2006-09-27 14:33 in /life/memories
We were driving out of LA late last night and my mind was wandering here and there. I don’t often listen to music radio, but I had KROQ on to try to keep me energized and I heard them announcing that Guns N Roses is headlining Inland Invasion this year.
My first thought was about just how awful that sounded. I don’t want to slam GNR; they were the greatest of the hair bands and they rocked my world. Twenty years ago. Then my mind wandered and thinking about GNR led to thinking about Slash, and thinking about Slash led to thinking about Daniel Levy.
Daniel was a boy I grew up with. We were never super close friends, but we lived in the same neighborhood and went to the same elementary school and hung out pretty frequently. Once I started going to a private middle school we didn’t see each other very often though, and then my family moved to Europe for three years and we lost touch entirely.
During those years, Daniel started to hang with a bad crowd and get in trouble. He did badly at school and spent a little time in juvenile hall. When I returned to Maryland for my last year of high school, he was enrolled at the county vo-tech school for most of his classes. I think I only saw him once at the normal high school and didn’t even recognize him at the time. He had grown his black curly hair long and let it cover his face, affecting the look of his idol and doing it so well that the idol’s name became Daniel’s nickname among his friends. Of course, like his idol, he also played the guitar and had started to learn to build guitars in his woodworking classes.
During that year, I had an advanced independent study in German which included a TA-like role for the German I class. There was this freshman kid in the class; really friendly, but not the best student and unfortunately bent towards misbehavior. He hung out with a lot of the bad kids in the school, and you always wondered why a kid with such an innocent face would run with that crowd.
On day the kid came into class looking especially sad and I asked him what was wrong. He said that Slash had died. I asked, “What, did he OD?” and he said, no, it was a car crash. I sort of shrugged and thought it was a shame, but didn’t understand why he was so upset over a rock star. Class got started, but about 10 minutes later it was interrupted by the PA system. The principal came on, saying she had unfortunate news. Daniel Levy and two other girls had been killed in a car accident the night before.
Later I heard more of the story. Daniel had taken his parents’ car without permission (he was still 15) and picked up these girls to hang out. At some point, he lost control of the car and it slammed into a utility pole. None of the three was wearing a seat belt. There was no evidence of alcohol or drug use; just lack of experience to blame.
Daniel’s death was the first time I really had to confront my own mortality. I’d experienced the deaths of a grandparent and great-grandparent, but this was a kid just a couple months different in age from me, a kid I’d grown up with, and there was nothing fundamentally different between us. In the following weeks, I spent many hours awake at night, in terror, assimilating this experience.
My father was buried in the same cemetary as Daniel, so I sometimes walk by his grave and leave a flower among the packs of smokes and guitar picks, and I feel glad to see that he’s still remembered by others as well.