In the future, there will be a bullet train from Silver Lake, Los Angeles, to Joshua Tree in the Mojave desert, so that people like Jenifer Palmer Lacy may easily travel, paintbrush and accordion in hand, gazing out the window, dreams and memories rushing in, from one home to the other, and tap into both environments. Dreams, in the form of art, music and poetry, may then feed themselves back into those disparate Southern California communities.
Houston native, transplanted to Los Angeles, before finding her refuge in Joshua Tree, Jenifer Palmer Lacy is a multi-disciplined artist, specializing in capturing, in songs and poems, in paintings and in finely-cut paper (papel picado), the stark geography of the Southwest.
In the simple terrain of her piece "Western Motel," she borrows the realist perspective of her subjects, painter Edward Hooper and his wife, Josephine Nivison, as they travel to California:
With a king-size bed and a picture window / A swimming pool and a neon sign. Just another western motel / With a postcard view and a book of matches; He drew the room and the way the sun fell on her forehead...
But when it's check-out time, it's best to get back behind the wheel, to "forget the name, they're all the same...Another scene on the road to California."
Getting behind the wheel has a certain healing property. Moving on is, sometimes, the only choice, even when the past is inescapable.
"There, in the mountains shady, sheltered angles, she drew her own dream houses in the sand, simple, but fine, and she would be the builder..."
The mother of two, Jenifer discovered her poetic muse around the time that she suffered the loss of her eldest child, Charlie. Jenifer, with her trademark braids and wide-brimmed hat, is a person with three, distinct identities.
"The person who was Jenifer Palmer Lacy," she explains, "is a painter," showing for 25 years in small venues from Texas to California.
Her alter ego, Lalo Kikiri -- the crowing rooster -- is the elusive Tejano poet of unspecified gender, 'born' in the 1970's, at the birth of the modern feminist movement, choosing not to self-identify as male or female when submitting her work to publishers. "I worked on one poem for 8 years, I was kind of stuck, but once that one was finished, I went on to write more."
Throughout the seventies, she was Mandy in the Morning, at Houston's Pacifica station, KPFT. "Nobody showed up before 9 a.m. and of course, there was no security. So there I was, in this giant, locked up building," where some amount of paranoia was justified, after a second bombing by enraged audience members.
"None of the staff knew how to run a radio station," she says. So Jenifer volunteered to do the 6 to 9 a.m. slot. "I did readings from great books, 'The Magic Christian,' 'Year of the Whale,'" and she played what she calls "nostalgia music," from the 1920's through the 1950's, along with Jonathan Winters and National Lampoon Radio Dinner.
"At 7 a.m., I read the news, cold, off the AP wire. Sometimes I couldn't help but cry, reading the number of casualties, in Vietnam, and in Northern Ireland. '17,000 US troops...' and I'd just have to stop to catch my breath."
A friend was working for the local ABC affiliate, where dozens of records were thrown away on a daily basis.
"It was a vapid wasteland of music at the time, on popular radio. The Carpenters. I would go through the trash and find John Prine or Jimmy Buffett."
Jenifer's appearances at the Open Mic's in Joshua Tree are comprised of her own story-songs, and those of her kindred spirits, the literary songwriters, such as Townes Van Zandt.
Among the many hats Jenifer has worn, she led the Runyon Canyon Festival in the 1990's, where artists transformed the historic Hollywood ruins with giant prints hanging from trees. Her most widely seen work may be the monthly calendar's she used to cut and paste, old school, with an exacto blade and rubber cement, for Landmark Theatres. "Everyone had a Nuart Calendar on their refrigerator at one time."
Her skills with the blade came in handy when learning the art of Papel Picado from public arts mentor, Berta Sosa, at Arroyo Seco Park.
Her blog Travels Without Charlie tells about a road trip that she and her daughter Laura took, retracing Steinbeck's route cross-country.
In it, she deals with the death of her son.
"Charlie was my good old boy. Charlie was my darling. I called him brown-eyed handsome man, young dude, rooster, and booger and stinker and fortunate son. We were virtually inseparable when he was growing up because we had few friends out in California and his daddy was on the road a lot with bands."
Subtitled, "A Suicide Survivor's Road Trip," the blog follows the trail that John Steinbeck traveled with Charley. Jenifer was accompanied on the road trip, by Laura, also a poet, who began reading in public at age 6, in the Basement, a "coffee house" located in the Methodist church on Alvarado Street, in Echo Park.
"I started writing poetry real young because of my mom," Laura says. "My first reading was at that age, too, which was almost a disaster. Ha. I started writing songs at age 12." Laura is following in each of her parent's musical, storytelling footsteps, with her band, Alice and the Rabbit.
Jenifer's husband and Laura's father, a sometime piano tuner known as Doug Legacy, co-founded L.A.'s seminal Zydeco Party Band and has played accordion with artists ranging from Billy Joel to Jackson Browne. He also sang in Todd Rundgren's A Capella choir. Currently, Doug plays with the Pirates of the Caribbean band at Disneyland, between studio sessions. This allows Jenifer, a retired teacher with the LAUSD, to drift between Silver Lake and Joshua Tree, on her own schedule.
"There are quite a few poems about (Charlie) that may be collected under the title 'The Charlie Papers.' 'Rocks in my Pockets' was written for Charlie." Charlie died ten years ago and shes says it's still hard to talk about it.
But she can write about it.
Here's a piece of her work, "Two Mile Road."
We'll climb til the tears are behind us / And there's nothing ahead but the sun / Walking with rocks in our pockets / Til the last of the daylight has gone.
Jenifer, who began drawing the face of Skull Rock in Joshua Tree National Park (formerly, 'the Monument') in the early 1980's, currently has work showing in the Joshua Tree Saloon and at the 29 Palms Art Gallery.
Top Image: 'Goudi Wall' by Jenifer Palmer Lacy.
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