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Carlos Santana finds a lot to identify with in Andre Agassi’s ‘Open’

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Leila Navidi / Las Vegas Sun

Musician Carlos Santana plays a guitar he donated during a visit with Andre Agassi at The Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas Thursday, February 4, 2010.

Carlos Santana Visits Agassi Prep

Musician Carlos Santana visits with Andre Agassi at The Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas Thursday, February 4, 2010. Launch slideshow »

It's not a romance novel, exactly, but Andre Agassi's autobiography "Open" was deemed "very romantic" by a friend and fan Thursday afternoon.

That person was Carlos Santana, who knows a lot about romance and spirituality and, yes, playing a supernatural guitar. Santana joined Agassi for a tour of Andre Agassi Preparatory Academy and donated 700 copies of his Grammy-laden "Supernatural" CD to the school. Also donated by PRS Guitars and Latin Percussion were a PRS Santana SE electric guitar (which was moved into perfect position by Agassi himself before he and Santana took part in a news conference/photo op at Academy's elementary school's multipurpose room) and a set of Santana Aspire series congas and shakers, which I understand are the Cadillac of congas and shakers.

Santana, Agassi and Agassi Prep Chancellor Marsha Irvin were welcomed by a thunderous performance by the Agassi drum corps, which is scheduled to perform prior to Santana's show Saturday night at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel. Through Feb. 21, attendees to Santana's performances are asked to donate to the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education at $5 a pop via text message. Those in attendance will be directed to text "Kids" to 20222 to make a contribution.

At age 62 but ever a kid, Santana made his "very romantic" comment after I asked if he'd read "Open." Santana, too, has been just that after he disclosed in a 2000 Rolling Stone magazine story his history of suffering from sexual abuse as a child. He found Agassi's willingness to talk in stark terms about his own fearful upbringing and the fear he experienced while trying to meet his father Mike's often impossibly high standards.

"I was especially impressed and inspired by his openness, his willingness to be that open," Santana said, then referred to the notorious ball machine Agassi was forced to face each day as a child. "A lot of people have had to face that dragon."

The abuse, or "dragon," Santana faced was in the form of the father of one of his friends. In 2008 he finally confronted, and reconciled with, his long-ago tormentor. Similar to Agassi's experience, young Carlos was pushed hard by his father, who was a mariachi violin player. Santana initially played the same fashion of violin at an early age until switching to guitar, which seems to have worked out well for him.

Santana said that for years he had "a difficult time accepting the gifts and accolades from fans. "No matter what the world gave me, I always felt I wasn't worth it," he said. Reading Agassi's book was "therapeutic ... we both have the same type of father. The similarities were incredible. People who read it can really take it to heart."

"In my journey," Santana said, "I was able to identify with his book."

More ground strokes from Agassi

I remember a reporter once writing that quoting Rickey Henderson was like trying to dance to jazz, because Henderson's thought process was so freewheeling. Santana's like that, too. What escapes his mouth is frequently remarkable. Speaking of the similarities of he and Agassi: "What we have in common is we both love the sweet spot. For a musician, the sweet spot is the note when you touch all the hearts. ... When you hit the sweet spot you become part of the family. We call it the universal tone; they call it the sweet spot. What we have in common is we both love the sweet spot." ... Santana also said he plans to move to Las Vegas this year. When I asked where he was looking, he put his finger in the air and smiled. Then we laughed and shook hands, and I was struck that I'd just shook hands with Carlos Santana and he had a wet index finger. ... I also asked if he'd ever seen "Love" at The Mirage. "No, I lived all that," he said. "I don't need a virtual reality version of it."

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Assemblyman Ruben Kihuen, 27, of Las Vegas, is national co-chairman of Hispanic outreach for New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. In 2006, he became the first Hispanic immigrant to win elected office in Nevada.

An order of Ruben

Democratic Assemblyman Ruben Kihuen, who represents District 11, which encompasses Agassi Prep, was on hand. He's attempting to boost Hispanic enrollment at the K-12 charter school. Asked if he was at all frosted by President Obama's recent comments reminding college students not to shred their savings in Las Vegas, he said, "No, I think we all know what he meant, which was not to spend money unwisely. Your family, my family, all families should watch how they spend their money right now," he said. Kihuen also recited Obama's line from last year, when he rankled Gov. Jim Gibbons and Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman by saying corporate executives who are receiving federal bailout money shouldn't be junketing (that's a word, right?) to Vegas. "He said, 'There's nothing like a quick trip to Vegas in the middle of the week,'" Kihuen said. "If that's not an endorsement of Las Vegas, I don't know is."

When I asked if he was getting annoyed that Obama keeps using Las Vegas as the benchmark for reckless spending, Kihuen said, "No, that's the first city to pick when you're talking about a destination city. We're the No. 1 tourist destination, so naturally that's the city you talk about. But when we look at what he's done for the important issues, he has been fighting for us. In terms of home the home foreclosure, the use of stimulus money, the issues that really matter, he's working for us."

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Matt Nichols, left, and Daniel Cook. Two Canadian guys, gettin' their Strip on.

Strip walk

On Monday, after hearing Obama's comments about blowing money in Las Vegas, I did the sensible thing: I hit CityCenter! Actually, I walked the sidewalk in front of Aria, Mandarin Oriental, Monte Carlo and the CVS store between Mandarin Oriental and Monte Carlo. I joined the smut card-slapping entrepreneurs, seeking anyone who would make eye contact with me (by the way, when you accept those cards, you get a stack of 16, quite a selection).

Anyway, I was looking for a college student who was blowing money in Las Vegas that should be earmarked for tuition and books or maybe student loans.

And you know what? After 90 minutes, I found one!

But he was Canadian!

He still is, too. And he's graduated from college. And he wasn't exactly blowing money, as he was well within his budget — at least, by Monday evening — for his weeklong trip to Las Vegas. His name is Matt Nichols and he's from Toronto but has spent the past few years in Fort McMurray, Alberta, home to Keyano College. He is 22 years old and was visiting Vegas with his buddy Daniel Cook, who is also 22 but had no college-related financial issues in play because after high school he went off to backpack across the country. Or, if you will, countries. These two were in town, and I think they are still in town, to attend Saturday's UFC 109 event at Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Nichols is paying off his student loans, but those loans were provided by the Canadian government. As he noted, those loans are issued at 0 percent interest unless you miss a payment. Then it rises to 8 percent. When I read Obama's quote to him, he said, "I think the thing you want to do in a recession is do whatever you can to add to the economy, and when people come to Las Vegas it's great for the economy." Yep, at least, it's great for our economy. Everything in moderation, boys, but I hope when you depart you leave Las Vegas a little green.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.

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