Rindy and Marv Ross of Quarterflash rock Newport

You know how some bands from the past are so wiped out it’s embarrassing when they do their reunion concerts at the fairgrounds or perform on those late-night cable shows? You get only one or two of the original people and they can’t really sing any more.  Well, that is not the case for Marv and Rindy Ross of Quarterflash and Oregon Trail Band fame. They’re better than ever, polished like a fine gem.

When my predecessor as president of Writers on the Edge scheduled them for our Nye Beach Writers Series, I didn’t know who they were. Apparently, if I had been born in Oregon, I’d know. Or maybe if I hadn’t spent the ’80s listening to country music instead of rock.

Marv and Rindy got together in high school, forming a band called Seafood Mama, and they have been playing together ever since. As Quarterflash, they had a huge hit with “Harden My Heart.” They toured with Elton John, Linda Ronstadt and “other big-haired 80s acts.” They were on MTV. They were a big deal.To their fans, Marv and Rindy, now performing as a duo, are still a big deal. Saturday’s gig, which we hosted at the Newport Senior Center to have more room, drew fans from all over Oregon and beyond, and they weren’t disappointed.

From the first note, I was enthralled. Their sound is huge, even with just two people. Marv has written most of their songs and is still writing. Rindy gives them voice. Her voice has the purest sound, dark and light, high and low. She plays saxophone and harmonica. There’s nothing decrepit about these two. They offer power, master, and perfection. They’re also nice people. I was the only one who signed up for the open mic after their performance. I was going to bag it, but Rindy said, “No, I’d like to hear your songs.” So I sang my songs. A couple other people read some poetry. And it was good.

I handled the CDs, and people were throwing 20-dollar bills at me so fast I almost couldn’t keep up. Everyone wanted to take the music home with them.

On Sunday, ten of us gathered at the senior center with Marv for a songwriting workshop. From the get-go, he sprinkled us with songwriting magic, explaining song forms, showing us how his songs and other famous songs are put together, then guiding us through the beginnings of our own songs. We couldn’t wait to start writing.

Marv will be teaching a two-day workshop June 12 and 13 at the Sitka Center in Lincoln City. Check the website for details. He will also be teaching at the Fishtrap writing workshop in Eastern Oregon in July. Marv and Rindy will perform an acoustic concert with Eddie Parente at the historic Elsinore Theatre in Salem on June 6 at 7:30 p.m. Visit their website, www.quarterflash.net, for details.

Behind the scenes, we had a little drama Saturday night. The Rosses were rocking along when I noticed a commotion in the hallway. Several men had come in the open door and were settling into the lounge. Uh-oh. We were just the renting the senior center for the night, and I was responsible if anything happened to the place. If these guys were not going to pay their $10 and join us, I needed to chase them out. I tip-toed out to confront them. I began with, “The senior center is not open. This is a private–” A tall man stopped with a gentle arm on my shoulder. “We’re here for an AA meeting. We meet here every week.” I blushed. “Oh. I’m sorry. Have a good meeting.”

Neither group knew the other was coming. I hope the music provided a helpful backdrop for the AA folks.

The Nye Beach Writers Series returns to its usual location June 21 with Joe Wilkins, whose poetry and creative nonfiction are as good as the Rosses’ music. 7 p.m., Newport Visual Arts Center, admission $6. Joe will teach a free workshop the following day at the Newport Library. Details at http://www.writersontheedge.org.

Focus! Running on Overload, as Usual

My life is like a kaleidoscope, full of different images that come out different every time I look. What I need is a telescope that focuses on just one thing.

You see, I have this problem. I keep signing up for stuff and starting new projects, then find myself so overwhelmed by all that I have to do that I can’t do anything but play Spider Solitaire or read posts about the latest episode of “The Bachelor.” Or, I spend all my time getting organized and don’t have time left to do anything. But look at all these nifty folders with their neat little labels.
This morning I’m longing for one great thing to focus on, and I don’t know what that is. Part of this is post-novel depression. My new novel is finished as far as I can go for the moment. Now I’m in the marketing phase, which consists of a lot of sending things out and waiting for responses.
I’ve got a million other things to do. Okay, not a million, but I’ll bet I could come up with a hundred. The list of writing projects is endless, I’m teaching at the CatholicWriters Conference and the Northwest Poets’ Concord in the near future, I have countless songs I want to learn or get better at, I’ve got work to do for my music minister job, I have friends and relatives I should call, yoga I should do, more books than I could read if I live to 150, errands I should run, and the house needs lots of TLC. Now I’m the new acting president of Writers on the Edge, which is looking very much like another job. It’s wonderful. I’m happy about it, but it’s time-consuming. Plus Annie always wants to snuggle, eat, or go for a walk.Generally I finish everything that needs doing, but the non-essentials get put on indefinite hold. For example, I haven’t washed last night’s dishes yet. I was busy watching the Academy Awards and folding laundry. And responding to emails during the commercials.
Anyway, my most recent agreement was signing up for the A to Z blog challenge. Oh yes, I did. It happens in April. (Isn’t that the month I’m doing the Poem a Day challenge?) The bloggers who sign up agree to publish a post inspired by a letter of the alphabet every day except Sunday. We will also visit each other’s blogs, comment, share, and add them to our blogrolls.
I know, I know. I already see a therapist. Besides, I know I’m not the only one addicted to staying busy.  Do you say yes too much for your own good? Please share in the comments and make me feel better.
I thought I’d warm up for the A-to-Z challenge by starting with numbers. Today’s number is one. One task down, 99 to go.

Poets gather at the beach

I spent a big chunk of last weekend surrounded by poets at the fourth annual Northwest Poets’ Concord in Newport, Oregon. Approximately 140 of us met at the Hallmark Inn & Resort overlooking the Pacific. Sunshine and a sparkling blue ocean provided the backdrop for our explorations of poetic verbiage.

Not everybody likes poetry. One workshop leader, the poet Henry Hughes, compared it to ballet. Only a small percentage of the population ever see ballet or like it. But those who do REALLY like it.

Ditto for poetry. Who else would spend a gorgeous beach day in a hotel meeting room talking about things like line breaks, themes, and inspiration and listening to dozens of poets read their poems in that slow every-word-means-something manner that is standard for poetry?

Everyone seemed to have a sheaf of fresh poems in their purse or backpack. It’s like a secret passion we all share. Reminds me of the dart-throwing convention with which I shared my hotel last week in Portland. Dart-throwing? They have conventions? I wonder about the wisdom of mixing cocktails with darts, but they seemed to be having fun.

Our darts are words. Keynote speaker David Biespiel, poet and columnist for the Oregonian showed us how to take a poem apart and read it in a way that makes it mean so much more than a quick zoom through the words. Poems are different from novels or newspaper articles. You can’t skim or speed-read poetry and get anything out of it. They’re little pieces of art, photographs, tiny stories that call to be studied, like looking at a painting. You could glance at it and walk by, but you get so much more if you stand there for a few minutes and really look.

Last year, I wrote a lot of poetry during the Concord. This year, it was more a weekend of listening and absorbing. However, I did write a poem a day in April for one of the National Poetry Month challenges. Here’s one that I read at the Concord.

The Dog has a Question

Warm from the tub the woman sat on the floor,
naked except for her woolly robe,
and applied an orange plastic razor
to the stubble on her legs.
The dog, lonely, lay her heavy head
on the woman’s lap and watched,
scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape,
until the woman sighed, running her hand
along her smooth, hairless skin.
The dog looked up, bewilderment
wrinkling the fur between her ears,
wordlessly asking, “Why did you do that?”

Thank you to Sandra Ellston, poet and recently retired Eastern Oregon University prof, who organized the Concord. Sandra is also president of Writers on the Edge, of which I’m on the board. WOE produces the monthly Nye Beach Writers Series, third Saturday of the month, 7 p.m., at the Newport Visual Arts Center. Impressive guest artists and an open mic. Visit the WOE web page, as well as the Northwest Poets’Concord page. Try a poem or two. Think of it as mind candy.
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