The first time I heard about Slab City, California was on a blog post at Birds Before the Storm earlier this week. Magpie had been out to visit what apparently is the closest thing America has to a Wagenplatz and had taken some lovely photos of the squatted desert caravan community. It looked pretty neat.
The second time I heard about Slab City was today, when spacebook told me that a dude I went to high school with had been found dead in the hot springs there. “Thirty-year old Karl Weikel had been submerged under the water for approximately 14 hours while others unknowingly soaked in the hot springs right over him,” reports this article. “The cause of the death is yet unknown, but an autopsy is scheduled for today. Karl was reportedly on drugs and alcohol when he went into the hot springs Friday night.
“However, he had also been the target of several beatings a couple nights before,” the article continues. “No two people seem to have the same version of that night’s events, but it’s rumored the attempt to burn some one out of their trailer is related to the altercations. Because of the beatings he received, the sheriff suspects foul play might have been involved in Karl’s death.”
I didn’t know Karl particularly well, hadn’t seen him since graduation back in double ought, but I still remember him clearly. He was the class clown, he was in a lot of my classes, and if my memory hasn’t been completely distorted by all the years of whiskey, he was part of the AP Bio trip our class took to the Virgin Islands where we had a pretty ruckus good time. (Can you fucking believe that my high school had a bi-annual trip to the Virgin Islands associated with the AP Bio class? High fives for Mrs. Peterson for organizing that, where ever she might be.)
If I was in the United States right now I would go to my mom’s house, dig out a bunch of old photos and post a few in a little nod to his memory from across the sea. I don’t know if we would have gotten along today, but he was someone I would have liked to run into again sometime. Last I had heard, he seemed to have become a pretty interesting fellow. Either way, I hope that however he went, it wasn’t in a lot of pain.
A birth on the horizon, a death in my graduating class—it’s launched me into a philosophical mood. Death is almost always a sad event, particuarly for those close to the deceased. And yet, I always think to myself, it’s “the next adventure,” as Gandalf says in Lord of the Rings. It’s an innate part of life, a confirmation of the connectedness of everything and everyone as we are returned to the earth that fed the plants and animals that sustained us.
So it seems like an appropriate moment to share one of the newer Black Diamond songs with you, Around My Grave Sing Songs of Joy. It’s become my favorite song of ours, and it’s about thinking about death in a less “it’s the end of the world” and in a more “cyclical, intensely sad, yet intrinsic to our very lives” sort of way. Unfortunately, we haven’t recorded it yet. So instead I’ll share the lyrics and raise a glass to Mr. Weikel. Hope you enjoyed your thirty years, Karl.
around my grave, sing songs of joy // black diamond express train to hell 2011
Blackbird, fly so high. But lay my bones deep in the ground, lay my bones deep in the ground.
Hey little brown bird, blood red chest, dead girl lying, crimson lips.
When I die don’t say no prayers, cause there ain’t no heaven, and there ain’t no hell…just sing.
Elderberry summer wine, berries’ blood will course through mine.
When I’m gone don’t shed no tears, just raise your glass, your fist, your voice…and sing.
Maple maple, sugar tree, branch above and root beneath.
When I die my cradle be, between rock and root I’ll sleep…and sing.