Image from TwinShadow.net
Dear George Lewis Jr. (aka Twin Shadow),
The main thing I can’t forgive you for is that every time I hear your voice with all of its melodramatic angst and longing, and those boomy atmospherics, synthy drums and shimmery keyboards, I’m instantly transported to Newark, New York, circa 1987. The parking lot of the gym where I sat on the curb and waited for my friend Kim to finish aerobics class. I’m all torn tights, black eyeliner and leather jacket, hunched over my journal. And across the lot two boys on skateboards swerve lazy arcs toward me and away again.
John Henderson was the one I liked even though I mostly talked to his blond and obvious friend. Between us, John and I probably said enough words to fill one journal page, if that. We were both shy, insulated by our loneliness and our chatty friends. But in our minds — I believe this — we were all strobe lights and white-hot dance beats, the one-two pulse of wanting and not having. Wanting to be understood, wanting to scream, wanting to get the hell out of our small towns, wanting each other and not saying it.
Or maybe I was alone in my wanting. You tell me, Twin Shadow. Clearly you’ve found the portal back to those feelings. The sharp demand, the shrill fear that to want and not have equals utter annihilation. The vivid longing for things that can not be named. The breathless rush to grow up, get better, stop slicing away the despair with shoplifted blades. The longing to replace emptiness with something better than stolen Vodka in a cold garage — and the knowing that there’s nothing better than bad booze with best friends.
Knowing there’s nothing better than five minutes sitting on the bed of a boy who can’t even meet your eyes. To dream of slow dancing is better than all the actual fast dances, all the downhill skateboard races, all the leather jackets — even the one stolen by the greasy-haired jerk who was supposed to replace John Henderson and could not. You know the one I mean, Twin Shadow.
But if we don’t grow past the shuddery anguish of being 15 and desperate over a boy with sad eyes and slow smiles, if we don’t shut down that particular ache, stop revisiting that singular wound, how can we get on? There’s so much to do and the world asks us to be adult about things. To buy groceries, pay bills, turn in assignments and return phone calls. No time for 12-page letters about nothing, about everything.
That’s what happens to everyone, right? You get some perspective. You think maybe someday you’ll drive back past his house and he’ll just happen to be there, visiting his parents or something. You’ll stop the car, get out, hug him. The substantial feel of him — the familiar softness of a flannel shirt; the unfamiliar self-assuredness. You think it’ll hurt just a little to hear he’s married, has kids. That back then he thought about it, too. Slow dancing. The breathless, sweaty throb of it. The woozy chemical reaction that still flares between you.
You can still close your eyes and see him move in a fluid arc, weightless on wheels. Your index finger, chipped black nail polish pressed against his mouth, stifling a laugh and not daring a kiss.
I say you, and I mean me, Twin Shadow. You’re the conductor of memories and the fanner of flames — for this I blame you — and you’re the instigator of a litany of phantom pains. That you sing of us as we were (and us as we didn’t dare ourselves to be), that you sing the slow dances we didn’t dance, that you smolder and rasp and promise to wait, to stop, to start, to go, to drive all night. And it’s always night, and it’s always the moment of reckoning.
You might think that it would be sad for the story to end that way, John and me middle-aged, decades away from skateboards and ripped stockings. The you of your songs, Twin Shadow, would never stand for simply moving on: You move to the rhythm of the perfect ache held up to the black light and suspended in time. But the alternative ending is that I casually ask about John in the early days of Facebook and the obvious blond boy (now a wearer of ties, a driver of mini vans) tells me that he did try to call but my father only said I didn’t live there anymore so no one ever told me. And just like that, the beautiful sad-eyed boy is lost to the garages and parking lots and flannel-strewn bedrooms of another lifetime. And you can’t mourn someone who’s been gone for more than a decade.
But then there was you, Twin Shadow. With the way you look like John and the way you sing the things that should have been sung. With your sonic portal, your mirror held up to my teenage self. “Five seconds … straight to your heart” and all.
So now I’m that girl again. You can find me in the corner of the gym, in the darkest shadow of the bleachers. Ask me for the slow dance. Wound me with your soulful glance, your scarred wrist, your secrets, your doomed beauty.
I can’t forgive you for that, Twin Shadow. But that’s okay. I didn’t really want to shed this oppressive crush. I’ll keep waiting for that first kiss. I’ll keep fanning the flames. We’re all forged at the fires of love anyway; as long as we continue to burn — our rash and molten hearts — we can still be formed. We can still bear the impression of all who touch us.
. . .
The new Twin Shadow album, Eclipse, was recently released. I feel pretty certain that unless you’re dead inside, it will change your life.