If you are a Pittsburgh music fan, chances are pretty good that you know Born Too Late.
In the song The Clarks mention historical figures including Thomas Aquinas, Cassius Clay, Jesus, Shakespeare, and many more to talk about all the things they learned or wish to learn from them. Some of the verses are just thanks. The song was a big local hit and 19 years after its release, it still shows up in their set lists. It also shows up in a junior high curriculum.
Rob Roehn teaches music at David E. Williams middle school in Coraopolis. He’s also a Clarks fan and has been my son’s music teacher for the last two years. I’ve greatly enjoyed hearing about the lessons he’s taught them about The Beatles, Hair Metal, Classical Music, Piano, Spinal Tap, Disco, and may others. Many of our daily texts are spent talking about the class. One assignment really struck me though. During his section on local music, he taught about The Clarks. Furthermore, he assigned each student to write their own version of Born Too Late.
Mr. Roehn explained the song and described the famous people to his students. He challenged them to re-write the song based on their own life, much as the band had chosen their own personal experiences and heroes. Each kid picked their own “John Lennon”, “Mother Theresa”, “Christopher Columbus” etc. He used it as sort of a modern era We Didn’t Start the Fire, a hit made popular by Billy Joel.
The students responded enthusiastically, including my own. Sadly, I was not given permission to quote my son or mention the people in his song (although I will quietly admit to some historical assistance). Of course, it is a masterpiece.
This is just one of many wonderful and innovative ways Mr. Roehn exposes these young minds to great music. Self introspection is always difficult for middle-schoolers, so this was particularly interesting to me. Anyone who teaches middle school is doing hero’s work in my mind, and incorporating musical history into their curriculum is fantastic. I’m glad I was able to see all the older bands he references in his teachings, live… however, given all of the fantastic work done at David E. Williams, maybe I was born too early.