Not long ago, I signed up for cloud storage for my music collection. I started digitizing my collection years ago but had only managed to convert about 100 CDs. Now I have far more than 100, and I had stopped listening to many of them because doing so required digging out and going through multiple CD cases. Also, there is the matter of storage; I rip audio files at the highest fidelity level, which uses up a lot of disk space. Cloud storage solves this problem, and it is only a few bucks a month.

I set aside a few days to devote to digitizing my entire collection. My CD collection includes everything from Louie Armstrong’s band in the 1930s to music released in the last few months. I have even managed to replace the vinyl from my high school and college years with CDs, so my collection holds many pleasant memories. On picking up each disc, I found myself reminiscing and occasionally yelling out to my wife about some shared experience. Then I came across Abraxas and sat there quietly smiling to myself a little longer than I had paused for earlier albums.

Abraxas was a massive hit for Santana; it put them on the map. While singing along to “Black Magic Woman” and chanting “Oye Como Va!” I realized how Santana, and particularly Abraxas, had affected my life, and that influence began long before I had ever heard a single note of any song on the album.

Howard lived down the street from me, and except for one year, we had gone to the same schools since 6th grade. In 10th grade, we started hanging out—something we had never done before. I don’t recall what caused this association—maybe proximity. One day he told me he was going to buy an album and asked if I wanted to come along.

Howard was into hard rock, and I was more of a James Taylor, soft rock/folk person with a big dollop of Isaac Hayes. I don’t recall whether I had ever heard of Santana before our trip to the record shop. Howard raved about this new band–that I just had to listen to them. Another friend had introduced him to the band. So, I tagged along for the shopping experience.

We went back to his house to listen to the album, but I never got to hear it. By the time we got there, it was after 6 pm,  the rest of the family trickled in, and between greetings and catching up, I never got to hear Howard’s new prize. I enjoyed the visit, and that was the last time we ever hung out—no idea why…

Brenna sat next to me in 11th grade French. We chatted and joked every day for a year. I liked French class, but she was the reason I looked forward to going. In mid-winter of senior year, Santana came to Ohio State’s campus. I still did not own Abraxas but, by then, had heard some of it. I still wasn’t particularly into Santana, but everyone else was—including Brenna. I asked her to go to the concert, and she agreed. At 18, I had never been to a concert before. In fact, I’m sure I hadn’t been allowed out past 11 pm. I wasn’t expecting much from Santana—Santana wasn’t the point.

Having been to plenty of concerts since then, I realize now how unusual that concert was. We sat there restless for what felt like forever while the stage crew seemed to wander about aimlessly, moving items and instruments in the low light. Then suddenly, the house lights dimmed, and red lights came up. There was no announcement, no introduction. The band walked onto the set and started playing “Singing Winds, Crying Beasts.”

It’s difficult to describe the wall of sound. It wasn’t blasted or too loud, but slow, undulating—hypnotic. St John’s Arena is a basketball venue, so the seats rise steeply from the floor. The band stood under a dome of red light and smoky haze while I looked down, entranced. From where we sat, midway up, the sound seemed to come from all directions, surrounding and engulfing us. I became a Santana fan.

The band played for two hours straight–no intermission, never speaking. Without the usual interruptions, it was easy to become lost in the sound and smoke and lights— and kisses. It is still the best concert I’ve ever been to.

Brenna was my first girlfriend, whom I still remember fondly. We have not seen one another or spoken since high school.

I have Howard to thank for making me aware of Santana. Otherwise, I would not have known that Santana was a big enough deal to ask Brenna to go and expect her to say yes. Although we graduated from the same school, I doubt Howard and I had a single conversation after that evening at his parents’ home. I always meant to thank him for hipping me to Santana.

A little later, while finishing up the last set of CDs, I googled him to see what he was up to, where he lived.

I found an old obituary, and shocked, sat quietly for a while, then put the CDs away.

Like so many memories, the images on the CD booklet are somewhat faded. Those of the concert remain as clear and crisp as that winter night.


    1. Author

      Yeah, I wasn’t prepared for what I found.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *