Heading Home: My Goodbye Playlist for Marty and Julie Rubio (c) John Winston Powell, M.A. July 31, 2018

Dear Marty and Julie,

A good friend deserves a good playlist sendoff. As I thought about you going back to your roots and how you are opening up a new road in your life, I thought I would create a soundscape. At first, a lot of the songs are just California/San Francisco/Los Angeles songs. But then I thought about your great love of 1970s AM pop, which I also have; then I thought of some theology songs for Julie; then I got input from your sons and Lisa. Then I thought of songs and albums and groups we had discussed over the past 18 years. I can sincerely say I love all these songs except two: the Childish Gambino “California” and the Vampire Weekend song, “California English.” I like the rest of the Gambino album (thank you for the lost bet between our Cubs and Dodgers, 2016). I could not ignore the Vampire Weekend since I know you went through a phase talking a lot about them at the V-dog.

Some of the songs are guesses that you would like, based on our conversations. Some are of newer groups that sound like something you have mentioned liking (the Whitney song is strategically put next to Fleetwood Mac). Some are spiritual in nature; after all, when your friend is a U2 fanatic, how else can it not be? I did not ignore the 80s, even though you are now somewhat dismissive of our coming of age decade beyond the aforementioned band. The Beatles, Paul McCartney, and Wilco are all represented to symbolize Lisa and me. “Theologians” is specifically for the wonderfully soft-spoken, large hearted Julie as well as some others such as “Heaven on a Sunday.” Some of the songs are about going home, a concept I love to think about: “What makes ‘HOME?'” I hope that you find a spiritual home in Berkeley. Some of the songs are about how great you two are as people, exemplifying the Sacred Heart charism.fileYou were the “talk of the town” for me and will be for others. Some of the songs simply express my depth of affection for you both while I included a couple of songs for the history/political science teacher (“Spanish Bombs” “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”). A few of the songs speak of the resistance that we must now take in this era of Drumpf. A couple of them honor the greats we lost in our time together: Prince, Tom Petty, David Bowie. It includes many California groups, The Byrds being my personal favs. Included a Beck song–remember when several us geeked out on his album “Morning Phase?” Many of the songs have direct messages for both of you; some are just for you; and some are just melodies that I thought you would like. Don’t read TOO much into a particular lyric says the theology teacher!

A couple of deep cuts are definitely there: the Al Stewart cut is way before “Year of the Cat” but I wouldn’t have included it had I not loved it. The Go-Gos song is about Los Angeles, but I wouldn’t have known that unless it came up as a “suggestion” when I started doing the playlist! The list is definitely not very funky or hard rocking, but I have included a couple of things that might work in that vein here and there. One thing I have always loved is that you continue to listen to new music, courtesy of your musical sons. As with your teaching, you’re always up for something new. Rust never sleeps, and neither does your curiosity. Some of the songs are about the world, at least in a glancing way. My brother-in-law, Vern Carr, loved The The’s album Dusk (1986) and the included song makes me think of him, a principal and educator. The chorus lyric also reminds me of you. And I found what I hope is a deep cut version of “God Only Knows.” Is this really the best song ever? Discuss and debate.

There are a couple of overlapping songs from the Lisa and John wedding playlist which you were so complimentary about…so there you go. I can discuss each song in detail but then it would be overkill and you can always text me and say, “What the hell? Why that one?!?!” And I will respond. I hope you can enjoy this playlist three times over the long drive but don’t feel guilty if you need to listen to something else, LOL. I know Julie is into a lot of death metal. 🙂

Dear Marty and Julie, Enjoy your trip back to the West and to your future. May it be golden as your best days teaching, writing, parenting, and loving have been here in St. Louis and beyond. May your sons and your family be exceedingly blessed in this new era. 

Love in the Sacred Heart, Peace in the Sacred Heart and Resistance in the Sacred Heart, be yours…

John and Lisa 


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Poem Prayer for Human Rights Day, 2017 (c) John Winston Powell, M.A. 12/10/17

You are a human being.
You have rights.
But so many people don’t get those rights respected, even if they are supposedly protected by law.
And so we fight…
Fight for the person who is trying to stay in this country.
Fight for the person suffering sexual abuse.
Fight for the person who treated less because of who she loves.
Fight for the native person, forgotten by this nation.
Fight for the person of color killed by police person who believes all he has to say is that he was scared.
You are a human being.
You have rights.
And my rights are bound up in your rights.
God help me to stand up for your rights less I degrade my own
Human Rights.
You are a human Being.
You have rights.

HRC Ad for Human Rights Day

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Months later, what the Cubs’ World Series Championship means to me, Dad… (c) John Winston Powell, M.A. 9/13/17

1972368_10201782155716112_3555989945296321889_n1 Dear Dad,At Dad's Grave 2.jpg

I’m not sure why, but I have not been able to put into words what it meant for us to see the Chicago Cubs win a World Series after a 108 year drought. Now that the Cubs are struggling to win their division again, I’ve given up having some sort of  insight epiphany I could share with people and have decided to simply say that it was wonderful thing. A wonderful thing to behold, to be in awe of. A wonderful thing to inspire us to believe that things can turn out right when we doubt ourselves and our abilities, our fellow human beings, and the arc of the universe.

Perhaps the Cubs’ championship was needed in context as a week later we elected someone President who represents so much that is bad in the collective American psyche. I know you would have written in John Kasich, LOL. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the Cubs’ incredible season, and I guess that’s why I haven’t been able to write. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that Donald Trump is President. You know I was happy when the Cubs were able to sneak in their White House celebration with President Obama during his last week in office.

I am posting this entry as we finally planted this World Series championship flag on your grave in Galesburg. Thank you for giving me our love of the Cubs. Thank you for all the laughter, frustration, hope, and despair that was/is part of our Cub experience. It is one of many things you and I bonded over, but to root for the Cubs together was a special intimacy that fathers/mothers/sons/daughters have enjoyed since baseball’s inception in this country. We have enjoyed it to the brink. Our cup finally did overflow last November.

When the Indians tied Game 7, the tears came rolling down my cheeks as I stood in that South City St. Louis bar watching it. I know you would have had red eyes at that point as well. And then when they won…you were in my soul in a special way as Lisa and I jumped around the room with a bunch of other Cub exiles (as I always knew it would be, regardless of whether you were embodying your soul at that point or not). We helped it happen. Through sending our love and mental energy over the years to the Cubs, we were constitutive of that wonderful moment.

People do this wonderful thing with their teams. I wish we could do this thing in all the other areas of our lives: politics, social justice issues, in our workplaces, in our families. To not give up. To always have hope despite our moments of despair. To continue to believe.  To follow a baseball team is a first world luxury for us; but still, it has helped us, helped our spirits, helped us to be better people.

Thanks, Dad, for introducing me to the love of the Cubs. I’m sorry this letter is so late but you know it’s been in my head and heart.  I will always think of you as I watch the Cubs. I will always love you for being the compassionate yet hopefulness challenged human soul that you were. And now your soul knows everything, so be with us as we try to spread love and good energy in other ways in our world.  #CubsDadsinHeaven #FlytheW #GoCubsGo



P.S. Jane, Lisa, and your White Sox loving yet Cubs supporting awesome nephew, Adam, send their love, too! Give a kiss to Mom for us.


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Mom’s Bridge (c) John Winston Powell, M.A. February 8, 2017

A Winter’s Day, 2017

Dear Mom,

This year I’m accompanying juniors from to one of their service learning sites, a retirement/assisted living/nursing home community.  It’s like the one you were in but MUCH nicer–I’ve seen the pool room with hot tub! While the students help out with various tasks, including the residents’ computer questions, I parked myself in the library with my laptop, saying hello to residents as they go by.  Some older ladies come to play bridge and we exchange pleasantries.  I tell them how much it reminds me of Dad and you, seeing them play this most challenging of card games, one that I never tried to play because it seemed like so much memory work. But hearing their talk during the game brings me back 40 years to your play in our living or dining rooms with your bridge buddies.

They are asking “what did she bid?” and I’m thinking of you.  It’s cute and reminds me of all those bridge games I overheard growing up.  “What’s trump, diamonds?”  They are helping each other through the game.  This probably would have driven you nuts. 🙂IMGP4144.JPGI miss you a lot.  As Jane said the other day, we’ve been thinking about Dad and you a lot lately. Oh, I think about you daily but  I guess it’s the Trump presidency (gulp) that has really brought you forward into my consciousness even more brightly. Saw you a dream the other morning.I know you probably would have liked what Drumpf has been doing but it’s so regressive and unjust to me, as you could have predicted. Or you know already, LOL.

“They are making her go to assisted living.  That’s communism.”  The other ladies laugh, even as the one who made the comment says “What? Isn’t that true?” But she has a smile on her face.

“What do we have on now? 1 Club?”      “I guess I’ll pass….”

“Maybe I’ll go to another bid then…”     “You’re doubling two spades, correct?”

I think this game mirrors the confusion I’m feeling about our country right now.  We’re all in different realities, seemingly feeling our way through.  There is truth, even if one doesn’t want to acknowledge it.  But as these ladies show, the truth could be based on hearing things incorrectly or not understanding what is actually happening.

“Keep me honest.”

“I have mixed emotions about that…”

The computer player piano in the other room is playing something I don’t recognize.  I often wonder when retirement homes will switch the music that they pipe through the place; I expect to at least hear rock’n’roll stuff from the 50s but it still seems to be the “music of your life” format that you would like. Remember when I worked in New Port Richey at WGUL, playing that music during the graveyard shift in the late 80s?

“Gift from God…”

I think Dad would be amused and shaking his head over Trump.  I don’t believe he would have voted for him–remember how he liked John Kasich so much? Maybe you would have voted for Kasich, if not Jeb Bush, in the primaries.  I wonder if Dad would have voted for President in November.  I feel 90 percent confident that you would have voted for Trump.  Maybe you can send me a sign that would assuage such thoughts…

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph…”

“I’m hearing things….”

“We’re not anywhere where we should be…”

One of the women just took a call on her cell phone at the table during the game (!).  I can’t imagine you ever doing that.  I remember how you played cards with my college friend Clark and me when I was home from college. You good naturally kept trying to get him not to talk during the game. “C’mon Clark, it’s your turn! Keep the game moving!”

The others are waiting with their cards in their hands; ah, now one is going to the bathroom. The woman who took the call apologizes and explains that it’s about a friend she’s been worried about…

Why am I narrating this when I believe you can see all now?  Hilarious.

We have another group of women who has come in to play “Phase 10.” They tell me it’s like Yahtzee with cards.  One of the women has had her hair colored.  She asked if one of her partners had noticed.  The other woman says “No.”  We all laugh.

Back to overhearing the other group as the Phase 10 group is not all here yet….

“How does it feel to shuffle?”  One of the women is asking as the person who has just dealt has been dealing with arthritis. The cards. But I love thinking about this question in terms of other things as well.

“…and everything is connected to everything…”

“Heart.”          “Pass…”

“I have to get rid of this wild card.  It’s not doing me any good…”

“Ah, damn, I’m so sorry…”

“The weather is dreary.”      “I like dreary…”         I do, too, as you know, Mom; we called them “Olney days” in the winter.

“We have all day…and then we can just sleep.”

I so wish I could hear you and Dad play bridge today, Mom.  And realize that so much that would be said would sum up my feelings at this point in our history.

“Mercy, I can’t stay awake…”

But we have to #staywoke. I’ll explain that phrase to you sometime, Mom.  I bet you would get it now since you’re on the other side. No, I have to believe you already get it.

“What’s Trump?”




“In the social and civil context as well, I appeal not to create walls but to build bridges.” Pope Francis

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A Letter to DAD on the brink of Game 4 of the 2016 NLCS against the Dodgers (c) John Winston Powell, M.A. October 19, 2016

Dear Dad (AKA #CubDadinHeaven),

They are saying it’s the moment of truth for our Cubs against the Dodgers tonight in LA.  I guess we’ve been down this road before but not with a 103 regular season win team. I know you must be shaking your head, but because you’re in heaven, it’s a different perspective. I’m guessing it’s the perspective of understanding a human’s attachment to a group of people, playing a game with sticks and balls that is still so aesthetically beautiful but paradoxically uniting and breaking hearts.  And you must laugh at all the angst. But you didn’t laugh when you were here…

Anyway, I have a couple of things to reflect on with you.

I often think about your frustrations with the Cubs.  There are few moments where we were very happy with them.  Oh, when they clinched their first playoff spot in 39 years in ’84 and you wrote me the note in your impeccable handwriting (yes, shared with my FB friends!).  Or maybe when we talked on the phone about them beating the Braves in the division series in ’03, the year before you died. But most of the time, it seemed as though we were just flabbergasted at their lack of…. yes, the word you always used, “execution.”  You would get so disgusted; you’d turn off the TV sound because Harry Carey irritated the crap out of you when they were losing.  It’s really a wonder I didn’t see you drunk at times during the many seasons we shared together as fans…but you had too much class, too much respect to fall into dysfunctional behavior, LOL.  Instead, you simply lived with the melancholy and prepared yourself for the loss…or many losses. You were present to the frustration; you didn’t try to ignore it or cover it up or hit the TV.  You just smoked your pipe and sat there with it. It was what it was. Sometimes I really think you would have understood Buddhism.  After making plain what you thought had gone wrong and calling the Cubs, “hitless wonders” or some other little descriptive, you would stop. You would retreat.  You would go into that place of disappointment and just let it be.  Cubs Fan in Losing Repose in Sunroom. Someone should have painted you.

Now I have to prepare by myself for the possible death of this season.  Yes, I have the Cub Fans in St. Louis FB group who are much better analyzing the game than me; and my Chicago cousins who remember Uncle Bill in each pitch, and your daughter/my sister Jane who follows them in memory of you.  I have Lisa, the wife who converted to Cub-ism for me and is supportive, and Adam, our sports loving grandson/nephew who has told me never to give up on these Cubs.  But, really, it’s an existential, solo undertaking. For me as a theology teacher, the Cubs represent so much that is good and yet flawed in the human condition.  We project so many symbolic hopes and dreams onto a team, and we can’t affect the outcome except through rooting.  Really, it’s much easier to pin our hopes/dreams on a rock and roll group.  If your favorite group put out a less than stellar album, you can still listen to their other “championship” material or see them live; and then the “loss” is mitigated.  There is only “competition” when you argue with your music friends over a beer about which group is actually the more influential group.  But with sports, it is about winning and losing in a stark, cold way. Although we all intellectually nod our heads that it’s also about how people play the game, the great and terrible thing about sport is winning and losing. And the Cubs have felt that heart wrenching, losing punch in the gut for 108 years; and by extension, their fans.

I cry out to you out loud in front of the TV, “DAD!  WTF?!?” and there is silence.  But that is appropriate when I think about it.  I can predict what you would say about how the Cubs are screwing this up.  But the silence…yes, we must just go into the silence where the Unfathomable Mystery sits with us and asks us to let go and be appreciative all that we have. Mom would probably remind us of this reality.  We have had many good moments this season, more than ever in my lifetime of following the Cubs since 1972.  And we have all the other good things in life that seem to get forgotten in our momentary depression about a sports team.  We know that the players are giving it their all and we have a sanctuary in Wrigley Field that brings a smile to the face just thinking of it.  We are Cubs fans. Fans that never give up, even if we get depressed and disgusted. Fans that know that with every seasonal death comes a new day in the spring that gives us a chance to resurrect.

So, Dad, in the silence, I thank you.  This little suffering teaches us. Thank you, Dad, and in the silence with you, in that sunroom, I forever mouth the words, “Go Cubs!”

Smiling at Mom and you, sending love to your both on the commemoration of your 70th wedding anniversary today,


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What Prince Means to Me (c) John Winston Powell, M.A., May 10, 2016

Growing up in Olney, Illinois, I had WVLN-AM/WSEI-FM on my dial and the great Top 40 of the 70s.  On Top 40, you heard everything and basically I absorbed all sorts of sounds: rock, disco, pop, pop…

Source: What Prince Means to Me (c) John Winston Powell, M.A., May 10, 2016

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What Prince Means to Me (c) John Winston Powell, M.A., May 10, 2016


Growing up in Olney, Illinois, I had WVLN-AM/WSEI-FM on my dial and the great Top 40 of the 70s.  On Top 40, you heard everything and basically I absorbed all sorts of sounds: rock, disco, pop, pop country, R&B, funk, and even easy listening. Olney was almost all white but music was not seen by me as an issue of race. I started making mix tapes once I got my Panasonic “all in in one” stereo.  Casey Kasem’s Top 40 show was on every weekend.  I can remember liking Ami Stewart’s version of “Knock on Wood,” Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” A Taste of Honey’s “Boogie Oogie Oogie,” and the Commodores'”Brick House.”

Then I moved to Florida with my folks in 1979.  In an ironic twist, although I was now going to public school with people of color in Winter Haven, I also had discovered “Album Oriented Rock” radio.  This meant that I essentially stopped listening to any R&B or urban music, unless it was through the lens of Jimi Hendrix. In fact, I went through a phase that was caught dramatically in the summer of 1979 at Comiskey Park in Chicago when radio DJ Steve Dahl blew up disco records, provoking the rock fans to run out onto the field, cancelling the White Sox game because of the ensuing chaos (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1CP1751wJA). Disco sucks (said the guy who had bought Saturday Night Fever in Olney). So, yeah, why did I need “black” music? Sure, in my head I knew rock and roll was generated as a combination of R&B with country in America, but I didn’t need any disco or R&B as I entered high school; I had “graduated” to pure rock and roll.

Of course, it would have been great to has someone play me some Funkadelic or anything from Sly and the Family Stone to dissuade me from my ignorance but alas that didn’t happen. In fact, I was intent on playing catch up with Southern rock as I had a very distinct memory of asking about Lynyrd Skynyrd and a classmate saying “You can’t hear them anymore, they’re all dead.” (The Skynyrd plane crash of ’77 had claimed three members but obviously had broken up the band for that time being). So…no exposure to black musicians who could rock hard was had in my limited world. Most rock radio stations were owned by whites who weren’t interested in black musicians as well, and this was the era of the beginning of radio playlist standardization. This institutional racism was continued by MTV not playing black musicians until the popularity of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the applied pressure of white musicians, like David Bowie, who understood how incredibly racist it was to not play people of all races, changed their playlist (see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/01/11/how-david-bowie-confronted-mtv-for-ignoring-black-artists-in-the-early-1980s/).

I remember thinking at one point there was this new guy I was hearing during my senior year in high school (new to me, LOL) who was actually getting played on the Tampa and Orlando rock stations called Prince. It was catchy—not really uptempo, but a seductive song called “Little Red Corvette.” Sad as it was, I let the radio stations define for me what was “rock” and what wasn’t. And I wasn’t going to feature Prince on our school newspaper’s Rock Rap page (yes, the irony of that title hits me between the eyes).

More than a year later, “Let’s Go Crazy” exploded out of my radio and in the summer of ’84 I realized that I had a limited palette to use when rocking. This, combined with the fact that I was also dating someone who loved Diana Ross and Lionel Ritchie, opened me up. I went to Purple Rain like most of America and saw somebody embodying great guitar playing like my other guitar heroes and he (gulp!) was black (I remember thinking that I only liked Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” because it featured Eddie Van Halen). I couldn’t wait to buy Around the World in a Day a year later, and then Sign ‘O the Times was a revelation in ’87….

Although I didn’t go out and buy a bunch of Funkadelic albums after my epiphany (taping saved money), I realized implicitly that I had cut myself off from discovery and that I was worst for it. After all, where did Led Zeppelin, the Stones, the Beatles, and so many other groups get their inspiration from? African Americans.

When Prince died a few weeks ago, I was brought back to the fact that like a lot of middle class white kids, I was liberated musically by this guy who epitomized so many musical styles. Along with the great Bowie, we mourn the fact that these artists went beyond what radio and the music business demanded or assumed not only in terms of their music but their affect. Who is that guy producing Bowie’s “Let’s Dance?” Nile Rodgers? What band was he in? Really? That “disco” band? And the discovery goes on…may we all be open the great new music that comes down the pike, regardless of what our preconceived notions may be. Thank you, Prince Rogers Nelson. Rest in power. You’ll be on Lisa and John’s stereo infinitely (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sv_2LzgoBe0).

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