Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Carlos Santana in the Green Room
Last Thursday evening in the second-floor Green Room of the Veterans Building, there was a very jolly party in conjunction with the 2010 Mayor's Art Award ceremony honoring the local, legendary musician Carlos Santana (below right).
This was the third edition of the annual award, spearheaded by the San Francisco Art Commission, and the previous honorees were artist Ruth Asawa and choreographer Alonzo King. Santana is on a different level of celebrity than those two, and has received a ridiculous number of awards over his four-decade career, including being installed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so this felt more like the glory was being reflected on the local politicians such as Gavin Newsom rather than the other way around.
There was a good young band from the Mission District playing called Futuro Picante, along with free drinks...
...and free food, including my favorite from the venerable Castro District pizza parlor The Sausage Factory.
Luis Cancel (above right), San Francisco's "Director of Cultural Affairs," gave a nice introduction to Carlos, who in turn gave a gracious speech filled with sincere platitudes about music, humility, love and light. I checked out his website later (click here), and the happy news is that it's probably the best designed artist's website I've ever visited, easy to navigate and filled with fascinating content, including the names and photos of the hundreds of people he's played music with over the decades.
In fact, his career on further inspection is about ten times more interesting than I ever suspected. After worshiping Richie Valens as a kid in Tijuana, he joined his mother in San Francisco, went to Mission High School, and was a musical busker on the streets of San Francisco in the 1960s where he formed his first band. During that time, he connected up with the entire San Francisco music scene along with promoter Bill Graham, who got him a major slot at Woodstock, which led to a recording contract with Clive Davis, which led to three megaselling albums, and then everything fell apart. Much of his band wanted to go towards harder rock while Carlos was worshiping the jazz of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Plus, there were drugs galore flying around, so Carlos ended up jettisoning most of the group and playing with new musicians for a live recording in Japan for CBS, "Lotus," which refused to release the three-disc set. (They are weird collectors' import items to this day.)
From that moment on, Santana balanced making commercial music for the suits, and ignoring them altogether to play what and with whom he wanted all across the globe, essentially creating "world music" before there was even such a category. He also went through a period with religious cult leader Sri Chimnoy in the 1970s but happily broke it off with the compromised guru in 1982. In 1999, he released the album "Supernatural" which was a collection of collaborations with younger musicians, and suddenly he was superstar successful all over again.
Though most of the speech was sweet and positive, Carlos did mention apropos of nothing that "Fox News is just the Klu Klux Klan without the sheets," and I wondered if he was making a sly dig at his biggest sponsor. When he's not touring the world (Spain and Morocco are up next), Santana plays for AEG Live at the Hard Rock Casino concert hall in Las Vegas. AEG Live is owned by Philip Anschutz, the right-wing Christian billionaire who also owns the Examiner chain of free dailies, which was the major sponsor of the evening's festivities at the Green Room. Their editorial policies, both local (Ken Garcia, etc.) and national (Hugh Hewitt, etc.) are certainly no different than Fox News. I hope Carlos appreciated the irony.