SANTA MONICA, Calif.—Local singer, songwriter, and pianist, Jenni Alpert (a.k.a. Cami), was born in the Los Angeles area, and she still lives and works there with her biological father, Don Logsdon.
However, this is not your typical father-daughter story.
This is a story about adoption, homelessness, addiction, and mental wellness, and about compassion, family bonds, and living a creative life—very creatively. And, of course, music.
Alpert spent her early years in various foster homes, where singing and playing piano was a source of comfort for her amidst the uncertainty.
When she was adopted out of the foster care system at the age of four, her loving adoptive family continued to support her musical aspirations, encouraging her to play the guitar, and later write and record songs as well.
Recently, after becoming an accomplished singer-songwriter, Alpert sought to connect with her biological father, who she discovered was homeless, addicted, and running from the law. Yet they shared a profound bond—as it turned out, he was a musician too, just like her.
“Our relationship started with a spark and has been electrically magnetized ever since,” said Alpert.
If you’re thinking this story sounds like it could be a movie, it is. A documentary film team thought so too and made the short film “Homeless: The Soundtrack” about their unusual reunion and relationship.
Directed by Emmy- and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker, Irene Brodsky, and produced by Chockstone Pictures and Vermilion Films, the documentary premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, receiving a special jury prize, and it was awarded best short film at the 2018 Nantucket Film Festival.
The film addresses very real issues seen in Los Angeles every day as the city tries to manage an explosion of homelessness. According to the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Authority, in 2019, approximately 50,000 to 60,000 persons may be found homeless on any given night in Los Angeles County, with more than 44,000 on the streets. The official 2019 count of 58,936 homeless people is an increase of 12 percent over last year.
“Homeless: The Soundtrack” offers a very intimate and human glimpse into what can otherwise become merely overwhelming statistics.
The Epoch Times interviewed the vivacious Jenni Alpert on a late summer afternoon in in Santa Monica about her experience making the film and her life with Don Longsdon.
After Alpert decided to embark on a search for her birth father, to learn more about him and her biological bloodline, she hired a private investigator to help.
The PI confirmed that her father was in fact still living, but for most of his life he had been in and out of prison for petty crimes related to addiction. He had also chosen homelessness out of a sense of freedom.
“I decided to stake out the area where he lived for a while before engaging to learn more. After a few months of reconnaissance and preparation, I went to the area, or what I called ‘in the field,’ with the intention to locate, meet, and observe my birth father up close, to learn his lifestyle, cognitive behavior, learning capacity, and social skills—to simply get to know him once formally meeting him,” Alpert explained.
During that time, they slowly became acquainted with one another, and it was then that he revealed to her that he was in fact running from the law due to his failure to follow the regimented probation protocol. Out of concern for her safety during their time together, he decided to turn himself in, serve the time owed, and then continue to get to know his daughter on safer terms.
It was during the Jewish High Holy days when Logsdon was serving the 90 days he owed that Alpert met a pivotal person who would take her story to the next level.
“I ran into a very interesting looking and slightly familiar-seeming man who caught my attention. In making small talk with him in an effort to place him, he joked that people usually either thought he was a rabbi or homeless, and that was why he may seem familiar. At that I replied with a laugh and said, ‘How funny, I just recently reconnected with my birth father who is actually homeless and serving some remaining time in jail after choosing to turn himself upon our reunion,'” she said.
He responded by saying, “There’s a movie here.” Shortly thereafter, he and his wife proceeded to produce the short documentary “Homeless: The Soundtrack.”
It quickly became apparent that Logsdon was even more comfortable in front of a camera than he was sometimes behind the scenes in real life.
“We had such a blast of a time that when so many amazing new experiences began pouring in once the team for Homeless: the Soundtrack contacted us via meeting Steve and Paula Mae Schwartz that fateful break the fast, we were ready for the adventure,” Alpert said.
A brief phone conversation with Irene Taylor Brodsky, the selected director for the documentary, quickly turned into scheduling the shoot. The film journey unfolded with some impromptu interviews during the next two weeks.
Alpert then waited outside the jail at 6:00 am on an October morning to “scoop him up” after Logsdon was released from his time served.
“From that day forth, we have been inseparable,” she said, “Now it’s all about discovering new possibilities together and getting his life in order. We play music together, do fun activities together, meet appointment time requests for probation, secure GR, food stamps. We had to get him released from the prison system altogether, researching and exploring future options for Don, so he could have a different shot at life.”
She praised her adoptive mom for being so wonderful and supportive. “It has only added to the amazing unique experience that is our story because my family tree is ever expanding and growing and that is the most incredible piece of it all.”
Alpert said her long history of serving and volunteering seems to have prepared her for reconnecting with her father. Starting in high school, she volunteered for Meals on Wheels with her mother, then participated in several organizations serving foster youth while attending UCLA.
“I worked closely with Lois Lee at Children of the Night, guiding foster youth in how to write and record a song at Hillsides, working with women experiencing Homelessness at the Downtown Women’s Center, independently writing a rehabilitation program for the Los Angeles Men’s Correctional Facility, approved and implemented by the Los Angels Police Department, and more,” she said.
All these happened before finding, meeting, and learning the intricate details about her birth father and his unique life.
The experience of reconnecting has profoundly changed both of their lives. Alpert’s father no longer suffers from substance abuse, and he’s rejected crime as a way of life, while Alpert herself has gained a healthy relationship with her father.
“Finding my birth father was like finding my inner calm. It was like all of a sudden I had guidance from a male figure I may of craved since the passing of my father to cancer almost twenty years ago and the best friend I always wanted,” she said.
“[He’s] sharing in a whole new life with me, performing music and speaking about our story and transformation together to both homeless demographics performing for and speaking to Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, and Recycled Resources for the Homeless and serving food at Hollywood Food Coalition, as well as those interested in changing the system.”
While some wonder what kind of positive influence a homeless, addicted felon could provide for her, Alpert said her father has brought more wisdom than others could possibly imagine.
“My life was always full of people, music, audiences, adventures, love, support and life experience, but now my life is full of something additional, something so profound and beyond simple words to express it in total. For the short of it, I can simply say it’s fuller, the fullest it’s ever been. I am happier now and more fulfilled. And I am forever grateful for the added love I have in my life now, because each and every day I can feel myself evolving into more of the woman I hope to continue to become, simply because he has come into my life as a staple guide. Between my mom and my birth father at both my sides, I now feel I have the wings to fly.”
As for how others might learn from her experiences, she said, “The things I really hope people take away from our story are that of unique living, creative approaches, patience in partnership, intelligent preparation for the plethora of possibility, and realistic expectations—if having any at all.”
Alpert hopes that people will understand from her story that we are not all one and the same, we are not all exposed to the same opportunities or possibilities, and that change is not something that can be forced upon someone.
“Transformation is completely possible if we let it unfold, just as the delicate wings of a butterfly from its original cocoon come to recognize the path that best suits their way. As an octagon that fits in no boundary box, rather that sees pastures of parameters, I hope our biological reunion and transformation story offers hope to the different and strength to the seasoned, for one thing is true in this world, we are all in it together,” she said.
The father and daughter now perform and share their biological reunion story together as a duo under the name Cami and Don.