Born With a Gift

Born With a Gift is pretty much the theme song for The Little Wretches. A young filmmaker looking to make a music video as his senior project at the University of Pittsburgh visited the college radio station to audition songs by bands from the region. He heard and fell in love with BORN WITH A GIFT. He built a story around a female basketball star who becomes addicted to pills.

The song is, in fact, an homage to the memory of John H. Creighton, the multi-talented powerhouse who helped launch The Little Wretches. John suffered from migraine headaches, his own addictions, and what may have been an undiagnosed bipolar disorder. He was the gentlest, most Christ-like person I’ve ever known. He died suddenly because of a congenital heart problem. I struggled to understand how a person of such profound talent could leave the world without having made a profound impact. But he DID have a profound impact—on me. Remember the Parable of the Talents? May we all magnify and amplify and grow what has been given us.


Robert Wagner
Robert Wagner
Robert Andrew Wagner—founder of The Little Wretches. My songs are mirrors, and I often begin or end my performances by playing a version of The Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror” extended to more than ten minutes in length to include some of the images that most shaped my view of the world as a young man—working men and women enslaved in pursuit of the dollar, the now-vacant void from whence the spirit fled filled with the distraction of mindless entertainment, alcohol, and assorted drugs, people so numb that self-destructive violence has lost its impact and the only way they can hope to feel anything is to hurt the people they love. Having descended from Slovakian immigrants that sought fortune in the once-booming steel towns of Western Pennsylvania, I elect to portray the lives of those around me—family, friends, community, work. In literature and art, working-class characters tend to appear as comic relief or in the form of "the noble savage." They are cast as victims, oppressed, and betrayed. Personally, I'm sick of Tom Joad. I hold my characters accountable. If you sell your soul for money, don’t come crying that you got a bad deal. I don’t suppose I’ll ever be accused of telling people what they want to hear. Then again, I’ve crafted some rather compelling musical portraits of my grandparents and parents, my sister and brother, my neighbors, closest friends, and fellow travelers. There’s a considerable portion of love and compassion in these songs, though a lot of people tell me I sound angry. I’m not angry; I just enjoy a good fight. As a kid, I idolized Popeye, Mighty Mouse, and Bruno Sammartino. I ran around the neighborhood, an empty can of spinach stuffed under my shirt and a corncob pipe between my teeth, a superhero’s cape in the form of a bath towel pinned to my shoulders as I defended the weak and battled the evil-doers of my imagination. I also loved music. My older cousin said The Beatles were the best musicians because they wrote their own songs, so he and I built guitars from scraps of plywood, two-by-fours, nails, and rubber bands and started writing our own songs. My Catholic parents sent me to St. Anne’s School, where I learned that we can only be happy when we do what God asks of us. The nuns taught that God has a special purpose for each of us, and we will know that purpose by the joy we feel when we’re fulfilling it. God wanted me to grow up to defend the weak and vanquish the evil-doers by writing songs and telling stories. And if I’m wrong, I’ve wasted my life.

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