By Dan Haag
I attended the recent Quarterflash show at North County Recreation District in Nehalem and came away energized, the feeling you can only get by seeing a great live band.
On the drive home, ‘Superstition’ by Stevie Wonder came on the radio and I belted that sucker out with all the untapped rock n’ roll gusto I had stored away.
Despite what my wife and most of the dogs in my neighborhood might tell you, I can sing. In the car or the privacy of my own home I am a rock god, like David Lee Roth or Robert Plant. Actually, Tiny Tim is a touch more accurate. If I’m being truthful, comparing my singing to the death throes of a wounded cat is spot on.
But that didn’t stop me from singing as enthusiastically as possible as I pulled in the driveway, windows down and wife hunching in the passenger seat, trying desperately not to be seen.
Later that evening, after the coyotes had stopped howling in pain and car alarms had ceased, I thought about the passion and pain that goes into making music your life.
I imagine the story of Quarterflash is indicative of the ups and downs of what it means to be a musician and an artist.
They had been playing together around Portland for years, where they developed a loyal following. Their self-titled debut album catapulted them onto the national stage in 1981 and it was soon certified platinum. Their first single from that album, “Harden My Heart,” was a huge hit. They found themselves opening for big-name bands and doing the late-night talk show circuit.
Within a few years, they would fade from the national spotlight, eventually being dropped by their record label.
Flash forward to 2018 and here they are, still playing together, still recording, still enjoying what they do. Judging by the enthusiastic response of the audience, there are many of us who are glad they stuck with it.
I can’t speak to what motivates the members of Quarterflash to keep playing music after 40 years. I’ve given up on trimming my nails halfway through out of sheer boredom.
I have known a few musicians. When asked why they stick with what they do, their answers seem to boil down to one general notion: they don’t always WANT to, they HAVE to.
A high school friend of mine is a social studies teacher by day and a rather accomplished guitarist by night. He tours with his band during the summer, mostly at Midwestern dive bars and state fairs. The pay is nearly non-existent and he spends most of his summer in sweaty locales trying to entertain highly inebriated crowds.
When I asked him what he could possibly get out of spending his summer that way, he gave me a quizzical look like he didn’t understand why I was asking him that particular question.
I’ve seen all kinds of musicians in my lifetime from Pearl Jam, to four guys playing washboards and jugs at Bill’s Tavern in Cannon Beach, to some guy playing Michael Jackson tunes on an Alpine horn in Pioneer Square in Portland. I’ll bet if you asked any of them the same question, you’d probably get that same look.
My days as a musician are long behind me. I haven’t touched a musical instrument since the last time I fumbled through ‘Axel F’ on my saxophone in high school. But, like most people, I love music. It’s an escape, one of the select things that gets me through the day without ending up the subject of an APB.
Mostly, I love people who make music. I love Quarterflash for sticking it out together this long. I love the buskers near Powell’s Books in downtown Portland, the brave souls who stand up at Karaoke night, and the guy who beats the drum to open the Manzanita Farmer’s Market. Bless you all, you give me hope. On behalf of all of us screeching in the shower, lip-syncing, dancing in the rain wanna-be’s, don’t ever stop.
Now if you’ll excuse me, ‘Tom Sawyer’ by Rush is on the radio and I have a wicked air-drum solo to perform.