B O D Y Performance Text Editor Ben Williams remembers artist Dennis Palmer, a musician, painter, and performer in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Palmer died this past weekend at the age of 55.
Dennis was an artist and a friend whom I had the great fortune of meeting when I was young and at a very impressionable point in my own development as an artist. I saw The Shaking Ray Levis, the legendary duo that he created with Bob Stagner, at Chef’s Underground, a tiny soul food restaurant in downtown Chattanooga tucked in among the shiny banks and insurance companies. It was early on a sunny day, and I was in college right down the block at UT Chattanooga, excited about writing and theater and music, and I had never seen anything like what these two guys were creating off to one side of a small, literally underground room: an explosion of sound and psyche, Bob on the drums, Dennis on an elaborate synthesizer setup, occasionally breaking into song and gesticulating. The small lunch crowd was rapt, and at one point an elderly lady stood up near the front and started dancing a kind of flatfoot jig. I was very conscious of my mind being blown.
Over the years, I saw them perform many more times and, for a hot second, even collaborated with Dennis and Bob on a couple of theater and film projects. I came to know them as friends, and I learned things from them that are not easily taught: trust in myself, listening to my own instincts and inspirations, and most importantly a deep, meaningful sense of an artistic community. Chattanooga, Tennessee was not then and is not now an easy place to live and work as an artist. But they both did. Bob still does. And their non-profit organization The Shaking Ray Levi Society has given that city a brilliant artistic culture for the last 27 years. And they made me and many other young folks feel like we had a home. I’ll always be grateful for that and for their immense, generous spirit.
Much love to you, Dennis.