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I brought a psychic to Rick James's grave

From left Rich Pawelski, Carol Ruth, author

It’s 3pm on a breezy October day and I’m standing in front of funk legend Rick James’s grave with a couple of psychics. I’m here with psychics Carol Ruth and Rich Pawelski hoping to channel the spirit of Slick Rick because... well I suppose there is no good reason, but happy Halloween!

I’ve never actually visited the popular celebrity gravesite, so earlier that day I decided to scope out Rick James’s final resting spot.

James, who once referred to himself as “an icon of drug use and eroticism,” died exactly 10 years, two months, and 10 days ago of a heart attack. Doctors identified about nine drugs in his system but could not conclude that any one drug was the deadly culprit. He was laid to rest in Forest Lawn Cemetery in August of 2004.

Using my expert navigational skills I follow a Google Maps screen shot to his grave site.

I pull up to the approximate location in my car and walk the rest of the way through the green cemetery to James’s lavish tombstone. It’s the biggest tombstone in sight. It weighs approximately two tons and it’s black as black can be. An image of James sporting a leather jacket and braids, holding a Rickenbacker bass guitar and looking as badass and sensual as humanly possible is carved into the front of the stone. The image was inspired by the cover of his platinum selling 1981 album, Street Songs. Under the image are a few lyrics from an unreleased song that read “I’ve had it all/I’ve done it all/I’ve seen it all/it’s all about love/God is love,” perfectly summarizing James’s wild, and at times reckless, life.

I stand at the foot of the grave taking in the scene. It’s a sunny day and the massive black stone is hot to the touch. Fans have left a few pennies, a few small bouquets of flowers, and a single orange at his grave. The flowers and the orange still look pretty fresh. I’m not sure, but I presume the orange may be a reference to the now infamous Chappelle’s Show sketch, which bore the legendary line “I’m Rick James, bitch!” The sketch begins with Charlie Murphy describing James’ “aura” as orange. Auras are a psychic thing, so there’s that.

As I turn around to return to my parked car I notice a man sleeping on the ground not five yards behind me. I hadn’t noticed him on the walk up, as he was perfectly shaded by a rectangular headstone. Perhaps he was there to soak in the remaining traces of funk that James had left behind. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to ask the man why he was asleep in a cemetery not five yards from Rick James’s grave because, really? That’s creepy as fuck; I got out of there immediately. Back in my car, actually speeding through a cemetery now, I decide that it is time for the psychics to visit Rick.

Ruth and Pawelski are kind of like mentor and apprentice. Ruth has been in the business for 48 years, although it took her time to realize her psychic abilities. Pawelski is younger, but a natural, who with some guidance from Ruth has formed into a “powerful medium.”

“People don’t really stay by their graves,” Ruth tells me as I return to Forest Lawn a few hours later, with her and Pawelski in tow. “They stay by people they know,” she says. This should be fun.

Pawelski wears a mustache and goatee. Today he’s got on a backwards ballcap covering his pony-tailed hair. He doesn’t really fit the stereotypical picture of a psychic; Ruth looks and acts more like a psychic, if that makes any sense. She’s a few inches shorter than Pawelski and has red and grey hair. She talks quite a bit about her past experiences as we make our way to James’s grave. Her forte is past lives.

“I knew when I was seven that I had lived before,” she says. “There are no written rules as far as past lives go, there could be thousands of years between lives. You could have been in Rome in a past life, or on another planet.” I kind of feel like I’m on another planet.

Ruth claims to be clairaudient and clairvoyant, which means she hears and sees things, dead things. Usually the dead rematerialize in her presence to warn a loved one (i.e. a client of hers) about something, good or bad. Maybe her client is about to be hit by a meteorite from the Andromeda galaxy or maybe they’re about to hit the Powerball jackpot. Apparently, only the dead know these things.

It takes a lot of energy to reemerge as an apparition, she says, so ghostly voices and sounds are more common.

But, wouldn’t it be nice to see the apparition of James’s flowing braids swaying in the funky October wind? Maybe we’d be lucky and he’d fully materialize and lay down a groovy bass solo only to vanish back into his vault like Beetlejuice. Yes, this could happen.

If someone is killed in an accident or a tragedy they might not know they’re dead, says Ruth, who’s first husband she says “blew up in a plane.” She says he was around for seven years, unaware of which plane of existence he was residing upon. Pawelski is no stranger to tragedy, either. His brother was killed in a car crash and also stuck around for a while after his death, for about a year, he says. They inform me that children under seven will see apparitions more often than adults because they’re more pure. “There is no money involved, it’s all happiness for them,” says Pawelski. Ruth, who also has extensive experience doing astrological readings, adds that people with water signs—Cancers, Scorpios, and Pisces—are more likely to experience psychic dreams or visions.

Unfortunately this conversation blocks her focus and she isn’t able to pay attention to spirits who may inhabit the cemetery around us at this moment.

“Watch out for the geese shit,” I say as we approach James’s head stone, not reasoning that it would make absolutely no sense for a psychic to step in geese shit. #Facepalm.

“Rick James! I was just thinking about him yesterday. I used to party with him.” Pawelski says as he realizes where we are.

Ah ha! “Perfect luck!” I think in my head. What are the chances that my psychic would have known Rick James in a previous life? Well, Rick James’s previous life at least. Slim, quite slim, I’m sure.

“The last time I saw him we burned down his gazebo,” says Pawelski. Ah ha! Now I’m on a lucky streak: A psychic AND a pyromaniac. What a find. Surely this would make for an interesting read.

“What happened to this guy? I didn’t even know he was gone!” Ruth exclaims.

I explain that he died approximately 10 years ago and Ruth says she feels his death had something to do with his stomach. She says it was unexpected. She says he may have been with somebody at the time of his death.

“I feel heart problems,” Rich says in a way that makes me flinch toward him. He was not referring to himself, though, but Rick James, and he’s right. James did die of a heart attack; unfortunately a simple Wikipedia search could reveal that detail.

“Wow here is a connection,” Ruth says. “His death date is the same as Rich’s birth date!” “WOW,” I scream in my mind, trying to contain the overwhelming feelings of psychic synchronicity pulsing through my body.

At that moment a mysterious man walks up to take some photos of the king of funk’s funky headstone. Standing directly in the man’s line of sight, I experience a sudden flash of psychic energy and I am able to read the man’s mind. “Get out of my way,” he thinks over and over. I step to my left and the psychic channel closes. The man snaps a precious photo of Big Jimmy’s tombstone.

A groundskeeper lets loose an otherworldly blast of hose water, which mists over us as the mysterious man glides away. We follow suit.

As we walk away, I ask Ruth and Pawelski how it feels when someone like me brings them somewhere like this in the hopes that they reveal something mystic.

“We know what we were up against. We’re veterans. I’ve been doing this for 48 years. He’s a natural and he’s very good. Some people are like him, they just know things.”

After bringing these psychic mediums to Rick James’s grave, I’m still not sure what kinds of things they know, but as we walk further from the king of funk’s final resting spot I feel his presence stronger than ever, and he’s definitely giving me the finger.

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