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Budgeting Time For Rock and Roll

February 1, 1998

Mark Miester

When Randall Powell handed out copies of his latest CD to his staff, the former associate vice president for budgets and institutional research says there was a unanimous reaction: shock.

"They didn't even know about this part of my life," explains Powell, who in January began a new position as associate vice chancellor for administration and finance at the medical center. "I think they thought music was a hobby, but it's far more than a hobby for me. It's a passion that burns though every part of my life."

The product of that passion is Hanging From a String (STR Digital Records), an 11-song collection of Powell's meticulously crafted pop music. With complex orchestrations and lush harmonies layered on solid melodies, Hanging has the early-'80s feel of smooth synth pop and blue-eyed soul artists like David Sylvian and Hall & Oates melded with the more progressive rock of Peter Gabriel, King Crimson and Steely Dan.

Powell even evokes The Artist Formerly Known as Prince with a slinky falsetto on the title track, but the TAFKAP comparison goes even further: Multi-instrumentalist Powell wrote, produced, sang and played almost every note on the record. Rock and roll might not be a typical sideline for a university administrator, especially one as soft-spoken and conservative-looking as Powell appears to be, but Powell learned at an early age to march to the beat of a different drummer--himself.

"I think I get it from my parents," Powell says of his proud iconoclastic streak. "They were two open-minded individuals who gave me a good grounding in values but they also encouraged me to search for the truth and never take things at face value. I'm unafraid to question things that I thought might have been wrong or to look for an alternate way of doing things. And I've always believed in pushing the boundaries."

Powell also has pushed the envelope in areas of life other than music. He holds a PhD in psychology, taught at the university level, worked as a practicing psychotherapist and serves in the Military Intelligence Corps of the U.S. Army Reserve.

His musical career began before he could even read. A native of Cullman, Ala., Powell was singing at church services and parties by the age of 5. Religious and country music were fixtures at his house, he says. As a teenager, he developed a rebellious streak. After teaching himself to play piano in junior high, he formed Starless Bach, a rock cover band.

"We did everything from the Allman Brothers to the New York Dolls," Powell recalls. "I thought we were very progressive for the time." While Southern rock was de rigeur in Alabama nightclubs, Powell was attracted to the more outrageous, theatrical performers of glam rock. Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie was his idol. "We were very adventurous in terms of costumes," Powell recalls, laughing. "I remember walking around on platform heels that were so high you needed crutches to walk."

Eventually, Powell earned a BS in psychology from St. Bernard College in Cullman, Ala., and a doctorate in educational psychology/research from the University of Alabama--not exactly the training you'd expect for a budget officer, but Powell says his unorthodox training suited him well for his jobs at Tulane, which have involved developing and monitoring budgets, financial planning and constructing models to estimate revenues and expenditures.

"My emphasis in psychology was less in clinical work and more in experimental and educational psychology," Powell explains. "I was always in the research area, and taught statistics and research methods at a number of places."

After earning his PhD, Powell served as an administrator at Georgia Tech for five years, also teaching a "survival skills course" for freshmen as an adjunct instructor. Powell joined Tulane's budget office in 1993 and hopes soon to be teaching a course on statistics at the medical center. Another significant facet of Powell's life is his military career: He serves as a chief warrant officer II in military intelligence. Powell joined the U.S. Army Reserve in 1989.

"I came just after the Vietnam era," Powell explains. "But as I grew older I began to think I really missed out on something that was important." Powell is as passionate about his politics as he is his music. "I guess it sounds old-fashioned, but I'm not ashamed of it: I love this country and would die for it," Powell declares. "But I have strong feelings about libertarianism. I think the government is far too intrusive in people's lives and should be greatly reduced in size. There is a need for government because of human nature, but it needs not be so obtrusive and stifling of competition."

Administrator, academic, professional, soldier and artist, Powell summarizes his approach to life with a simple motto: "Life is a banquet; you should stuff your face."

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