Black Oak
Slaughter Beach, Dog

A song that took me a year to understand. TW: SA, Abuse, Murder

Slaughter Beach, Dog has been my top artist for the past couple years. Someone a few years ago showed me their song, “Black Oak” from a more obscure album. They had me listen to all seven minutes and as soon as it was over, asked me:
“What do you think it’s about?”
I was a little startled. I didn’t know, it was a confusing song. It felt like there were a few different meanings going on. I didn’t come away from it with a message, really. I said I didn’t really know.
“Well, I think it’s about a sexual assault.”

I was now, honestly, even more startled. It was an aggressive assumption for a song that was a dull spoken-word beat.

 I said I supposed it could be. The artist was a young man, but this song was clearly intended to be written as a story rather than something about the artist’s life. I came back to the song a few times, and for some reason always found myself stumped. It was a standout song in the album, and didn’t necessarily fit with any of the other songs. The few reviews written about the album even pegged the song as confusing, dark, and out of place. Only half the song even contained a story – the rest was all instrumental.

“Deep inside the country, he went out for some airAmid an awful night of eating household objects on a dareA tea towel, a handful of refrigerator magnets, and a watch.

He staggered through the mudroom, got sick out in the streetThe towel in tiny pieces, magnetic letters neatAnd now arranged in such a way that they should spell his lover’s nameAnd time was of the essence.”

“The engine turning over, the summons in the shopHe could not recall the number, but he knew it was a lotHis belly warm with drinkHe leaned into the freeway in the night.

Investigating exit ramps, waiting for a signScanning up the A.M. band, sliding down the vineHe felt his stomach turn again and pulled off at the parkShe was standing in the black oak, carving poems in the bark.”

About a year later I revisited the song. It wasn’t exactly one I ever would find myself listening to casually – it was long and dreary-sounding with a spoken-word cadence. A solemn drumbeat, dull guitar, and a persistent tambourine were all that filled it.  

And for some reason, it clicked for me. This was a story about someone murdering their abuser.


And now looking back, I am even confused as to why such a simple, startling explanation seemed reasonable. “Bloodied saber drawn”? The female character had been holding a knife in the previous verse. In the verse after this, someone says to her “We found him at the black oak, we dug him up last night.” 
It had been explained to me empathically that “She’s afraid of speaking out, because this often does cost women their career.”

And while I think this is a valid concern on a societal level, she’s definitely more worried about the “murdering and burying” part.

Perhaps my mind was primed to label the man as an abuser, because the few discussions of this online don’t line up with what I interpreted. One person thought it was a drunk driving incident, and the woman was his wife that was just mad at him. There’s a theory that something he had eaten had been poisoned. 

And I think a lot of my interpretation had to do with preassociation, and how the drunk man had been described – he was already blacked out, eating random objects, and on a whim of seeing his lover’s name – getting in the car and speeding away. This was someone who was erratic, desperate, and had little regard for himself or others. While there wasn’t anything specifically that could be pointed towards him being a bad person, the combination of these traits he was labeled as already painted the picture for me.

Planted in the café, her bloodied saber drawnMarking up the manuscript, hard against the dawnShe turns on the recorder and pulls a nervous breath before she speaks“7 A.M. Tuesday, January 9Realizing this may put my career on the line.”The café man approaches, with a corded phone and tells her“It’s for you.”

“Somewhere in the static, a disembodied voiceThe circumstances changed, she will not have a choiceThe line dies, crackles soft, then sputters back to life“They found him at the black oak, they dug him up last night.”

Understandably whe I saw Slaughter Beach, Dog in concert last year, I was especially concerned to see this song on the set list. This wasn’t a fun listen. It was dark, and right in the middle of the set. 

But, nonetheless, the band did play the song. The beginning lyrics picked up an intensity that could only be shown in live music. After the story was told, a 4-minute instrumental breakdown commenced. It was just about as emotional, hyped, and intense a composition that could be played in a dive bar in central Illinois. By the end of the song, I was stunned by how enthralling the whole performance had been. When I turned around to my friend after the song ended (as we both expressed concern about this song being in the setlist), I could have mistaken them for someone who had just seen a biblically accurate angle float down onto the stage. 

This likely isn’t the last time I will talk about a song by this group. They have an affinity for writing songs not about themselves that are impressively compelling, if truthful and dark.

I would also like to hear what you all think! I have already talked about my bias, so I would be interested to hear a different interpretation.

receipts for the emotional weight of this song