Honeydogs frontman Adam Levy reveals the heartbreak of son's suicide

Daniel Levy, 21, took his own life in January

Honeydogs frontman Adam Levy reveals the heartbreak of son's suicide
Colin Johnson

Noah Levy is driving along East Lake Street on the second Thursday in January when he gets the call. It's his eldest brother and longtime musical collaborator, Adam.

"He said, 'Daniel attempted suicide. I'm leaving work right now,'" Noah recalls. "We got to talking, and he was kind of frantic. It was almost like...it was inconceivable that he was going to die."

For Adam Levy, leaving work means stepping away from his role as executive assistant to McNally Smith College of Music president Harry Chalmiers, but also from the Honeydogs, the local rock-Americana act he formed with his drummer brother and bassist Trent Norton in 1994. A good chunk of the year ahead has already been meticulously scheduled to support the March release of the band's 10th studio album, What Comes After, but the 47-year-old dad has to help his troubled son first.

Daniel Levy at Christmas, 2010; with Adam at high school graduation, 2008; with sisters Esther and Ava, 2011
courtesy of Adam Levy
Daniel Levy at Christmas, 2010; with Adam at high school graduation, 2008; with sisters Esther and Ava, 2011
Adam Levy at home with daughters Esther and Ava and nephew Isaac
Jayme Halbritter
Adam Levy at home with daughters Esther and Ava and nephew Isaac

Location Info

Map

First Avenue

701 1st Ave. N.
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Details

The Honeydogs play an album-release show for What Comes After with Rogue Valley and Farewell Milwaukee. 18+, $10-$13 ($1 from each ticket goes to Four Winds Hospital), 6 p.m. Saturday, March 10, at First Avenue; 612.332.1775.

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Levy soon boards a plane from Minneapolis to North Carolina, then another flight to Albany, New York, arriving around midnight at the Saratoga Springs home of his ex-wife, Jennifer Delton, a history professor at Skidmore College. Their 21-year-old son Daniel is hospitalized—not his first episode of the sort—and in a coma on life support. Sometime earlier that day, Daniel had attempted suicide—a calculated effort to take his own life meant to preserve his organs, but turn off his racing mind. The doctor says Daniel won't improve from a vegetative state.

Levy calls his parents while end-of-life decisions are settled. He posts a Facebook message that begins, "It has been indescribable. I wish it upon no one. Words fail to give real shape to Daniel Levy's tragic exit from our lives...."

Over the next few days, Levy updates his profile photo with snapshots of his family, including a curly haired boy with twinkling eyes, sometimes with glasses, sometimes not. All told, Levy spends a week at Delton's home.

"It was the equivalent of an old Jewish shiva where we opened the home up so that Daniel's friends, and her close friends, could come by," Levy says. "Most of the time it was the two of us talking."

Levy sleeps in his son's neatly organized basement bedroom, reads his books, examines the artwork on the walls, wears his clothes, checks the browser on the computer, and tries to understand.

"My way of processing his death was trying to get as close to him as I possibly could and surrounding myself in his things," Adam says. "I think he'd been spending time going through his life. Setting up his knick-knacks and spending more time alone. There was a three-week period when he wasn't getting back to his friends. In his phone there were all these messages asking, 'Dude where are you?' He was really shutting down."


"I was coming home from a graduation party, and my stepdad said 'It's a boy,'" Noah recalls. "All these big things were happening: I graduated from high school, moved out of the house, and Daniel was born."

Delton gives birth to Daniel in Minneapolis on June 16, 1990. As a young child, his curly hair is golden, and for the first year, Levy and Delton raise the boy together. From then on, everyone stands around and watches this "campfire child."

Everything changes when Delton receives a scholarship to pursue a Ph.D. at Princeton. Adam and Daniel initially join her on the East Coast, but Adam's ties to the local music community bring him back to Minnesota. They end up splitting soon after, and share long-distance custody of their son, who's still in diapers—summers and holidays with his father, the school year with his mother.

During the first year of this separation, Levy pens a mid-tempo slice of alt country called "I Miss You," which eventually (in a re-recorded version) becomes the band's biggest hit. It was so big, in fact, that it eventually got turned into muzak.

"Days are cold and gray/It's hard to be away/But I guess that's what I meant/When I said 'I do,' and you said it too," Levy sings forcefully with only a tiny hint of the gravel that exists in his voice today. "I can't get used to this/No matter how hard I try/But if it goes on too much longer/I'll probably die."

Levy characterizes his early songwriting as "very personal, confessional songs," and he confirms that the lyrics were autobiographical. "That song was definitely influenced by the cross-country situation I was in."

With Adam on guitar and vocals, Noah on drums, Norton on bass, and an assortment of other players, the Honeydogs share in-town bills with Run Westy Run, Glenrustles, Polara, the Jayhawks, and others.

They strike up a friendship with their now long-time producer John Fields, a founding member of the Twin Cities' funk act Greazy Meal, now better known for helming albums for the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, and the Backstreet Boys. Fields records the Honeydogs' first demo, and his uncle's label, October Records, puts out the band's self-titled debut in 1995, and Everything, I Bet You the following year.

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1 comments
Elizabeth
Elizabeth

Thank you, Adam, for being willing to talk about this deeply personal pain.

 
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