Originally published in the Jackson Hole Daily, Nov. 29, 2005
By Jim Stanford
Chris Blank, the DJ whose disco and hip-hop dance parties made him one of the leading musical figures in the community, died Sunday of injuries sustained in a car crash.
Blank, also known as DJ King Weep, died of internal bleeding at Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello, Idaho, after the pickup truck he was riding in flipped on an icy patch of Interstate 15. He was 36 years old.
Blank played music two or three nights a week at various locations in Jackson Hole, notably Disco Night at the Stagecoach Bar in Wilson. He also composed music for movie soundtracks and recorded CDs of his dance mixes.
A New Jersey native who moved to Jackson in 1992, Blank was well known among youths, having volunteered at the Teen Center of Jackson Hole and worked at the Mountunes music shop and The Board Room of Jackson Hole, a skateboarding and snowboarding shop.
The diminutive DJ was one of the most outsized characters in Jackson, with his dreadlocks, many piercings and low-rider cruiser bike he would pedal around town.
His death shocked the community, as friends bemoaned the loss of someone they described as a gentle and thoughtful soul.
“He touched a lot of people in this town,” said Rocky Vertone, his friend from high school and fellow DJ. Vertone and Blank were partners in the entertainment company Four4 Productions, which they founded in 2000.
Vertone recalled his friend as someone who tried to be positive in all aspects of life, advising people to be “righteous” to one another. “He was a righteous dude, for sure,” Vertone said.
Blank’s brother, Craig, is a veteran Jackson Hole News&Guide employee who works in prepress and advertising photography.
The accident occurred at about 10:30 a.m. Sunday. Blank and a friend were returning from a trip to the Brighton Ski Area near Salt Lake City, his brother said Monday.
Blank was in the front passenger seat of the Toyota Tacoma. About 20 miles south of Pocatello, Idaho, the truck slid on ice, went off the road and flipped multiple times, Craig Blank said.
Chris Blank was not wearing his seatbelt at the time and was thrown from the vehicle, his brother said. He suffered a broken pelvis.
When authorities responded, Blank was conscious and tried to get up, his brother said. He was transported by ambulance to the hospital, where doctors detected internal bleeding and attempted surgery but could not save his life, his brother said. Blank died at about 4 p.m.
The driver, who was wearing a seatbelt, was unhurt, Craig Blank said.
There will be a viewing from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Valley Mortuary, followed by a memorial service at Snow King Resort.
Blank’s acquaintances said the town will not be the same without him.
“Weep was one of the kindest, nicest people I’ve ever met,” said Mountunes owner Suzi Woodward. “It was my privilege to call him a friend.”
This was the follow-up story in the weekly Jackson Hole News&Guide on Nov. 30, 2005:
Rock on, DJ Weep, grievers say
Blank’s death in car crash stuns young people of community.
By Jim Stanford
Chris Blank overcame a lot of hardship in his life. Friends said he had survived so many crashes, broken bones and mishaps that they thought he had nine lives.
That’s why those who knew Blank were so stunned upon hearing that the 36-year-old DJ ran into an ordeal Sunday that he could not overcome. After being ejected from a pickup truck that had slid off the road and rolled, Blank broke his pelvis and died in an Idaho hospital of internal bleeding.
On Tuesday, friends stacked flowers atop the bench a stone’s throw from Pearl Street Bagels where DJ King Weep, as Blank was better known, used to hold court on so many afternoons, sipping coffee, chatting and flashing his signature hand signal to those he recognized passing by.
It seems as if every community resident under the age of 40 knew Blank, who cut an instantly recognizable figure with his dreadlocks, nose rings and bony frame. He mixed dance music at bars and parties two or three nights a week but was known as much for his positive, almost Zen-like personality as for his hip-hop and electronic beats.
“There was something about Weep,” said his friend Suzi Woodward, owner of the Mountunes music shop where Blank worked for five years.
“He never had a bad word to say about anybody,” Woodward said. “Even people who did him wrong, he tried to find the good in them. I think we could all learn a lot from that.”
His friend, fellow DJ and business partner Rocky Vertone had known Blank since the two were in high school in New Jersey. “He had a rough life,” Vertone said. Both of Blank’s parents died by the time he was 17. He suffered skateboarding and motorcycle crashes that resulted in a broken knee, ankle and elbow.
Then came the harrowing ice climbing accident near Dubois in 1994, when Blank broke his shin and spent the night alone in single-digit temperatures before being rescued the next day.
Blank always managed to pull himself out of these jams, Vertone said. Only recently had he finally put the ice climbing nightmare behind him. He had a girlfriend and had fallen in love.
“He was so happy,” Vertone said. “He was really coming of age.”
Blank’s girlfriend, Karla Steinmeier, was driving the 1999 Toyota Tacoma while he rode in the passenger seat Sunday. The two were returning from a trip to the Brighton Ski Area near Salt Lake City. At about 10:30 a.m., on an icy stretch of Interstate 15 about 20 miles south of Pocatello, the truck slid, went off the road and rolled multiple times. Steinmeier, who was wearing a seatbelt, was unhurt.
Blank had been wearing a belt but had not fastened it after the two stopped for a bathroom break, said his brother, Craig. When authorities arrived, Blank was still battling, trying to get up like so many times before, his brother said.
He was taken to Portneuf Medical Center, where doctors attempted surgery to stop the internal bleeding but were unable to save his life. He died at about 4 p.m.
As he drove toward the hospital, Craig Blank thought of his brother’s past accidents and the agonizing recovery he had made following the climbing fall. “The kid cannot survive another six months of rehab,” he recalls thinking.
It was simply time for him to go. “He used nine out of nine lives,” Craig Blank said. Given the painful recovery that would have awaited him from the broken pelvis, “Maybe death is not such a bad thing,” he said.
The two brothers lived together in Brooklyn after their parents died, before they moved to Jackson Hole in the early 1990s. Craig Blank is a veteran Jackson Hole News&Guide employee who works in prepress and advertising photography.
A former bike messenger in New York City, Chris Blank was not one to slow down, even after being hit by a car, his brother recalled.
“The kid definitely lived life to the fullest,” Craig Blank said. “Just ’cause it was a whiteout doesn’t mean you can’t drive down to Utah and go skiing. That was the kind of attitude he always had.”
Chris Blank brought hip, urban sounds to this sleepy Western town. In 1995, he, Woodward and others formed the company Real Productions and began throwing rave parties at the Elks’ Lodge and Snow King.
Around that time he began spinning tunes for the nascent Disco Night at the Stagecoach Bar in Wilson, an event that has evolved into one of the biggest parties of the week each Thursday. Blank also composed music for movie scores and released CDs of his dance mixes.
Through his music, Blank helped create a niche for young people who didn’t fit in with the cheerleader and jock set, Woodward said. “He brought a lot of people together that might not have otherwise had the chance to meet,” she said.
Although raves and hip-hop conjure negative images among some parents, the essence of the music is about peace, love and understanding, and that’s what Blank tried to promote, she said.
Blank volunteered at the Teen Center of Jackson Hole and taught kids how to be a DJ. He told a News&Guide reporter earlier this year that he wanted to keep teens away from drugs and help “connect them to life through music.”
Marc Loebe, a Teen Center board member and owner of The Board Room of Jackson Hole, where Blank worked as a clerk for four years, said Monday that if Blank was here, “he would say something to us now. He always said, ‘Rock on.’ I think that is what he would say.”