Rock Lit is where Hive discusses the intersection of literature and music.
George Lewis Jr., the New York musician behind ice-cold new wave act Twin Shadow, wrote several songs on his debut album Forget that paid homage to literature, including opening track “Tyrant Destroyed” and B-side “Savannah Howl.” On his most recent disc, Confess, which came out in July, the musician stepped back from external influences and focused on writing music with impactful simplicity. Meanwhile, Lewis penned a few pieces of his own literature, including a short story titled, “The Night of Silver Sun.” An excerpt from that tale appeared in the ‘zine Our Show, and it turns up again in his music video for recent single “Five Seconds,” which was partially based on the narrative. The nearly six-minute clip opens with a poetic voiceover that mirrors the tone of the musician’s prose, and while the stories are not the same, both center around Lewis’ love of motorcycles.
His discovery of literature was unconventional — he says he didn’t even read a book until he was 13 — but in some ways set him on the path toward the creation of stories and ideas. Hive talked with Lewis about not reading a book until he was 13, writing nonfiction, and the screenplays he’s got on his iPhone.
Did you like reading as a child?
I had a huge resistance to reading. I had a lot of teachers of who embarrassed me because I read really slow. I had one teacher who really used to pick on me about it so it made me kind of intimidated about reading. I remember doing book reports and just making up the story and hoping that the teacher hadn’t read the book. I remember the first book I ever wrote about was called The Car [by Gary Paulsen] and it was about a kid who builds his own car from a car kit left behind by his grandpa. I read the summary and then made up the story completely from my own mind. I got away with it. Until we read Lord of the Flies. I tried the same trick, but I hadn’t realized that in order to be a teacher the one book you have to read is Lord of the Flies.
You never read any of the books?
I don’t think I read a book until I was 14 years old. Maybe 13 years old.
But in theory it was still a literary experience because you were writing stories.
Yeah, exactly. My dad was a teacher he had a very educated way of speaking. He’s a sophisticated guy in terms of language. So everything I would write was based on things I’d hear him say. We also had this cool picture dictionary when I was a kid and I really liked that. I used to read from that. So I guess that’s one book I read!
“I think people should just leave their education in the toilet for the most part.”
Once you actually started reading books was there a certain type of writing you gravitated toward?
I went through the typical thing that most artistic men go through, which is all the beat poets. Jack Kerouac and all that. I really gravitated toward that. To this day I have a huge appreciation for it and think that unfortunately sometimes Kerouac is not regarded enough. I think he’s one of the greatest writers, but he’s caught up in this beat poet thing, which he didn’t want anything to do with. By the time I was 17 or 18 I was really caught up in that stuff and starting to understand it. I read Lolita around the same time, and that was incredible. I read Bret Easton Ellis after that and I tried a lot of the classics. Things like Catcher In the Rye, Catch-22.
So you like reading now?
What’s interesting is that I love reading now, but I don’t love any one writer to the core. It’s weird. There’s always something missing from every person I read. I feel the same way about music, actually. I don’t really listen to many current bands. I don’t listen to much music at all compared to the average listener, and I think that’s because most of my time is spent creating that thing.
Are you writing much literature yourself?
It’s certainly a hobby of mine and something that I’d like to start taking really seriously in a couple years here. But finding the time is really hard, you know?
And you wrote a short story that’s connected to your new video, right?
It was written while I was on tour in Australia in January. The video came out last month. I really had no intention to make a music video out of it. It was just a bit of writing that I did for fun and this guy published a little bit of it in his magazine. Last year I also wrote a seven-page piece about buying my first motorcycle for Chuck Magazine, which actually … I prefer the writing in that. I’m very new to fiction. I prefer writing about my life.
How much of a correlation is there between your story and the video?
It’s very, very loosely based.
What books have you been reading lately?
In my iPhone I have some screenplays like Unbound Captives and Pulp Fiction. Then I have a few plays like Othello, Keith Richards’ autobiography and some poems by Michael Ondaatje.
Is there one particular book or piece of writing you would recommend to fans of Twin Shadow?
Eric Green is a young poet in Berlin, who is just lovely with words. He is a beauty.
Do you ever find that things you read make their way into your music?
On the first record there’s a song called “Tyrant Destroyed” and that title comes a book called Tyrants Destroyed [by Vladimir Nabokov]. Things like that will come up. I have another song called “Savannah Howl” that is about the book The Subterraneans [by Kerouac]. But I’m not into that kind of writing anymore because that’s for smart idiots. I think people should just leave their education in the toilet for the most part. Books you’re supposed to read are never going to give you what they should and the things you discover on your own those are things you should keep for yourself. I get annoyed with overly booky musicians, musicians who really love to quote authors or steal from authors. Nobody needs to know how smart anybody is, people just need to feel connected and feel loved. That’s way beyond education. I think it’s worth people not reading if it means their hearts are more opened.
Twin Shadow’s Confess is out now via 4AD. Stream it below: