Ed. Note- In honor of the CUE Rock Star Camps, for which you can still register and run all summer, we will be presenting a Rock Like a Teacher series of posts in which educators talk about the music and musicians who made them better teachers.
“What I had written, no matter what anyone else thought of it, would ultimately have to hold so much truth for me, that I would be willing to fight for it,”
Henry Rollins is an inspiration. As the frontman of punk powerhouse Black Flag and later his own Rollins Band, he blew the doors off every venue he played in. He electrified the crowd by always going full-tilt boogie towards one goal- channeling the music through his body and into us. I could talk for days about how Rollins has influenced my teaching. Heck, he’s mentioned in the very first chapter of my first book. I’m one of Those Fans. I will corner you at a party and tell you why, “You don’t understand, man.”
Rollins was the sole lyricist in the Rollins Band and became one of the main ones in Black Flag during his tenure. He said something once along the lines of the above quote about writing lyrics. I can’t tell you exactly where I heard or read it, and google is failing me. As I said, I’m one of Those Fans, so he might have said it on a talk show, an interview, or written it in one of his own twenty-five books. He said, and I’m paraquoting, “I like ‘Oh Baby, Yeah’ songs. I listen to those songs. But I can’t write those songs. If I took an ‘Oh Baby, Yeah’ song to my audience they’d throw chairs at my head. I wouldn’t be able to sing that sing for an entire tour and look at myself in the mirror.”
When Henry talks about “Oh Baby, Yeah” songs he’s talking about those easy pop songs we all know and love. The ones that are simple verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus where the lyricist didn’t so much write lyrics as tell the singer, “Here is where you vamp and hit those notes you hit for sixteen bars. Give me some ‘Oh yeah’ and a little ‘Baby, you know’ and we’ll throw in a few ‘la la la’s to round it off and we’re good.” The song works. It moves units. It gets the crowds on their feet. But it doesn’t say anything.
I think about that when I’m writing lesson plans or building projects. I could build ‘Oh Baby, Yeah’ projects for my students. They’d look great, they’d be impressive to people who don’t know education and people who do would at least respect their workmanship. But I couldn’t do that all year. Not and look my kids in the eye. This audience deserves my best and for them I’ll reach down deep and find that next level to make it special, to make it more. I want my lessons to be full of passion and straight ahead rock and roll. At this rate, at the end of the year my body is going to be broken into pieces. That’s ok because summer is for rest and planning the next album cycle.
I don’t want to play “Oh Baby, Yeah” songs for my class. I want to get some teaching, get some learning, then go again.
Doug Robertson is the CUE blog editor and a tenth-year teacher currently talking at fifth graders in Northern Oregon. He’s taught in California, Hawaii, and Oregon in 3rd, 4th, and 6th grades. He’s the author of two books about education, He’s the Weird Teacher and THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome) and an active blogger. Doug speaks at teaching conferences including CUE Rock Star Teacher Camps, presenting on everything from technology to teaching philosophy (or teaching The Weird Way, to use his words). Doug is also the creator and moderator of #WeirdEd on Twitter, which happens every Wednesday at 7pm PST.