One of the challenges for me in life is accurately conveying my emotions. There are many times when I am experiencing something and I want to be able to convey that feeling to other people, but the tools that I have at my disposal seem to be quite limited. So you are probably asking why I don’t just talk about these feelings. Well, I find words to be very rough tools when trying to convey a feeling. We have many words that are supposed to correlate to specific states of experience but I find even these specific words to be a double-edged sword. If you and I have the exact same definition and understanding of a word then it can work great, but so often our definitions are not exactly the same. Languages are constantly growing, shifting, and expanding. For two people to have the same understanding of a word, those people must have been educated from the same or similar sources and have had enough similar experiences to shade their understandings of words in the same types of ways. This is not such a problem if I want to express the concept of a chair. The chair exists outside of the mind. We can construct models of it, measure it, and generally experience a chair in a very concrete manner. But what happens when I want to express the concepts of melancholy or malaise?
These concepts are internal very personal. They color our experience of reality, so if one has never felt them then he or she will never have the same understanding of the term as someone who lives in such a state. We can’t build a model of malaise and then take measurements of it. Even if two people think that their definitions of the term are the same how can they know that for certain? If their emotions were triggered by different circumstances does this change the connotation of the emotion? Does this change the meaning for the person, and does that subsequently change the experience of the emotion itself? So how do you know what I mean when I use one of these terms that posses such subtle shades of meaning?
For me, the solution to this problem is found in music. There are moments in music when I feel like all of this possible confusion that results from language is bypassed. Under the right conditions I am able to express myself on my instrument in a way that I feel cuts past this predicament and reaches people on a direct emotional level. Granted, this does not happen all the time. Some musical situations do not allow for this kind of expression, and many people are not open to receiving the message. However, I do feel that the way to reach the most people in the clearest and most direct way is through my instrument. So why am I talking about all of this and what triggered it? In a word, Santana.
I have recently been listening to Santana again during my trips through the rail tunnels of New York. When I first sat down today to write about Santana I found that I couldn’t. I started a paragraph a few times and stopped. And then I sat here for a while. In fact, I have even been putting off writing this article. The reason I was procrastinating was not immediately clear to me, but once I spent a few minutes trying to put my thoughts into words, the reason came into sharp relief. Carlos Santana speaks to me. He manipulates his guitar strings and controls his amplifier in such a way that shoots straight into me. I feel what he is feeling. He doesn’t need to talk or write about his intention with a song or a solo, because the meaning is obvious. I would seriously doubt if anyone ever needed to ask him, “What did you mean when you played that phrase?”
This is something that I have been striving to do my whole life. It is not easy, and even though it comes more naturally to some people, everyone has to work hard to be able to do it. There are times when I feel like our purpose here on earth is to learn how to communicate with each other. There are so many miscommunications or people who blatantly refuse to communicate on a daily basis and this saps everyone’s energy. Ask yourself, have you ever felt energized by a miscommunication? How do you feel when you have been intentionally ignored or lied to? Contrast that with the energy you feel when you are communicating with someone at a very deep level. That feels great! For me, Carlos Santana is someone who has mastered the art of communication through his instrument. He not only brings us messages (feelings) at a very deep level, but also serves as and example for the rest of us on how to communicate.
When I listen to Santana I feel energy. I also feel longing, hope, suffering, love, and excitement. Here come those words again. Rather than attempting to do exactly what I just said doesn’t work very well, I recommend that you go straight to the source. My favorite Santana album is Abraxas. I was crazy about this album in high school, and still return to it without disappointment. Highlights for me include Incident at Neshabur, Se a Cabo, and Samba pa Ti. Carlos and the band use dynamics very effectively and the entrance of an organ, or the addition of distortion on the guitar pulls me into a new emotional space. These songs are not static and are really representative of the different emotional states that we all can go through even over the course of a few minutes.
Some people don’t like Santana’s material ever since his reentrance into pop culture with the Supernatural album. I don’t know what these peoples’ problem is. If Santana had sacrificed his own personal voice in order to have a large roster of guest stars and promotion from the record label, then I would have a big problem with it, but he didn’t. This album puts him into new settings, but he never loses his sense of self or his voice on the instrument. Even Smooth, probably the biggest single from the album, is a really well written song. It has a great set of chord changes, a real horn section, classic Santana guitar playing, and they let the band open up at the end of the song. And I still feel that same level of communication from him. What is not to like?
It is hard to resist the urge to try to put my feelings into words. It is habit. I still find myself sitting here trying to explain exactly how I feel when I listen to all of Santana’s music. Well, if you haven’t already started to listen to his music, shut off your computer (or at least close your eyes) and listen. Don’t even think about what you have just read. Just allow your self to be open and I would be willing to bet that you will feel all the things that I have just failed to put into words. Enjoy!