Speech Delivered by Gary Powell
I learned to sing in Huntsville, Texas…..in prison…..the womenâ€™s prison. It was my first teaching job at the Wyndham School District inside the Goree Unit, the former women’s prison within the Texas Department of Corrections. Little did I know that a boy from Highland Park, Dallas, would learn so much in that place. I owe much to those women, who gently introduced me to a world I didnâ€™t know existed.
SING: “The Spirit of Rosa”
One terrible gift of maturity is no longer seeing our reflection in the popular culture where we actually do â€œliveâ€. The chasm between these two places has compelled me to engage bigger ideas in order to stretch my capacity for understanding and hopefully not just finding, but creating a reflection of my liking.
All this leads us to examine our â€œbrandâ€, its purpose and its scope. The “Gary Powell” brand has proven to be dependable, competent and largely compliant. It has only surrendered upon the threat of extinction. What happens next to each of our “brands” seemed to be the topic for the day. It will be interesting to watch what happens next to the “Gary Powell” brand as thirty years of experience become emboldened to a purpose of its own choosing.
The hidden compromises with which we all live put terrible stress on both us and our culture.
If our popular music can be equated with the “canary in the coal mine” as the barometer of our culture’s health …… then the bird is dead. Our unspoken assessments of a failed system donâ€™t bring the bird back to life. The bird is still dead. Speak up like Galileo did at his trial before the Catholic Tribunal and you may find yourself exiled or executed. Thatâ€™s the message we learn. Be seen and not heard. In 1992 the Catholic Church formally admitted that Galileo’s views on the solar system were correct. I don’t have quite that much time. NOW is the time and place where I intend to practice respectful non-compliance with systems which fail the test of reason, with governments which purposely seek to silence the voice of truth and with corporations which strategically swallow whole the magnificent individual.
SING: “The Boys in Red”
Every Tuesday, these Rotarians stand up and recite “The Four Way Test”.
- 1. Is it the TRUTH?
2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?
This is my lyrical version of the parental “Four Way Test”. The lyric was inspired by a photograph I saw of parents holding a tiny infant in the palm of their hands. The lyric is what we all could only have wished for from our parents at our birth.
SING: “In My Palm”
IN MY PALM
Music and Lyric by Gary Powell
Is there more that I can do
Is there more that I could say
Is there more that I might be
To hold you in a way
That might show you how to love
That might show you how to see
That might show you who you really are
And who you’ll come to be?
So for now I’ll hold you here with me
Close and safe where you might learn
How to walk the path ahead
And how to love the path you’re on
And when you are far away
From the peace, the care, the calm
Please remember just how safe you felt
When your world was in my palm.
(Copyright 2002 Jesmax Music, BMI)
Institutionalization insipidly happens to all of us. It is nothing less than an effort to collectivize the human spirit all the while silently limiting our potential. It is the hijacking of the most resolute and powerful thing we humans have, our individual aptitude…..now conscripted into the service of the common good. However, with our integrity so compromised, the good is less than common and the common is far less than good.
Here, at the Austin Rotary Club, they do far better than that. Thank you Rotarians for your service to our community and for the good work which each of you has individually chosen. Your gracious reception allowed me to step away from my own comfort zones and take some risks today. My hope is that you found some reflection of yourselves in my words, songs and life experience. This was indeed a good day and one I will always remember!
Special thanks to songwriter Ande Rasmussen for the invitation to speak and gracious introduction, Gaines Bagby for the great memory of singing “I Can’t Find the Street Where I Live”, Ben Franklin and St. David’s staff for working out the Headliners Club DVD playback, Tom Granger, chairman of the Headliners Club for permission to share the club’s music video, Austin Rotary Club president Pete Meeker for his support and friendship and to my father’s longtime professional associate and friend Don Ray George for the big bear hug!
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License