs to God and whenever he wants something, open your hand and let him have it. So intuitively I don’t have Velcro attached to anything physical, psychological or emotional. I am free of all that I am.”
LIFE LESSON: Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom before we realize that all the material things we strive for aren’t what ultimately makes us happy. When Carlos says “I am free of all that I am,” I think he means free from the ego that tries to tell you you’re not good enough as you are; free from being caught up in your image, free from the trappings of fame, the expectations of others, the phony façade that you’ve hidden behind. Peace comes when you look at the gifts your trials and tribulations lay at your feet that give you a new understanding, a greater awareness, and a deeper appreciation.
The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart. The most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of peace.”
– Carlos Santana
When I asked Carlos what made him angry, he said, “My own fears. I used to be a very intense, compulsive person. I’m way less now. Someone asked me once, ‘What are you most afraid of?’ and I said, ‘Disappointing God,’ until I realized there’s no way I could disappoint God because he doesn’t see my faults, they aren’t issues to him. They’re only issues for my ego which thinks it’s separate from God. Now that I understand that, I’m like a snake shedding its skin and what I disliked most about myself – that feeling of waking up thinking that the world was out to screw me because I was molested or that I wasn’t worthy of all his incredible attention. – is leaving me.
“I was always angry because my ego had convinced me that I was useless, hopeless and worthless. I was playing hide and seek with myself. I couldn’t feel the joy when Supernatural won nine Grammys. I couldn’t feel the delight of walking up to the podium and receiving an award from Bob Dylan…because I was at war and in conflict with myself and my heart was crushed. Well that guy is gone, and now I’m able to say that God is gracious, people are generous, and I’m grateful…More and more I’m learning to bless my contradictions and my fears and transform them.”
If there’s no breaking then there’s no healing, and if there’s no healing then there’s no learning.”
– One Tree Hill
Time passes, life goes on and on July 9, 2010 Carlos proposed to his drummer Cindy Blackman who was on tour with him. I’m so glad he found love again I thought when I heard the news. She has to be a very special lady to have captured his heart.
A few months later when we were planning the June 2011 “Bridal” issue of Luxury Las Vegas magazine, I suggested to my editor that because Carlos and Cindy have a house in Las Vegas, it would be great to tell their love story and feature their wedding photos.
I put out the request and Carlos said yes. As I pulled up in front of their beautiful home I was looking forward to seeing him again and meeting his new bride.
Not surprisingly Carlos answered the door himself. As I imagined the energy was completely different this time and he was beaming from ear to ear as he invited me inside. We chatted for a few minutes until Cindy joined us. She looked stunning in a leather jacket and a mini-skirt that showed off her legs that went on forever. I liked Cindy immediately. She exuded a warmth and friendliness that put me at ease.
As we sat on the couch together looking out the huge glass windows to the mountains that formed a spectacular backdrop, they took turns telling the story of how they met.
“Santana had a corporate gig to do in Florida and my regular drummer couldn’t do it because he was booked elsewhere,” Carlos explained. “I had to find a substitute drummer and a voice in my head said, Don’t call the usual people, call Cindy. I said, ‘Cindy?’
Yeah, go to your iPad and look up Cindy Blackman and check her out. She’s the same lady you saw in Germany in 2002 that played drums with Lenny Kravitz.
“That concert was years ago and I’d only stuck around for maybe two songs so I didn’t really know how Cindy played. After downloading several of her CDs I realized she had a high standard of musical excellence so I invited her to come to Las Vegas for two days.”
You can read all the details in the full-length, original article “Love Divinely Orchestrated,” but the shorter version is that from the moment Carlos and Cindy met they felt some serious chemistry.
I knew Carlos had been in a dark place the last time I interviewed him, but I didn’t know how dark until he said, “During my four years of separation and divorce when all options were available to me, most guys would have gone to Brazil and gotten drunk and been crazy, but I went the other way. A lot of people invited me to indulge in things they thought would be good for me, but I needed that like a hole in my head. That was like poison for where I was at.
“I was suffering from a deep depression like Sam Cooke, Donny Hathaway and Marvin Gaye had, and I needed to crystalize my existence and go to the next level of consciousness. I needed to trust and surrender to my inner voice that said, Let go of everything that you love. Release it to me now because I have something that is very heavy to give you and you’ll need both hands to hold it.
“I was like, ‘Yeah but,” and the voice said, There is no yeah but. You are ten seconds from taking your own life. Isn’t it enough that I am sitting here next to you? I went from feeling like my heart had been opened and hot coals had been put inside, to crying my eyes out that the Supreme Holy Spirit was talking to me.”
Carlos called (spiritual adviser) Marianne Williamson and told her that he was going through the darkest night of his life and asked if she could recommend someone in the Bay area who could assist him in his transformation, which she did and Carlos started studying The Course of Miracles.
By the time Carlos and Cindy met, they had both done a lot of inner work and were ready for each other.
“What attracted me to Cindy was her clarity and certainty,” Carlos told me. “I felt that I could be at ease living with her and that it wouldn’t be uncomfortable like, ‘Okay, it’s time to call you a cab now.’ When we hugged in the kitchen it felt unconditional…I knew right then that I could share my life with her forever.”
Cindy (51) told me that though she had been in a couple of long-term relationships, she’d never been married. “One of my Kabbalah instructors said, ‘…Cindy, you only have to ask one question. Is he spiritual? I asked that question about Carlos, (63) and the answer was absolutely yes.’
Two months into the Universal Tone Tour Carlos proposed on stage right after Cindy’s virtuoso drum solo on the Santana hit “Corazon Espinado.” “People asked if I was afraid she’d say no,” Carlos recounts, “but I felt confident that it was okay to announce to the world that two lights were bending to each other. It was as natural as my next breath. We were swimming in each other’s light.”
The wedding was set for December 19 in Maui where Carlos has a home. In this video clip the joy Carlos feels is evident on his face.
Carlos is different, happier than the man I spoke to before, but he is the same in the way he respects his ex-wife and loves his children. He shared this very touching story. “One of the highlights of the wedding was when I said to Salvador, “Since mom and I have gone our different ways, I want to ask if there is anything you want to get off your chest before Cindy and I get married tomorrow?
“Salvador took a deep breath and said, ‘Actually there is.’
Okay, fasten your seatbelts, I thought. Here it comes. Instead Salvador suggested something that became a special part of the ceremony. He said, ‘Tomorrow I request that you ask the minister to fill a big wooden bowl with rainwater (it had been raining). Then I’d like for you to wash Cindy’s hands and for her to wash yours and absolve each other from all things past and start anew.’ We loved that because we want to experience each thing as if it is for the first time for both of us.”
LIFE LESSON: Ceremony is very symbolic. The washing of their hands was a great way for Carlos and Cindy to absolve themselves of the past and start fresh. There are different ways to create symbolism. We can make a list of things we want to forgive ourselves and others for and then burn the paper. We can write down our dreams and bury the paper in place we consider sacred. We can use the ritual of water. It’s all about forgiveness. About starting over, creating a new beginning, wiping the slate clean.
That reminds me of something Carlos told me during our second interview. He said, “There is perfection in imperfection. People can do 99% of everything perfect, yet they torture themselves about the 1% they screwed up. Bob Marley said people need to emancipate themselves from mental slavery, believing they are wretched. Everything happens for the best when you get out of your own way. People get stuck in their stories. End your story and begin your life. I like to say that God created a circle of love so vast that no one can stand outside of it. God created the world round so everyone can have center stage. I like to validate that everyone is significant and meaningful. No one is a failure or a sinner.”
My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Rather than trying to be perfect, it’s about finding someone who sees our imperfections and loves us anyway. Carlos said, “Cindy was sent to me to help me clean out my inner closet. She is that person who will help me praise God every day, in every way with grace, honor, and sensuality.”
It was a beautiful wedding. About 200 guests flew in to share the day with the special couple. Carlos’ daughters, Angelica and Stella were two of Cindy’s seven bridesmaids and his son, Salvador, was the best man along with six groomsmen. When Carlos asked Cindy who she wanted to play at the wedding she said, Wayne (Shorter) and Herbie (Hancock), of course.
The couple wrote their own vows. Cindy wrote hers on her iPhone. “I forgot it’s programmed to go off if it’s not being toggled and it kept shutting down. I knew what I wanted to say so I put the phone away and let all the things I felt about Carlos and our union flow from my heart. One of our favorite words is pristine. I love being pristine in all facets of my life and I want to be pristine with my marriage. That was thematic in what I said.”
Cindy remembers that when it came time for Carlos to say his vows somebody handed him his iPad and everyone started cracking up. “This really trumps the iPhone,” she thought.
In defense Carlos said, “I wrote what I wanted to say at 3 a.m. and I thought I’m never going to remember this. I wanted to honor and validate everyone who was there because I appreciated what they went through to be there with and for us.”
“There was genius in everyone in the room,” Carlos said, “but Wayne and Herbie are two people who really represent genius on the planet.”
They couple cut the cake and danced to Ron Isley’s “The Look of Love.”
Then after all the toasts were given, the guests were invited to experience a moment of silence so that Cindy and Carlos could drink in all the love their guests were offering them with their eyes.
“God’s light was so prevalent, the silence got really loud,” Carlos said.
It was a beautiful ending to a beautiful day and the beginning of a beautiful life together. Both Carlos and Cindy have a great appreciation for what they share because of what they each went through to get where they are. Love lost and love found, and Divinely orchestrated. A blessing that they both cherish.
Carlos said, “We are the culmination of a lot of people’s prayers.”
As I watched the happy couple sitting together on the couch they both looked so radiant, their love so overflowing that it spilled out onto me.
We are, each of us angels with only one wing and we can only fly by embracing one another.”
– Luciano de Crescenzo
Besides their love for each other, Carlos and Cindy also share a love for mankind and for the planet. Before we finished the interview Carlos turned serious. “Humanity loves to worship and has a total preoccupation with the god of economy, which is the love for power, which is more important than life, people, or the planet.
“We kill, take peoples’ land and everything they have and justify it in the name of a superior god, which is the economy. In the 1967 movie, 2001 A Space Odyssey, there was a scene where two tribes of apes were fighting over a water hole, which was really a mud hole. Instead of joining together to make the water clean for everyone, they killed one another over mud. We are still fighting over mud, which is now global oil…
“The symptoms of being separate from the Supreme Being are guilt, shame, judgment, condemnation, and fear. I know without a doubt that beauty, elegance, excellence, grace and dignity are the only passports towards global healing. Free water, education, food, and electricity for every human on the planet will be the result of living with these spiritual principles. I also want women to be equal in everything – in bed, in the office, in the oval office. That is my ultimate goal.”
After almost two hours we ended the interview so Cindy and Carlos could go to the airport, but not before Cindy said, “I didn’t expect to find my glorious partner and I was okay with that. I wanted to enjoy the gifts I did have. Fortunately God had this planned.”
I feel fortunate that I was able to connect with Carlos at three junctions in his life and in a way see him come full circle. We first talked near the end of one very important chapter in his life; then we talked at the darkest point in his life when he couldn’t see the light; and again when he was bathed in the glow of a brilliant new love.
Carlos and Cindy demonstrated a little gesture that they do with each other, where they blow a tiny puff of air out through their mouths. They explained that it symbolizes keeping the feather from touching the ground; keeping things light and full of love and happiness, while keeping toxic thoughts like fear, delusion, and entitlement away. I like that.
Our destiny changes with our thought; we shall become what we wish to become, do what we wish to do, when our habitual thought corresponds with our desire.”
– Orison Swett Marden
I hope that after reading this anyone who has known love and lost love, anyone who is hoping to find that special someone, will remember Carlos Santana and let him serve as a reminder that out of the darkest moments, out of the depth of despair, love will find you.
In closing here is video from Woodstock with 22-year-old Carlos Santana playing “Soul Sacrifice.”
Hallow the body as a temple to comeliness and sanctify the heart as a sacrifice to love; love recompenses the adorers.”
– Khalil Gibran