I remember the police car ride, my short legs and large black shoes dangling down the backseat, and the station piled with papers on tan colored desks with the swinging door entrance quite well - the door that opened to the rest of my life.....
I remember the police car ride, my short legs and large black shoes dangling down the backseat, and the station piled with papers on tan colored desks with the swinging door entrance quite well - the door that opened to the rest of my life.....
The journey of the adopted self; In a world where homelessness is more prevalent today than ever, one biological reunion tackles the impossible. Years after being taken away from her parents as a baby by the state and then given up for adoption at age four, singer-songwriter Jenni Alpert (birth name “Cami”) went searching for her birth father and finally found him homeless, addicted, and running from the law. Yet, also a musician like her. Together they embark on a journey of profound transformation as she pioneers a path to her birth father’s release from the legal system, the cycle of homelessness, and street crime through unique solution solving systems inspiring both others experiencing homelessness, addiction, and loss to find transition in resilience along the way. This dynamic story represents the ultimate impactfulness of creating togetherness despite dichotomy through overcoming life’s advisories creatively as their incredible reunion over the course of four years spawns profound transformations. While on the journey of discovering the roots of her adopted self, this biological duo explore their two vastly different worlds as music melds between them an incredible bond. And they embark upon a journey of an extraordinary partnership as Cami (Jenni Alpert) ultimately pioneers a path to her birth father’s release from the legal system halting his street crime and cycle of homelessness creatively through unconditional love for good.
singer songwriter Jenni Alpert (Cami) and her birth father Don
Homeless the Soundtrack - The Subjects
(photo by Jeff Fasano)
Their story continues to unfold in the most profound of ways and as they share their musical bond they exude compassion and love encouraging other homeless people and the general public with testimony and tune along the way. Homeless: the Soundtrack, a short documentary on the horizon captures the early stages of their reunion intimately documents this courageous journey nestles in the larger pressing issue of homelessness not only in Los Angeles, but all around the globe. Today Jenni Alpert (Cami) and her birth father Don continue to join forces to share their stories and songs with others facing similar challenges though not limited to homelessness, addiction, incarceration, foster care, adoption, and birth reunions in support of creative transitions.
Jenni Alpert (Cami) - Singer, songwriter, guitarist, and pianist Jenni Alpert (Birth name: Cameron, Cami) was born in Los Angeles, CA and adopted out of the foster care system at the age of four. She started to sing and play piano while staying in various foster homes. With the encouragement and support of her adoptive family, she learned to play the guitar as well and began writing and record songs early. With her honest rich songwriting and soothing musical melodies, songstress Jenni Alpert’s haunting, powerful, and sultry voice has gained the respect of fans and music tastemakers worldwide. Her emotionally driven songs weave a unique web of eclectic Soul-Americana Pop. As familiar with jazz and Americana as she is pop, Alpert graduated from UCLA in the Ethnomusicology Department after completing a four-year jazz program headed by Kenny Burrell. No stranger to the recording studio, Alpert has released 8 albums and has independently toured over 14 countries with regularity. Upon reuniting with her biological father who was homeless, addicted, and running from the law at the time, yet a musician just like her, a film team decided to make a short documentary entitled Homeless: the Soundtrack directed by Oscar-nominated, Peabody and Emmy Award winning documentary film director Irene Taylor Brodsky, produced by Steve and Paula Mae Schwartz about the early stages that unfold the journey of their biological reunion capturing the unique bond they share. The two currently perform and share their biological reunion adventures and on creative approaches towards transformation in story and song together alongside supporting the film as a duo under the name Cami and Don,The Biological Duo.
Don Logsdon - the biological father of singer songwriter Jenni Alpert aka birth name Cami used to be addicted and running from the law while straddling incarceration and homelessness but also unbeknownst to them alike, was a musician just like his daughter. Upon their reunion shy of four years ago while discovering their mutuality in music and attachment, he chose to change his life and try new things introduced to him by his daughter to develop a deeper relationship with her. As their music kinship and personal relationship solidified, together the two embarked upon a unique reunion journey that now has lead them to performing music together as ‘Cami and Don the Biological Duo’ for various organizations: Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission Van Nuys Help Center for the Homeless, Celia Center, Inc. for the adopted and fostered, and Concerned United Birthparents, to name a few - performing, speaking, and sharing stories about their biological reunion, transformation, and the impacts foster care, adoption, homelessness, addiction, incarceration, and support or the lack thereof have on any individual connected to these topics offering ideas on how to uniquely solution solve to overcome or work with them. He is also the other subject with his daughter in the up and coming short documentary Homeless: The Soundtrack directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky produced by Chockstone Pictures about the early stages of their reunion and their miraculous biological journey to transformation.
ABOUT AND CONTENTS
~ PART 1 ~
Home is Where the Heart Is, An Adoption Story
Family Lines and Blood Ties
PRELUDE - THE OCTAGON IS ME
Everybody has a valuable story. I was never too focused on mine being much more valuable than anyone else’s; When I chose to look for my biological father ...
I. LINEAGE - FROM THE BEGINNING
I’ve been wanting, for as long as I can remember, to write a memoir penning the life and journey of a fostered adopted child grown into an independent self reliant ...
II. BEFORE IT ALL BEGAN
Words and a safe space to speak to a child once without a voice is like honey to bees, but I am not the very beginning, not at all. Don’s life proceeded the adventure of my biological great grandfather Hewitt …
III. MY BIRTH FATHER’S EARLY CHILDHOOD
“The first thing that happened was when I was about seven years old is I didn’t like how I felt and was on the search for anything that would improve the way I felt. By age five ...”
IV. MY BIRTH MOTHER MARYLOU THE FINE ARTIST, AND FROM WHERE SHE CAME
All the way across town on the ‘finer’ side of life lived a young pretty woman with high desires to become an interior designer. Her name was Mary Lou. With fine art as her ...
V. I AM MY OWN COUNTRY
For people who have relationships with their blood family it’s a given and a gift that they get to see who they look like, what traits, characteristics, and talents they may have inherited. But as someone who was in foster care ...
VI. CONCEPTION, CAMI BABY
“The sun had just set on a Friday night in early May ... after getting as high as we all could, we jumped into my brother Jimmy’s dark green pontiac and raced down ...
VII. YOU COULD OF BEEN MY FAMILY
The prison in my mind has guarded memories chaining my heart from the terrors that is truth for as long as I can remember, only it’s the likes of you that remind me. You may not like this chapter …
POSTSCRIPT - HOMELESS, THE WAR; ADDICTION ONE CRISIS
Currently LA's homeless count shows 66,433 people now live on the streets in shelters and in vehicles in the county; homelessness, a personal tragedy affecting those who cannot afford ...
~ PART 2 ~
Home is Where the Heart Is, A Biological Reunion Story
My Birth Father and Me
PROLOGUE - PAWNS DON’T GO BACKWARDS
“I’m just trying to blue print my beliefs so people don’t misunderstand me so much” D. Logsdon
I. BELT OF TOOLS (FOR THE HOUSE OF SANE)
By now I’d been through so much... this new chapter would eventually turn into the most amazing moments of my life.
This was when I learned for the first time, that my birth father …
II. MEETING MY BIRTH FATHER
He pointed to a sleeping man on the ground; his belongings scattered about; a partially broken tent over his head and he said “Here you go: this is Don, your biological father ...”
III. SUPPORTING MY HABIT
"If anyone were to read my Olson files and learnt about all the things I done in my life, they’d think to themselves no wonder this guy sticks to himself, who in their right mind would wanna hang around with him ..."
IV. I'LL BE YOUR HEROIN(E)
Since I came to arrive at this stage in life with a special skill set to handle Don's challenges it seemed the perfect time to put those past experiences and tools to the test. But I was never out to save anybody ...
V. JOURNEY OF TOGETHERNESS
... there were so many adventures that unfolded each day as the hours together increased, but there was one in particular that seemed a pivotal turning point that led Don towards a new step forward …
From the moment of my birth father’s release from jail, we began doing as many memorable activities together as I could think of. We started with …
VII. HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
Over the course of four more years as our personal dynamic got closer allowing one another the space to be ourselves and forming an even stronger bond as a team, Don and I began to grow our partnership outward to offer …
EPILOGUE - FOSTER A FUTURE; AN ADOPTION CONSTELLATION
AFTERWARD - THE LETTERS AND SALUTATIONS
~ PART 1 ~
PRELUDE - THE OCTAGON IS ME
Everybody has a valuable story.
I was never too focused on mine being much more valuable than anyone else’s; When I chose to look for my biological father ...
Everybody has a valuable story. I was never too focused on mine being much more valuable than anyone else’s; I never saw it as more than a unique experience to share, but I’ve always been comfortable and open with the many different aspects /complexities of life that I have experienced. Connecting with others and raw honesty for the purposes of deeper understanding have always been very important values to me.
When I chose to look for my biological father in the summer of 2016, who at the time was a raging addict by choice, living homeless, and running from the law, one of the main motivating factors for me at the time was the fact that I was starting to bud interested in building a family of my own one day and I was curious about what I saw as the one missing piece of my life unknown, from having been in foster care and then adopted, and then having met several birth relatives on my journey to self. Yet, there was I still a lot I didn’t fully know yet. Outside of court papers and assumptions told by others, sometimes based in truth and sometimes not, I myself still always wanting to know more about my genetic DNA lineage and where it was I came from. After so many failed relationships with hopeful beginnings, it was now time for me to fill in the holes and explore the paternal side of my life both for myself and for my future family one day.
Because of what I knew from legal documents and hearsay, and with the support of many people in my life that I care about including my adoptive parents whom I love very much, I was content to simply leave well alone for a very long time…… but upon extensive research and reconnaissance, I finally decided to find out who and where my birth father was, and through the graces of possibilities of the utmost profound, everything changed.....
This is dedicated to all members of my adoption constellation, all family and friends alike. Thank you for withstanding the foregoing of my difference and for finding a way to love me somewhere in your heart.
My mother Jill and my father Bill, my Granda Horty, my three brothers, and all my extended family. To Paul, Shelly, Amanda, Elaine, Chelsea, Chaz, Steven, Greg, Carrie, Jen, Jeff, Jake, Sol, Blanch, Michael, Uncle Jimmy, Ramon, Ramona, and Steve, Joyce, Cathy, Connie, Judges and the Police, Jimmy P, Chris J, Brogan, Nick B, Jordy, Brian P, Lindsay, Mayim, Nicole, Sinem, Abby, Eric B, Damon, Justin F, all my friends overseas, MrG, Mister Kissaine, Kenny Burrell, Al Bradley, My professors, UCLA, Jeanette, Justin C, Steve and Paula Mae, Irene, Officer Bailey, Officer Lepe, Laurie and Ken and Hope of the Valley, my birth grandparents, birth great grandparents, and the greats before that, my ancestors, my birth mother....
...and especially, to my birth father Don.
We feel we have been so fortunate thus far to have been able to share our journey with all of you as it has unfolded these last several years. Thank you for being part of it with us in your own personal way. In the very early days when my birth father and I first met, a young dp discovered us and took some stellar visuals from when I first found my birth father while he was still getting high and running from law. I am enthralled with his framing of our first special moments more on those soon.
Moreover, what is super exciting is we were paired up with a documentary film maker about two months into our reunion, who captured the essence of the begin it of our biological reunion journey together. She is currently working on releasing the short film about some of those special early chapters. So, stay tuned for that as well. should be released sometime later this year.
So while that process is underway, I do hope you enjoy the penned lengthy details of a larger view in to the pieces of our lives, our story of resilience, perseverance, unconditional love, and transformation.
As creativity flows, the sky's the limit, who knows - anything can happen.
Thank you so much for reading and for following along with our journey.
Homeless the Soundtrack - The Subjects
~ PART 1 ~
Home is Where The Heart Is, An Adoption Story
Family Lines and Blood Ties
I. LINEAGE, FROM THE BEGINNING
I’ve been wanting, for as long as I can remember, to write a memoir penning the life and journey of a fostered adopted child grown into an independent self reliant ...
I’ve been wanting, for as long as I can remember, to write a memoir penning the life and journey of a fostered adopted child grown into an independent self reliant (self proclaimed, the audacity) recording touring singer songwriter musician who in search of sense of self from nature to add to the nurture adoption had given, then goes on an adventure of lifetimes, further writing to share not only the discovery of searching for and reuniting with birth family members over the course of several years, but also to illuminate the profound value of knowing the very fabric from which you came.
Once meeting birth maternal living relatives upon her birth mother’s passing before ever getting to meet her, many connections and stories would be shared. And although advised against so, in the years to follow she would research with the help of a private investigator learn of, find, and reunite with her birth father who was living homeless more often by choice under freeway underpasses or behind dumpsters when not otherwise regularly incarcerated or running from the law. This would continue onward throughout the majority of his life partly due to the lifestyle of street life and using drugs starting at the young age of 9, and partly in survival of what life did not present him until meeting me, his daughter, then everything changed.
This is where I also would come to find, unbeknownst to me, that he too was a musician himself.
And further perhaps, I’d continue to share in chapters the many details thereafter upon our biological reunion taking place starting on the streets of Long Beach, California just shy of five years ago this coming summer July of 2016.
That by the efforts of research, reconnaissance, and the with help of many resources found, I would continue to divulge how devising creative solution solving steps for my birth father inspired and aided him in choosing to walk an uncharted path towards assimilation and integration.
Guided by present moment intuition and several past experiences for my tool belt from having volunteered for non profits prior that ranged from work with those experiencing homelessness, foster care, incarceration, and addiction coupled with my own life stories unfolding all while studying Ethnomusicology at UCLA, our miraculous path of transformation to now was ultimately lead by what I would call a series of collective creativity encounters in the form of ‘family fun field trips’ devised intentionally combining the parallels of familiarity and newisms through adventure and discovery for my birth father to experience with me as his advocate and daily shadow despite dichotomous worldly exposure, which ultimately paved an unexpected journey unfolding an extraordinary partnership.
This is a true story where together with creative approaches, a biological reunion of he and I manage to not only alter the patterns of my birth father’s life of street survival and petty crime towards a newly found transformative option of creative stable ground but also motivated further desire to help others see options to do so as well,
but then, I would have to start at the very beginning......
Homeless the Soundtrack - The Subjects
II. BEFORE IT ALL BEGAN
Words and a safe space to speak to a child once without a voice is like honey to bees, but I am not the very beginning. Not at all. Don’s life proceeded the adventure of my biological great grandfather Hewitt ...
Words and a safe space to speak to a child once without a voice is like honey to bees, but I am not the very beginning. Not at all.
Don’s life proceeded the adventure of my biological great grandfather Hewitt, before he created Don’s father James Royal Logsdon among the many others. Hewitt was most known for galavanting the lands any lady strolled on, making children of many fathering hardly none, following footsteps as an outlaw of sorts coupled with trying his taste at an honest living for survival. Known throughout the towns as a watchmaker to trade, he also knew music well enough to teach and conduct it, eventually making money during the depression in the 1930’s as a conductor in residence for the Dallas Philharmonic Orchestra for a short while employing the likes of musicians such as Glenn Miller, Harry James, and Tommy Dorsey who also desperately were in of need work at the time. Though it was noted not much a record shows for it, but nonetheless Hewitt never departed from the Texas state until his death.
As 1951 came around, the Korean War was well underway and the first son of Hewitt’s James Royal Logsdon would go on to join the United States Navy. James had a mind for both engineering and music, and though not much a formal education for the former, he became a mechanic for the Navy ships as well as played self taught boogie woogie saloon style piano upon them to entertain his Navy buddies as the war passed. But two years later he was honorably discharged due to an injury onboard a ship while working and was dropped off in Long Beach, California where he and his friend would then scour The Pike night after night for women not much different than his father before.
In 1954 James would meet and fall in love with Madonna who was escaping the Catholic clause of her rigid upbringing at the time happy to join in union for her escape setting forth the next chapter of the Logsdon lineage but now in California.
Once having several children to raise with one government military check that would regularly run low between fights in the homestead, James tried to pick up several different trades to care for the three sons he made and the three children that would later follow by other men with Madonna’s search to bore a daughter. By 1968 the emotional stability of the family unit faded so drastically while the financial hardships were so plentiful, that Madonna and James welcomed in a second family of nine to share in the responsibilities of all the children and the rented two bedroom dwelling they had, creating a space filled with over eleven children and four adults on the premises at the time.
Sharing food stamps and any government income available to them still wasn’t enough to manage such an unstable foundation, that ultimately, both the financial struggles and relationship incompatibilities brought more stress than the marriage could withstand. By 1969 James and Madonna would part ways but keep the marriage for legal reasons in order to somehow continue to care for the children they shared Jimmy, Michael, and their youngest Don Logsdon amongst the others that later came.
Family stories later said that my great Grandfather Hewitt Barbar Logsdon was connected to English Royalty by way of Scotland, relative somehow of Duke of the house of Windsor, and several lifetimes later upon arriving to Ellis Island continuing West settling in Tennessee and then Texas, additional mention of there being ties between his mother’s side related to Daniel Boone, whilst his father’s side somehow related to Davy Crockett.
Yet though everyone has history coming from somewhere and every story to tell has many perspectives point of view, the only true connection we know of to these claims for sure is the flashes of genetic DNA memory my birth father and I would later discover that we both separately share before being told directly by anyone in our shared family line and before having formally met one another until in adulthood ourselves - a familiarity of all those such past times mentioned merely documented by family folktales handed down, but that will be for another chapter.
May the tides between truth and tales be the blood that binds us.
III. MY BIRTH FATHER’S EARLY CHILDHOOD
“The first thing that happened was when I was about seven years old is I didn’t like how I
felt and was on the search for anything that would improve the way I felt. By age five ....”
"The first thing that happened was when I was about seven years old is I didn’t like how I felt and was on the search for anything that would improve the way I felt. By age five I found a cigarette in the alley and a box of matches and smoked tobacco for the first time, and it was on.
By age nine was the first time I smoked a joint. In them days you would purchase a cigarette for a quarter. I found a half of a joint on the street, headed for the bushes, and smoked that until it was gone and that was the second sign I found that improved the way I felt.
After that I came about finding reds and whites; benzedrine, dexedrine, methedrine - uppers and downers, pills and decided to try those. By age ten I checked out any liquor they had at any store I could steal from, red ripple wine and tequila were my favorites.
The neighborhood we lived in was just that, a row of duplexes and apartments with a few small houses here and there. From the outside, ours was a two bedroom duplex that we lived in but on the inside cluttered and crowded was our sense of home. The layout had a den between the kitchen and the living room next two the two small bedrooms where all areas would be blocked off for more rooms, even the kitchen, for friends and other people, or other kids there, maybe fifteen or twenty Bell Gardens white boys would be around there around the clock living in every square inch of the house all the time which was good news as far as I was concerned giving me an advantage towards how to live like an adult, though by then I was only twelve.
The room I would stay in there had a bunk bed for me and my two other brothers and some of the neighborhood kids who needed places to sleep. I would make most of the meals myself for the rest of family and people there because I seemed good at making the eggs and my mom was a homebody lady who spent most of her time as an overseer for the several families and kids all around the neighborhood that were crammed inside our home so I helped when I could.
From the earliest I could remember there were cockroaches, rats, and trash piling to the ceiling while outside my dad and his friend tried to work on several automobiles at once in our driveway for a time to make money, so see, there was not room for much but it didn’t really bother me any. There would be green trash dumpsters down the alley where my brothers and I would take the trash out when we weren’t smoking and playing cards out back. Pretty soon this would become my main chore along with cooking for the lot of the mouths on the premise, and managing the numerous cats and rodents that hung around. I once even saved a little duck. He was my special friend until the cockroaches got too much and when I tried to get them gone by spraying them with raid, I lost my favorite duck friend too. That was real sad. I didn’t use raid anymore. As for rats, yeah the whole house was full of them, but I didn’t mind, I felt like I was raising them anyway.
Once my mom invited a second whole family to live with us to share in our small space and the financial responsibility, this would be the first experience I had with architecture and design when I found myself dividing up the small space splitting each rooms into twos or threes with sheets and blankets for walls so for everyone could fit inside. If I could of finished school outside of later getting a GED during one of my times prison, I know next to being a guitar player, I would of been an architect. I always loved looking at those New York and Chicago Buildings in the books they had in their libraries. Building those would be something.
Throughout the day around the clock, and believe me I didn’t care what time it was, in order for me and my brothers to get food and money and drugs we would go around and about stealing whatever we could find and swiping pop bottles that back then were of value to trade in for cash. Once a week we’d have our big hit when a swap-meet would open where we could steal bicycles to sell for more money to live on. Another thing we would do is find newspaper dispenser machines that at the time cost a quarter for a newspaper and we would stick bubble gum on the on a popsicle stick then slide it between the metal plate so it could get at the quarter other people previously spent to buy their paper. It was kind of like slot gambling and pretty fun actually.
My oldest brother Jimmy, and two closest friends at the time Earl Simmons and Butchy Williams started a crew with some of the other neighborhoods boys and banned together for survival. Though I was only ten at the time, the youngest member, I was proud to be part of the gang and proud to call them family for their protection and guidance to prosper together. Stealing became our means to gain stability out of the otherwise poverty we were born into. The money ultimately was was used to buy as many drugs and alcohol bottles as we could get which became my favorite past time to escape to.
You gotta realize, I lived around and about twenty five to thirty adults when I was ten to twelve years old and every one of them were drunks, drug addicts, pool players, rode motorcycles, bet on horses, and were gamblers. They were the normal people that I would know of since day one. To me following in their footsteps and joining them in drinking, drugs, gambling, and adventures was exactly the thing to do.
Even from the early age of 9, I found school to be a complete waste of time and completely boring so I would ditch and head to the railroad tracks to drink red ripple wine and try the reds and whites I had bought with my older brothers. The adventure of stealing and ditching were not only exciting to me but moreover a means to an end and an escape from the otherwise dull or overcrowded world I knew.
As I started to ditch more and increase my drug interest, by now at age 11, I got caught by the truancy officer at my elementary school when he followed me skipping school through the alley where he saw me steal a basket of pop bottles. He came to me at my house with the Bell Gardens police, pushed into my room and saw liquor bottles and trash all over the floor, which lead to the search in my pockets where they found an enormous amount of drugs and said to me for the first time but definitely not for the last, “you are being placed under arrest.”
There were three charges. The first: possession of drugs - marijuana, seconal, and benzedrine, the second: possession of stolen property due to the stolen bicycle I had in my room along with the two shopping carts of pop bottles there that they knew I had stolen from down the alley earlier that day, which is how they caught me following me home, and the third charge: truancy, having ditched school seven times, two over there limit getting me ten hard swats on the ass with a wooden paddle by the principal, which for me by now was an all to regular past time at school to begin with, and then they kicked me out of school for the rest of the semester which I wasn’t bothered at all by, but what I didn’t release was, instead, I was being taken to Juvenile Hall for my first of many more times to come.
With my parents growing disdain for one another and deep struggle for money and food, their arguing pursued as a regular past time between them. It was anything we could do outdoors to enjoy life they way we wanted to. It was also during this period that I started going in and out of foster homes and juvenile halls regularly for the correctional efforts the city authorities tried to instill to no avail. For my older brothers being in and out of group homes, juvenile halls, and work camps was they same for them as well and for all the same reasons but the counselors would bring them to visit me in the TMV unit in Central Juvenile Hall to visit me where I was so I always had a sense of family near.
Though my mother had her ups and downs, she always for my whole life would do her best to support me the ways she knew how, sending me packages when I needed them, and by twelve years of age, bringing me both a guitar and a chess set to learn in one of the four Juvenile Halls I was moved around in to help me pass the time. Once I had a guitar and the game of chess to play the other kids wouldn’t beat me up as much. I struggled with being locked in our rooms throughout the nights without access to the hallway bathrooms and would still get into trouble for wetting the bed, but I always had my guitar and I always had the past grandmasters of chess to play games from the books that kept me company, taught me the game with the books written about them, and safe from the outside world.
It was also during these years when I would be released either for good behavior or for time served starting at about age eleven, that I would find for the first time what it was like to make out with girls. I was a little young kid who knew damn well what it was like to lay around with naked ladies alright. Any age, my brothers would set it up or they would come find me in my chosen hiding places. This would also set the stage for the later years in my life with the many women I would come to know briefly while my main love most often later would become heroin herself.”
It was also around this time, that my birth father Don’s parents argued day and night about anything and everything, money, instability, space, among the several other issues, they simply started to fall out and so she started to mess around with a new man. Both the financial hardships their marriage was to create and the lack of connection between them put his father, my paternal birth grandfather, into such a mental rage that he would check himself into Metro Mental Hospital for the first time that summer, but it would hardly be the last. Throughout the next twenty plus years don’s father never quite came back from his mental breakdown and the red crisis squad car would become a frequent means of transportation to and from the mental hospital, the first trip also being the one that would set forth the motion of his next relationship upon meeting my soon to become birth mother, Mary-Lou Morantz.
VI. MY BIRTH MOTHER MARY LOU THE FINE ARTIST, AND FROM WHERE SHE CAME
All the way across town on the ‘finer’ side of life lived a young pretty woman with high desires to become an interior designer.
Her name was Mary Lou. With fine art as her ....
All the way across town on the ‘finer’ side of life lived a young pretty woman with high desires to become an interior designer. Her name was Mary Lou. With fine art as her main medium she had an eye for style. Having just gotten into UCLA herself, one of the most renowned schools for its kind she was excited to expand her horizons for the finer things in life. She had even already garnered an opportunity to help a new budding hair stylist in the Melrose area not far from where she grew up in Beverly Will in proper upper middle class Conservative Jewish household. She got attention for being the first interior decorator to paint the hair salon all black which set in motion a high visible business for the then budding salon owner. Everyone in town knew of his salon from then on.
My birth mother Mary Lou’s paternal grandparents, having migrated first from Denver then to Canada and finally settling in Los Angeles one after another confirmed to have been part of bringing the first Kosher Meat Packing business to downtown LA joining Abe’s brother Sam, making a huge stamp on the Los Angeles Jewish scene at one time. Also having aiding in the building and development of a small conservative Jewish Temple on Olympic Boulevard, it was said that the Jewish community valued the Morantz family for more than one reason.
For the voice she has not, let my heart speak.
My birth mother to be, Mary Lou herself was no stranger to debutant life. She was even apart of the National Charity League Los Angeles Chapter with her mother as a teen volunteering to help those in need. Coincidentally, I was too, unbeknownst to this knowledge in my teen life a member of the NCL San Fernando Chapter to volunteer and help people with my mom who adopted me, but perhaps it wasn’t so coincidental at all.
I was also told later that it was in fact my birth grandfather Lou Lou who was to step in during my foster care situations whilst a court case was dragging on to decipher who in what family may get and keep me, and it was his final push and demand that I be released and put up for adoption by a like minded stable Jewish family somewhere far enough away to keep me safe, yet close enough to my roots for my name.
Mary Lou would often would hear the stories told by her father of her grandparents, my great grandparents Abe and Celia self identified as zionists in hopes of aiding the Jewish people to have a homeland, making huge efforts to be part of helping Israel become free state just after World War II, even obtaining land there. The history goes even further then that on both maternal great great sides was a lineage line all the way to Odessa, Russia and Latvia before the wagon days in the US.
As as it were, and still in many ways today, the commitment to culture, heritage, and tradition was embedded strong for as far back as anyone in the family could remember. Tradition lives on in those who carry it.
My birth maternal grandfather Lou Lou was born with an older brother and two younger sisters making for quite a large extended family to come. While my birth maternal grandmother Geraldine had a sister and a brother who stayed behind in Denver, she herself came to Los Angeles for something new, reacquainted with Lou Lou from childhood in Denver when she arrived here, and hence the next chapter started.
But as in Jewish custom where it is the way of the culture and community to pass down the stories and laws, the many generations akin back then passed down their conservatism as well, so as the temperament and often control.
Elite card games would take place weekly with fine wines and cognac in their fancy homes of Beverly Will that the life and heritage before now afforded them. My maternal grandparents Lou Lou and Geri inviting all Lou’s siblings now married and close by in walking range to enjoy the weeks hard earned dollar by the fine dining and card games they chose, the children often locked away in the back rooms with loneliness and resentment as their playmates while the adults enjoyed their luxury and parties. Love would feel lost at times, though not always. It just was what it was.
As the Kosher Meat Packing business began to fail, gambling a hefty dime came to be the regular past time, the stress on the families to keep the class going took its toll just the same as any other family might face, but manifested itself in the fabric of the family foundations in slightly different ways. Businesses ended, separations were made, divorces were settled, and children fell to the mercy of circumstance, but class still remained even if merely a shadow of apparition to give stable impression to all. It was said my birth uncle, younger brother to my birth mother, felt the hardest bruises from the fall, in and out of Vista Del Mar Children’s Group Home himself before later taking up road management life for the band Spirit and key marijuana sales man during the time when it was still very illegal. But his charm was his greatest asset and did him well nonetheless.
Geri my birth grandmother was said to be an adventurous woman, known for her love of convertible Cadillacs, Jackie O Hare sunglasses, and her hair up in a bonnet. It was even mentioned that she raced down the PCH highway in Malibu one Sunday with kids in the car to catch the sunset of freedom.
Stormy at home, all the children alike could feel the thunder coming. It was much easier to keep busy and in Mary Lou’s, case being the oldest female of them all, keeping pretty, pruned, and creative mainly as a painter in her spare time would work for a while.
It didn’t take long however, for trips to San Francisco to go underway during the early sixties which set her on another path unexpectedly for miss Mary Lou. There are several stories of explanation for what horror for the family related to her was to happen next. Some say she was a too young a woman in San Francisco with a then boyfriend and took too much acid on accident while experimenting. Others suggest she actually suffered a major traumatic event by several men she knew while being dosed against her knowledge or will. No reason is clear for why she lost her mind and entered the depths of a hybrid state of catatonic schizophrenia coupled with raging episodes of delusional madness that was scary enough for anyone to see, especially those closest to her that lost her as she slipped away into another realm never to completely come back from. Family secrets are meant to be respected. The shame of it all simply was too much to bare.
Immediately it became clear that Metropolitan Mental Hospital, the best known of its kind back then, would be the place for her to be sent away to, if not to try to manage what now was, at least to protect the family name.
Metropolitan Mental Hospital was a scary place though where shock therapy and sedation were the norm. It is said that she never was to paint again after being admitted there. But with a conservator now at her aid, and a ward of the state managed by someone, it wasn’t much of a surprise that her beauty still managed to attract a young gentleman a few years her senior who at that very same time had admitted himself there due to a failing marriage and to the many overwhelming financial stresses that went with it, none other than a man named ....
James Royal Logsdon.
Homeless the Soundtrack - The Subjects
V. I AM MY OWN COUNTRY
For people who have relationships with their blood family it’s a given and a gift that they get to see who they look like, what traits, characteristics, and talents they may have inherited. But as someone who was in foster care....
When I was a little girl just about five years old while seated in my new grandma’s kitchen, pencil and paper in hand by request finally adopted into what would become my forever home, my Grandma Horty watching me intently told me I was gonna be a writer one day. Thank you Grandma for never making me feel less than capable and always ensuring that I had some sense of self confidence when I really needed some. Maybe you were right….
For people who have relationships with their blood family, it's a given – and a gift that they get to see who they look like, who they sound like, and what traits, characteristics, and talents they may have inherited. But as someone who was in foster care from my birth until I was 3 ½, I never knew. Did I look like my biological parents? Did we have similar talents and skills? Do I sound like them? I didn’t have any answers, only my intuition, my instinct, and a drive to succeed and survive. Despite not knowing who my biological parents were, I knew enough to know it was a blessing that I was alive.
I always felt that when we are born it’s because we were lucky enough to be selected to make it here in the first place no matter where we come from or how we get here. The point being to leave behind a legacy and to contribute somehow to making the world better when we leave it than what it was when we came. It also seemed to me that a name is simply a way that others know themselves in relationship to you. This is why I never minded that I have so many names; Cameron my intended birth name, Cami for short, Jennifer my fostered given name Jen for short, and Jenni Alpert my final adopted name once I landed my forever family home and what I ended up choosing to use as I became the budding performing singer songwriter I was to be. Just as names go, are also titles with which to identify by; mother, sister, father friend, a way of identifying who people are to us, and who we are to them. But what is to happen when you find you have two families somehow, maybe three or maybe even four? I find it most valuable to express why I refer to Don, for example, as my “birth father.” It is to honor his role in having “invented” me, for how special a person he is in my life now which we will get too later, and most of all for him having given me life. Simultaneously, I refer to Bill Alpert who adopted and raised me until the time he passed away as my “dad” or “father” not only because of what he did to help me in my life when he was with us and for the fact that he was all I knew as a father figure through my adoption, but also because his spirit continues to support me in my life through my mom even now and I feel it is right to honor both men semantically speaking for exactly who they are. It’s also important that I note before proceeding on that I do not harbor any judgment about the way people live or resentment for all that unfolded as I describe, for to me, sometimes it’s not about what we have around us that matters, rather who and the understanding of it all that makes all the difference.
My parents Jill and Bill never met my birth parents throughout my adoption either though they knew some of the background that came with me when I first arrived at their home at age 3 1/2 before they were to become my forever parents when I was to turn 4.
I was told that I was introduced to a piano while in my second foster home and that music was always an innate interest of mine in one way or another even at an extremely young age. Upon being adopted by the Alperts, it was mere fortune that they had an upright piano in their home as well and made sure to get me a pedal box fitted to my height in order for me to be able to play piano with the sustain pedal, something I loved to do often. Second to piano lessons came voice and third to that came acting classes after failing violin and flailing through dance. Finally came the guitar and then the push for further education. Later in life was when I realized how truly lucky I had been for all the opportunity I was granted to explore for my life could have been very different.
The day I was born, the court system intervened for my safety due to the many details of how I came to be in this world and placed me into the first of what would be four foster homes that I rotated through until I was 3 1/2. During my time in foster care, the police would come to discover some of the dangers I was being exposed to in one foster home I had been give to unbeknownst to the state due to a tip by a bank worker who called in after an interaction she had with the lady who had come with me in her arms demanding they give a loan to her then husband and her or she couldn’t be responsible for what would happen to me. With the help of the bank the police removed me immediately, and placed me into an emergency holding group transitional group home until I became eligible for permanency with adoption. I remember the police car ride, my short legs and large black shoes dangling down the backseat, and the station piled with papers on tan colored desks with the swinging door entrance quite well. I felt sorry for the lady and that’s about the extend of my memory there.
Many years later she would find me online and show up at one of my gigs to apologize. I recognized her voice immediately as I was there alone with the sound man sound checking. I told hello no hard feelings to harbor, I could feel a her need for forgiveness lingering, but for me all that I could see was simply a woman who had tried her best with what she’d been given. I hugged her ok before strolling away to sing my song Heaven on stage.
Shortly thereafter, what would be my fourth ‘emergency’ placement, the Alperts were called and told that there was a girl available but that they had to come and get me tomorrow. So the following day, with a little bunny in hand for me, we met with my brown paper bag full of my few things, and by a specific request of my biological mother’s family later I was told, I was then taken to a stable Jewish home as the rest of my life would unfold. That foster home put up a fight to keep me themselves, and though they would lose, a second court case would begin with regard to my life before I was even four.
From the moment I arrived at the Alperts, the survival skills I had gained in foster homes - namely charm and the ability to play music - helped me through the transition. My new home came with three older brothers, two of whom where my adoptive dad's birth sons who frequented our home, and the third who had been adopted also but as a baby by my mom and her previous marriage whom now lived in the same home as I did for the years before he left for college.
At 4, I was old enough to understand that I had been in foster homes; and in the process of being adopted, I had been told bits and pieces of my biological parents’ story, but most of the details were kept from me until I was a teenager. Looking back on my childhood, I don't recall identifying too strongly with negativity or a sense of sadness; I was an optimistic child but I did often feel a sense of disconnection linger from time to time.
I always had an interest in my biological roots, but I was strongly advised to focus on my current life rather than to delve into any past. My adoptive parents, siblings, and extended family made sure that I understood that I was loved and wanted. They gave me the support to discover my tools and talents as well as the life skills for self-reliance of which I am forever grateful for. When I was adopted, I couldn't yet read, write, or identify letters, colors, and numbers, so my adoptive parents hired tutors to help me with my education. They fostered my love for music, composition, singing, writing songs, acting, and movement by enrolling me in various classes to help further develop my talents. They also protected me when past haunts from foster care found me and started following me to elementary school, tasking up work with my dad’s good friend to try to stay close. It was for this reason I switched schools mid year to a totally new world with new challenges to face with the harsh kids there at school. Still my artistic drive consumed a lot of my focus and my mind in healthy and positive ways throughout my childhood. From time to time in my youth, I can recall feeling emptiness: wondering exactly where it was that I came from and what my biological lineage and cultural heritage was. I often wondered if my artistic skills were genetic since none of my adoptive family was musical at all, but I was also aware that this was something I might not ever get to know.
I always knew from the moment I arrived to the Alpert’s that that the people were raising me weren’t the people who brought me into this world, but it was around age 11 due to a lot of contention at home as mothers and daughters often have discord from differences, is when I started to really wonder where it was that I came from. I discovered an old photo album that had traveled with me through the foster care system and while flipping through them one day, a photo fell out and happened to have notes written on the back of it notating what I guessed might of been my original last name Morantz so I looked up every number in the white pages and called them all to see if I could find one related to me. It wouldn’t be until years later when I actually did start to meet the remaining living members of the Morantz tree prior to my biological reunion with my birth father several years following that, but notating and researching developed among some of my many tools at a very early age.
Music and Me
Because I struggled with some aspects of traditional learning in school, I had planned to go to New York to live the life of a performer upon completing high school, but thanks to my adoptive parents urging, I attended UCLA and was granted a small scholarship to entice me with their prestigious new Jazz program. While working on my degree, I began to write, record, and produce my own music alongside learning jazz.
And following, in my 20s I discovered ways to market, brand, and sell my music, tenaciously googling to connect throughout the years then recording with some the greatest producers, engineers, and musicians that I personally admired, namely; Niko Bolas, George Massenburg, Nathaniel Kunkel, Steve Greenberg, Steve Greenwell, Mikal Blue, JJ Blair, Stevie Blacke, David Pearlman, Nicola Fantazzi, Rob Matson, Doug Sax, Eric Boulanger, Russ Kunkel, Dean Parks, Matt Rollings, Viktor Krause, Jimmy Messer, Joel Martin, Jimmy Paxson, Chris Chaney, Zac Rae, and Guthrie Trapp to name a memorable few, performing all over Los Angeles, the country, and ultimately in over 14 countries around the world, with a backpack full of my CDs, my guitar and sometimes a mini keyboard, charm, and networking skills to maintain friends and contacts in each given city in order to return again and again with their help, building before facebook existed a loyal fan base for my music while managing it all single handedly. It never much bothered me that nobody knew who I was.
Though while in foster care I experienced my first piano, it was actually in high school when I began to love to perform and speak in front of audiences in order to connect.
From being president of and a soloist in my high school choir, to becoming a proactive member of our school debate team, to joining the Model United Nations club, to being the school mascot, to set designing and acting, often staring in the school plays and musical, I eventually also took up songwriting on both the piano and acoustic guitar inspired by my mom’s suggestion to learn to play something portable and had my heart set on heading to New York City upon graduation.
My mother on the other hand had other plans for me.
My Dad Bill
It was during my junior year of high school when my father got sick with cancer. He was home with treatments a lot. Many days and nights it was just me, my mom, my dad, and the big scary c at home after school. I didn’t know exactly what cancer even was as the time, but the doctor and hospital visits, millions of pamphlets, and regular treatments of all kind told me it wasn’t something anyone would ever want to go through alone if they didn’t have to.
All the while caring for my father, my mother was desperate for me to obtain a well rounded education despite my commitment to the arts so it was she who marked off UCLA in my college application for the UC schools as an options because back then you could write one series of essays but apply to as many UCs as you wanted on a checklist.
Personally, I never really thought of college, and furthermore never even considered that I would end up going UCLA let alone get in, nor had I ever dreamed that I would even take an audition there. The day I arrived and began singing for the faculty, a man in the audience, later known as Al Bradley the admittance counselor of the department at the time, actually left mid way during my first song solidifying, for certain in my mind that I was not going to get in there. “If I had known this was going to be a classical audition rather than performance Jazz, I would have learned an aria” I said jokingly before my final song, put a smile on my face, persevered on, and sang my heart out with ‘Teach Me Tonight’ by Sammy Cahn.
As I proceeded to swiftly walk out of the audition I was stopped for a chat by Al just outside the classical music audition room who confirmed to me that my style wasn’t really a fit, which it hardly ever was anywhere anyway so I wasn’t surprised, but then after a pause as I nodded and got up to leave, he took my hand and asked if I would come back and audition for the great Jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell for his new Jazz program instead later that week. "Who?” I wondered to myself? For at the time I knew very little about music, most only about the performance of it. But sure, what was one more drive over the hill to the city in order to miss another day of class back home to get to sing some more for whoever he was, why not.
Getting into UCLA 's Ethnomusicology Department’s World Music Studies emphasis on Jazz Program coined as the first Jazz Vocalist to be admitted into the newly designed four year program was really wild to me. Though kind of par for the course in my pave it yourself kind of style, secretly, not only did I not yet know who Charlie Parker was, I really didn’t even know how to read or write music much at all. This seemed a funny feat - actually getting into UCLA, but not so outlandish after all, as the rest of my independent music career and other performing ventures would unfold in similar fashion throughout the years to come. To call UCLA directly before the acceptance letters even printed just to learn the outcome so one could plan their future was equally unheard of, but when Al Bradly answered my call and replied “we don’t normally do this as we are not allowed to say anything until the acceptance letters are sent out, but how would you feel about being the first Jazz vocalist to enter our new four year program here at UCLA this fall?” was a pretty amazing experience deemed accomplishment considering I had a long road ahead of me in learning how to write essays let alone a music score.
But ultimately attending UCLA made the most sense due to the fact that my father was still struggling in his third year with malignant melanoma, a cancer, rarely if ever survived. And after eleven surgeries and treatments he had throughout my senior year of high school, which seemed unbelievably unfair to all those who knew and loved him, ultimately, he left us with loving memories and a legacy of lessons for all of us to remember him by as the years would pass on without him.
He would die my freshman year of college, a huge loss for everyone.
The Lot of Losses
My freshman year of college proved to be a collection of equal gains and losses, but the death of my birth mother never getting to meet her and just before my dad’s death was another loss added to the list. I was to learn just months before losing him, that my birth mother of whom I would now never know, was to die on the sidewalk from heart failure due to a cocaine (in crack form) overdose, something she got into just after my adoption took place and never again was to kick until the end of her life.
I was just 17 when my adoptive parents were informed by the state that my biological mother, Mary Lou, had died. Since at the time my adoptive father was quite ill himself, my adoptive mother waited until I was 18 to tell me, hoping I would be emotionally able to handle this information and its consequences. When Mary Lou died, I learned that my biological parents had not been in anything resembling a traditional relationship. My biological mother conceived me in her 30s while my biological father was just 16: they were surrounded by a life of drugs and crime, and they both struggled with relationships to mental health, what I call the mental wellness spectrum. Both of them were wards of the state, my birth mother for her mental wellness challenges and my birth father for his lifestyle of drugs and petty crime thus neither one of them could be my raising parents.
Upon her death was yet a third court case wrapped around my life, the first being my adoption case, the second between a foster home and my now parents, and now this the third which closed in on the fight to allow birth children to receive an inheritance delegated to them despite the sever of adoption if written into an estate, which is exactly what my birth grandmother, when my birth mother was to pass after her, had done for me. Apparently the two lawyers that paired up from Denver and Los Angeles were quite a team because they not only won my rights for me, but also rights for other future adoptees to come.
The Biological Quilts that Weave
Just after Mary Lou died, I was privileged to meet many of my biological mother's side of the family and they have been good to me ever since. I always felt so fortunate to connect with my parts of my maternal side which has deeply enriched and fulfilled a part of me. Hearing from most everyone to never delve into the paternal side had me honor that for most of my life, for I understood them, and loved them for their awareness and honesty. The time came however, one day much later, for me to make a personal choice, and so alone to learn of my birth paternal side, eventually I did just that.
But several years prior to the reunion story with my birth father, came the story of my birth mother though she was no longer here to tell it, and I met my maternal birth aunt, her sister first. After all, it was due to her generosity and honesty that reconnected me with the family and the family estate all together and I appreciated her and the opportunity to learn about her so. Though it had been the will of my birth grandmother and my birth mother that I be written in as a bloodline member, it was my birth aunt who saw it through upon my birth mother’s death and that she cared so much about my well being touched me deeply. She wasn’t able to adopt me when I was little for her own reasons, so years later, when she thought of my best interest in the next best way she could, I was forever thankful for her. That small inheritance not only helped me create and release music and tour independently for quite some time, it also afforded me the creativity to interior decorate my first home which later I would share with my birth father upon reuniting with him while guiding him towards a new life in transformation. The irony of the combined support from my adoptive and birth families for my stability and well being to then lend me the foundation to help someone else was truly profound.
Prior to my first encounter with a biological relative, I consciously made an effort to ensure my birth aunt of my stability and life experience after having learned more detail of my birth mother and the dynamics that surrounded her in the court documents I received upon her death. In hopes of establishing a deep new connection I started to share myself with her by writing letters. Though she had already moved at the time from the address typed in the court papers that I had, my letter somehow ended up at her new address anyway and set forth a whole reunion story of its own though it was slightly short lived. Our first trip in person was amazing. We connected on so many things all the way to having the same perfume and taste in teas but despite all the holes she filled in for me about my birth mother and our our family tree showing me her fine art and telling me stories, I could sense her uneasiness for all the rest that began to surface which was meant to stay safely stowed away, hopefully forever. And, ultimately, and common for some biological reunions, it was too hard for her to continue to know me for all that I reminded her of. It took me many years, but eventually, I came to understand, I reminded her too much of my birth mother and of where my birth father came from, and sometimes the pain of the past is just too much for the present.
My first deep long term connection with a blood relative since my birth mother’s passing was with my second birth cousin Paul. He was the son of my birth grandfather’s sister and a quintessential Morantz. There aren’t enough pages to describe the connection we have but he did tell me more than once he didn’t know whether to love me or hate me for having saved his life. At the time we were introduced, Paul was struggling with a rare form of red blood cell aplasia that had stemmed from a cancer treatment that took away his particular cancer at the time, but left him with a list of other ailments to manage along with the depths of his mind for the rest of his life.
A survivor of a rattlesnake bite placed in his mailbox by the cult Synanon that he single handedly dismantled, left him with post traumatic haunts throughout the rest of his days. Between that and the overwhelming desire to pen his life stories and feats, for he had a lot to say and an even deeper need to be loved, he was still often met with disappointments, and that too would weigh heavily. But he inspired me so much and all I could do was admire his mind for the law and language it bared, for his stories and charisma, and his ability to follow duty as a lawyer and realize his dream as a writer, persevering with pride and passion alone.
The first weekend we spent together upon our introduction, the reunion of sorts set up by my birth Aunt for us all to meet was electric and exciting. Through her I met the most amazing birth relatives. My cousin Amanda and second cousin Shelly are extremely dear to my soul for the many memories we’ve shared, the sisters I never had but always wanted. So many to mention, so many to love ... Chaz, Steven and Greg, Jen and Jeff and so many more. Each and every one a notch in my heart and a huge piece of life I love so dearly; I love you more.
What they each added made me more whole and more full. As it came to a close and everyone dispersed back to their lives when I left his home an initiative uneasy feeling lingered inside. Later that night I impulsively drove back to find no one coming to the locked front door though the lights were on and fortunately a window open, for when I glanced inside, I saw pale Paul laying on the floor with blood escaping his nose and mouth in a pool by his face. This was the one and only time I ever had the confidence to break and enter by crawling through that window that night and I’m glad because that return afforded me many more years watching movies, listening to stories, making meals for, and spending time with with a man I was fortunate enough to know and would come to unconditionally love no matter what as an extended bloodline of my own, someone who was a sense of family, and a sense of home.
I am My Own Country
By this time in my mid twenties, my main focus was on performing, recording, and making music which had become a daily pastime.
I’d always worn hats and had many to rotate from for myself and to get my message in music out there in the world whether it was acting as artist manager, booking agent, publicist, promoter, tour manager, record producer, songwriter or artist ... you name it, I did it for myself, paving my own way thanks to Donald Passman’s book “All You Need to Know About the Music Business” and the pioneer of independent female musicians who I admired most at the time for the path that she paved, none other than Ani DiFranco.
My simple misunderstanding that she ‘did it all on her own’ had me playing every role Passman outlined and defined until I myself was developing professional recordings, booking my own tours both nationally and internationally, setting up the routes to get there and back, and running the promotion for them to boot literally all by myself. In the early days while pounding the pavement playing what was called the circuit on little indie tours to get my music out there, I’d hub out of New York annually even though I lived in LA, my first gig ever there at The Bitter End opening for a rock singer Watt White who’s leather pants split wide open mid show, “welcome to New York City bare bottoms up”, as he rocked it anyway like a champ, one of the greatest performing singer - writers I first met. I’d spend my days researching artists’ posters to find all the music nights, open mics, and songwriter festivals that were happening back then and would jump on the Chinatown bus north or south singing through my Taylor guitar frequenting Club Passim and the Burren in Boston, The Bitter End, CBGB’s, and Sidewalk Cafe on Avenue A in Manhattan, The Point just outside of Philly and the World Cafe, traveling onward south to Baltimore performing for the locals there before expanding to the Carolinas, Atlanta, Alabama, Nashville, then up to Detroit, Chicago singing with American Babies, then touring with Bump, opening for Kaki King, and becoming a tweener opening second sets for jam bands like Kernel Bruce Hampton and Moonshine Stills thanks to Seth and his promotion company Shimon Presents, opening for Jennifer Nettles at Eddies Attic after winning their songwriting competition one year, and supporting local touring acts in Atlanta because of Mike over at Smith’s Old Bar after having already had some brief noted history opening for Left Over Salmon back on the West Coast by chance.
I met so many supportive and amazing people and musicians on the circuit back then, and one of the first was Hugh McGowan, a songwriter in Somerville, Ma who started and ran a music night, a staple circuit stop, at a pub called The Burren and would be one of the first to give me a chance on a big stage. It would take some time for it to hit me how sad I would become when he was to suddenly pass many years later despite our keeping in touch, for never having said exactly how much the small moments in our music friendship over the years that we shared actually surmounted to so much. And I didn’t realize how much he would be missed and how much I had forgotten about my first few years on the road and how much those early years shaped me to be the musician I was today until he was gone.
As the minutes dragged on from receiving the news of that great loss, moments of memories from the early days of my music adventures began to surface with reminders of the first generation of those that really helped and supported me out there. Hugh made room for me at the Burren when I showed up year after year, having me play my songs and piano with his and then opened up his home to me without fail come rain, shine, or snow - every. single. time. He became my first road music mentor and why I made sure to drive to Boston from New York to explore Boston’s music city as my guide, showing me the ropes and took me around, lending me his car, and showing me how he got his music sound. “Hugh had fostered a wonderfully inclusive environment for performing and listening to live music (in Somerville, MA, but really for musicians to connect somewhere musically in the US). All were welcome. You could witness somebody perform in front of an audience for the very first time, and get your mind blown by a veteran troubadour that just happened to stop by - all in the same night. It was a space to hone your craft, or just simply share in the experience over a few pints. The stage was sacred. Hugh made sure of it. Of the opportunities and community that Hugh created, it’s impossible to quantify the “ripple effect” for everybody else.” (Jesse D, songwriter Ma). Despite struggling with deep dark addiction for most of his life, he was the light on the stage. Having started and ran one of the longest lasting music nights in the US of its kind helping so many, upon Hugh’s passing it really became the end of an era.
He was the kind of guy who would jump in the car and come back to New York with me and my friends to perform his songs on a gig of mine just to be along for the ride, and even made sure to be in the audience years later when I graduated to touring opening act supporting Loudon Wainwright and then Luka Bloom, always treating me like a solid musician even when I was still learning and made me feel like I was somebody worth stopping for to meet and listen to.
What a privilege it is to hold such history with someone for over twenty years, and knowing me that’s no small feat. Most of all his loss to addiction woke me up to remember to always to stop and call friends and family to let them know how much they mean while making sure to cherish every minute in the moments that you have together.
Hugh one was among an early select few that were a huge part of the start of my journey as a young musician along with Ken and Paul from The Bitter End and my best friend B in New York, Matt Smith from Club Passim, Jesse Lundy from The Point and Ralph in Philly, Jim in Baltimore, and Seth out in Atlanta who put me on festivals and shows with local musician there to name a, all of them helping me significantly to develop when I first stared out on the road.
Inspired by my friends, I even attempted being a promoter sometimes with small venues inviting in local singer songwriters from all the neighboring cities to specific regions like New York, Philly, and Atlanta to perform together under a concept called Art of Expression featuring music from Hugh from Boston, Regina Spector and Joie DBG from New York, Liz Clark from Denver, Tim Kaye from Baltimore, and many others on the circuit at that time, which was multi-media performance program that included music, art, film, and spoken word poetry with merchandise for sale so we could cross culture our arts and share fan bases. Then during the day I would volunteer with Musicians on Call in each of those cities singing in hospitals. I met a lot of great people many of which who became life long good friends.
Over the course of the next twenty years this would continue on and expand in over 14 countries regularly extending my music hubs internationally mainly out of France, the Netherlands, and Italy for overseas performances. And with some help from a savvy independent booking agent Inge, my international Spanish professor and then fast friend from when I had studied in Spain for college credit Birgit, and local promoters in Holland, I started supporting larger touring acts like Jon Allen, Giovanna, and landed my first opportunity supporting Luka Bloom and getting some solid radio play there. And at the same time, Italy became a second mainstay for me after meeting musician that first summer I studied abroad and staying in touch which led to returning many times and recording a vinyl record with Nicola Fantozi, touring and performing regularly there with guitarist Paulo LaGanga, making more amazing memories while performing through England, Scotland, Sweden, and Australia. With the continued help of friends and musicians in each city and country translating for me along the way, this afforded me performance platforms to share my message of resilience through music straddling international cities as well as both coasts in the US and central US namely Denver while casually meeting a birth cousin here and there, running an indie showcase in Austin for independent artists called Spin it Indie during SXSW all the while ultimately releasing over eight recordings all on my own. Waiting for no one to tell me I could or to help me with what I should, allowed me present moments I could never take back for a team I always wished I had but that I never did. I was used to surviving so creating a way to be was nothing new for me.
Waiting for no one to tell me I could or to help me with what I should, allowed me present moments I could never take back for a team I always wished I had but that I never did. I was used to surviving so creating a way to be was nothing new for me. Additionally, I supported myself with several jobs to acquire as many revenue streams as I could to keep myself afloat. Through licensing my music, the sales of my CDs, teaching music, English writing, and Jewish studies, excelling specifically in Jewish music education and aiding students in areas of special needs and what I would call unique learning abilities classified as special, often defined as students on “the spectrum", I learned to be an educator and a shadow for autism basically connecting all the skills I had acquired through UCLA to earn a dollar or to volunteer with any non profit that correlated with my interests including homelessness, foster care and adoption, incarceration, youth forced into prostitution, addiction, or spectrum solution solving for a difference when I wasn’t on the road touring designing rehabilitation and expression programs for many along the way. A hybrid of stable home and road life was a perfect medium for my balance.
For the World at Large
Yet, after settling home for a while upon meeting my birth cousin Paul, I set in to assist him with his bi-monthly blood transfusions and lifestyle for a few years in order to spend as much time with him as I could simply because he too, was my family. Over time as Paul got more independent again, I started to get hungry for the road and starved for music with a purpose larger than myself and wrote a song called Listen to Your Heart coming up with an idea to partner with the non profit America's Blood Centers the independent entity version of the Red Cross, and created a tour concept called Blood Driven inspired by Paul and his situation, an irreplaceable extension of my own bloodline. The goal was to raise awareness of the value of donating blood to save a life ... well, three actually and to try and inspire people to do it.
This also would be the advancement of my fascination with documenting, as part of the tour I designed that crossed over into seven states had me visiting and performing at blood centers and blood drives while people donated blood, then visiting hospitals to perform for those receiving blood, and finally to interview and performed live for those who gave blood asking why they chose to and posting video clips of all the perspectives and what was to happen when someone donated blood and the other would received it trying to inspire all to encourage people to “Listen to Your Heart, Donate Blood, and Save a life.”
With that, I offered a free download of the song to anyone who donated and posted about it as a creative way to generate a ripple effect and inspire others to make a difference in the world by doing the same. To my surprise it actually worked and people were getting the blood they needed and entertainment to boot. So as far as documenting and sharing went, this became my next favorite pastime to music, capturing what is in the moment for a present in the future.
When the Inside doesn’t match, Underneath there Surface
It is also true though that despite being creative and driven in solution solving for survival, my personal life was often deeply challenged as my moods were sometimes overpowering and overwhelming for myself and others when communication breakdowns happened. Anxiety and panic would surface when I didn’t even see them coming. When off stage and not singing, communicating and expressing myself would become some of the hardest struggles I faced. I did not, until later, connect these challenges to the possibility of my attachment and processing styles or perhaps lack thereof due to my early childhood development. The best I could do was work hard on myself to manage these qualities and give my all to my relationships and friendships as I have always considered life to be a wonderful gift despite its challenges. I’ve often wondered if the horrors and terrors of traumas and abuse that we subsequently sense or remember are actually part from a biological biochemical makeup of sorts delivered to us through genetic DNA receptors perhaps claiming some of them to our ancestors. Maybe Heaven is a place I’m running from. And as history has a way of simply repeating herself, perhaps it could be that awareness is keeping us awoke for the healing of it all.
Maybe this is why I ended up at and graduated from UCLA to begin with. Maybe this is also why I took up painting for a summer, completing over 40 paintings having never done so before. And perhaps why the search for a stable partner to create a family has been part of my life’s work. Maybe it was all to complete the things my birth mother never could.
For in search of love, real true love that is, shame will never bind us.
VI. CONCEPTION, CAMI BABY
“The sun had just set on a Friday night in early May ... after getting as high as we all could, we jumped into my brother Jimmy’s dark green pontiac and raced down ...”
“The sun had just set on a Friday night in early May and my older brother Jimmy, Ted and Sam Nafores, and I were hanging out on Garnsey street in Santa Ana in the outdoor patio of our mother’s then rented house. We had about seven or so places in over the course of time because they were just so hard for her to keep up I guess. Eventually she stayed in the Long Beach area until the end of her life with the help of her brother, my uncle, but even that place turned into a pretty full space with people coming and going around the clock, sometimes twenty or so sleeping around and about. I didn’t much mind though, that’s just how it was.
The air smelled of weed and hash that night in as we popped whites washing them down with Budweiser beer. The older boys were talking something fierce about making music and getting some nice hot guitars of our own. After getting as high as we all could, we jumped into my brother Jimmy’s dark green Pontiac and raced down to a known music shop in a neighboring town that we frequented before already knowing when they would close and what they had for us to take. Laughing and still drinking with music blasting as we sped down the road, we were ready to load up on some good music gear we had always wanted. This wasn’t our first time making a small hit on a shop and it certainly wouldn’t be our last, but it was my first time with my brother and his friends, and it felt a thrill to creep up to the store, blast open the windows of the shop apart with a bumper jack from the trunk, and run out with a bunch of guitars. One last slug of the bud light and out of the car we jumped managing to steal several guitars, and 3 basses, the 335 Gibson was the one I remember still to this day, before screeching away in the night.
Jimmy would later get caught due to the serial number of one of the guitars but as for me I was scott free. As the year unfolded, my drug habits grew and so did our non violent robberies. Between hits of drugs and hits to mini marts and gas stations, we shared girl friends, pipes, and crimes the same as the fancy would dine together.
Years later, I came to discover last place my mom ended up living in by a note on the door to her old one left by a neighbor for me to find when I got out of prison for a stint I was just done doing. See about that and all, I’ve been in over 14 prisons around and about California, mostly for drug charges or for not stoping my using them like the state kept trying to make me do, but man if you had to live around the people I did all the time, you’d do them too. It was just better that way and besides I wasn’t much hurting anybody else, I was doing exactly what I wanted to do.
More often than not since I didn’t much have the money to buy what I needed, my brother Jimmy and I would get oregano from the store, mash it down, and make fake hash from it to sell on the street for our heroine habits but even that gets you in lieu of sales of a controlled substance and you can land three years for that, even when it’s fake. And we did that a lot. Overall, I’ve probably spent about twenty years on and off in jails and prisons until I met my daughter in 2016. And man she really did the impossible helping me get off probation, getting me gr and food stamps, a real doctor and inhalers of my own, later a mailing address and an SSI check, eventually having me stay around and about with her, and that’s not even all of it. She didn’t have to, but she stopped, turned around, and went back to help her biological dad.
But the two lives are totally different, hers that she shared with me and mine as it was, and when I met her I knew I’d have to choose between my life and drugs and her and her way of life because the two wouldn’t ever mix. She wouldn’t ever be safe. And I wouldn’t say one is even better than the other really because I had my own kind of freedoms living on the street and I likeded it out there.
Sometimes I even got myself caught to go to jail for a bed and the food and a place to play my guitar. And I was the only guy in mainline that was allowed to play music with all the races. Miss Bagley even put me in charge of Mr. Scully’s music studio in Chino State Prison minimum yard. Most of the stuff was broken when I got there but I had gotten good with wiring and tape to get electricity from local gas stations since we didn’t have much electricity around the outside area, so fixin up the prison studio and helping people record stuff was the thing to do. I loved it.
But before all that, starting as early as I can remember, I’d mostly spend my time with my older brother Jimmy hanging around with the neighborhood kids or hang around my dad’s younger girlfriend Mary Lou because that’s just what we did. Back in those days you gotta remember we all hung around with each other, doin the same things together, even my dad. And then sometimes he would go away for a while and it would be just me and Mary Lou. Many times when we would sit around smoking cigarettes and drinking pots of coffee between laying around with each other, she would talk about really wanting a daughter. And we all knew my dad was done with that after already having so many kids, he even found a way to make sure he couldn’t have anymore, but she always wanted to have a child.
It was around the holiday time again as December began to creep in and it was almost my 17th birthday. I had already played with Mary Lou and my brother’s girlfriends before as we all shared in casual pleasures because that was the way life was back then. It was no big thing. Just weeks before Christmas, while I was still on the run from having left the Riverside Boys home a few months before without severing the time I was supposed to, my dad asked me again to stay with Mary Lou a few days while he went in for his routine quarterly check-in at Metro State Hospital for his wavering mental state. Mary Lou was used to me and always happy to see me. It seemed as though I was her favorite as she was warmest to me in our private time together. Even though she was my father’s younger girlfriend and partner, Mary Lou and I had our own story of sorts, me being an excitable 16 year old looking for anything to feel good by and her being almost 15 years my senior in age but almost the same in the way we would relate to each other so we would just make out and pet for fun. The night we went all the way wasn’t supposed to be by my dad’s rules, but it was a secret plan between me and Mary Lou. She had wanted a baby real bad and I was happy to have a good time while possibly giving her one. I told her right away I wouldn’t be there to father anyone as I was already on the run again for leaving the boys home, for safe cracking theft, for still skipping school, and for doing the drugs I wasn’t supposed to do and all and it was only a matter of time when I was going to get caught to serve the time I owed. We both knew it, but it didn’t stop our night.
The following morning I went off on the look out for some whites and stole a car to get around only to get caught by the police a week later in a wild car chase that had all the cops first from Downey and then from Fullerton and then from Anaheim all in on the wild chase. It even made the news. I sped and sped in the Malibu classic I had stold and was so close to getting away. Just as I was about to exit off the 605 freeway off of the harbor offramp though, the car finally ran out gas and spun out of control. My instincts kicked in to bend around the steering wheel in a fetal position just under the dashboard which protected me from impact from hitting the guardrail allowing me to jump out and continue running on foot. Soon I would climb over a fence and come upon a hot water shed that I thought I might be able to hide in as a get away only to have it yanked open by the Fullerton Police force with their fully loaded guns drawn at my face. The police later said they actually thought they were chasing a dangerous race car driver not a 17 year old kid. They also told me was pretty lucky not to get shot. That was the end of the line for me that time running from the law but not the end my running from the law by any means at all as I would keep doing that for most the rest of my life until I was to one day meet my daughter again.
I was sentenced for two whole years in the California Youth Authority for all the crimes collected against me. By this time, my life didn’t have any set plans as I was used to getting taken in. I didn’t see Mary Lou again for over two years but while I was serving my time in YA, a counselor told me they were transferring me to the local Jail in LA to meet with officers there on the account of a baby being born to a Mary Lou that might be mine.
Back in those days, having sex with an underage boy was as serious a crime as it is today and since Mary Lou was already classified as a ward of the state due to still being in connection with Metro herself as well as about fifteen years in age my senior, she was looking as some serious charges for having made a baby with me, an underage boy, even though to me I was a man.
When I first met with the officer it was to be determine by a paternal test if I was the father or not but of course I already knew. At first Mary Lou had said it was my older brother Jimmy’s because he was of age and they had been together in some form before anyway so it could of been true, but in the end I knew it was mine and that was that. They took me from the jail to some tall building in the Hollywood Hills looking area but I couldn’t be sure, then marched me up a few flight of stairs and down a hallway to show me the baby girl. The officer let me hold her in my arms for about 2 minutes and I knew this was my daughter. What a trip so it worked. Besides the test came back 99% positive for me anyway. After taking the baby out of my hands, she said to be that I wouldn’t see the baby again and walked me back down the hall towards the rest of my life.
A court case ensued as to who could raise baby Cameron which was her name. Baby, baby Morantz, or Cameron as intended, though to me, she was my daughter Cameron Morantz Logsdon. But none it mattered because no matter how many people in my family tried to get the courts to let us keep her, it wasn’t long before the baby was to be taken away, and taken away eventually for good.
Now Mary Lou was classified as a ward of the state for most all of her life when I knew her, but really by this time she wasn’t as much out of her mind as people thought, at least not on a regular basis, but it didn’t matter anyway even though she was free from living Metro by this time because my father had been able to convinced her dad and the hospital to release her to his custody under his wing and care and that’s pretty much what he did. They became partners. She supplied financial stability and he provided a sense of family though he could not give her a child for the vasectomy he had. They had something between them though and as far as I knew of her, she was my dad’s younger girlfriend but someone cool from time to time to know and lay around with even later after the baby was gone. A lot of people might say she was schizophrenic and out of her mind and sure there were times where this proved to be her state, but more often she just hung about in her large flower dresses or lay around in bed, only really unstable when pushed to far to be. She loved to make a ton of coffee, smoke her Salems, and only took her prescribed meds back then. It was later when I partied around with her and my dad for years. We were all like partners really, everything was cool. In fact, I don’t have a nothin negative to say about Mary Lou at all. See but it wasn’t until much after she lost Cameron that she began taking the hard stuff with us. It would be five years later when she would try crack for the first time while I was in jail doing a county lid after a short stint with cocaine and from then on, she never looked back.
Anyway, when the judge asked me about the baby and how it all came to be because it was my older brother Jimmy who was in question as the potential paternal father at the time, it would of been pinned on him for the rest of his life had I not spoken out despite my age, and there was such a thing as a blood test by then to match the dna molecules and there was also my testimony. Not only that, I wanted it known that I was the father because I was proud of what I did, what I did worked, I helped Mary Lou make a baby. When asked, I told the judge it had been my idea to make sure Mary Lou wasn’t gonna get in any real trouble which cost me mainline access and put me in the hole for 12 months. The hole for anyone who doesn’t know is a disciplinary area of solitary confinement. That’s just how it was. And it wouldn’t be my last time there either, for years later I would be thrown in there again for refusing to take psychiatric drugs they were trying to make me take when all I was trying to get was the drugs I wanted to get high on and I knew those other pills weren’t really meant for me. I remember also asking the judge during the case for my daughter to release baby Cameron to my mom and my grandma, even Mary Lou wrote the courts for that, which also almost worked, but in the end we all lost her anyway.
The next I heard, my mother, my grandmother, and folks on Mary Lou’s side all didn’t quite qualify to take the baby in so it was left undecided and she was placed in what was possibly going to be temporary foster care. By now my mother had a new set of kids Ramona and Steve by her latest boyfriend Ramon, though still married to my father for financial reasons mostly, and our fourth younger brother had recently died from an accidental self caused hanging at age 12 so the fight to keep Cameron in the family was extremely desired but a loss nonetheless. I was told that though for a while my grandmother kept tabs on where Cameron would move, showing me once a photo of her in a foster home yard on a red tricycle, she would soon after be moved several more times from foster home to foster home somewhere in the Bellflower and Downey areas not terribly far but then she was lost for a while and that put a scare on everyone especially Mary Lou’s Dad Lou Lou who finally stepped in and insisted on a stable adoptive family like his far away, and so it was, Cameron was gone and I was back to living my life.
I had just been offered heroin for the first time right before getting caught stealing that car anyway, and I was ready for my new future that I was just about to fix for myself.”
VII. YOU COULD OF BEEN MY FAMILY
The prison in my mind has guarded memories chaining my heart from the terrors that is truth for as long as I can remember only it’s the likes of you that remind me. There are several significant men ... You may not like this chapter ...