After A Harrowing Bus Accident, Twin Shadow Is Back In The Saddle

Aug 23, 2015
Originally published on August 25, 2015 3:13 pm

Singer and producer George Lewis Jr. performs under the name Twin Shadow. During his tour this past April, he and several members of his crew were almost killed when their bus hit a tractor-trailer one foggy morning outside Denver. Now, Lewis and his band have just restarted the tour after taking time off to heal. He recalls the accident in a conversation with NPR's All Things Considered.

"It was supposed to be springtime, and we just kind of kept running into the end of winter everywhere. Every time we'd get to a city, people would say, 'Oh, it was so nice the last two weeks!' and 'We're really sorry about the weather!' ... I remember feeling a great sense of relief when we got to Kansas City the night before the accident. The weather was just beautiful in Kansas City and we had an amazing day just walking around.
"

The show went well, and their bus left town that night, heading west toward Denver.

"I usually stay up pretty late, but that night I decided to go to bed early," Lewis says. "I was kind of tossing and turning all night, which woke me up before the accident actually happened. There were 12 people on the bus, but I was the only one awake and actually up and walking around.

"I think my phone rang, and I reached for it — and right in that moment, I just was thrown across the room and kind of landed with everything that was in the back lounge on top of me. There was a couch that had flipped on top of me, a mattress had come off the bed and was on top of me ... The first thing I realized was that I couldn't pick myself up with my hand, then [I remember] looking at my hand and seeing the bones sticking, kind of making a teepee out of my hand."

Lewis says he's not sure exactly what had happened to cause the accident. Maybe the driver had been going too fast, considering the foggy weather, and wasn't able to see that traffic had slowed. Whatever the cause, Lewis says his first instinct was to get to bandmate Wynne Bennett, whom he calls his "partner-in-crime." She was stuck on the other side of a jammed door, but the two of them together were able to wrench it open. And then she saw his hand.

"She ... really started freaking out, and I just tried to calm her down and then slowly [started] calling out to people on the bus," he says. "The entire front was smashed like a sardine can, so there was really no way out of the bus."

Emergency responders arrived on the scene almost immediately, Lewis says.

"I've never seen people show up that fast. With a chainsaw, they cut out the whole side of the bus and got everyone out. Almost everyone had some kind of injury where they couldn't immediately walk. So everybody came out on these gurneys one by one. There was so many of us that the hospitals couldn't take everyone, so we kind of got split up between two hospitals, which was really stressful for all of us, because that was everyone's biggest concern: Is everybody going to be OK?"

It turned out that Lewis' badly injured hand needed reconstructive surgery. A specialist in Los Angeles ("one of these Michael Jordans of hand surgery," Lewis says) performed the operation, leaving Lewis with seven pins in his hand. That makes playing music a challenge.

"I can play guitar for a song or two, and then my hand really starts swelling up," he says. "It's just frustrating right now. I don't think I'll ever be 100 percent, but I consider myself a songwriter, not a guitar virtuoso. Piano, guitar, drums — these things are just tools. I'll still be able to create the music that I want to create."

Less than three weeks after the accident, Twin Shadow was booked to perform on Late Night With Seth Meyers. Lewis decided the show had to go on.

"I'm going to make a motorcycle analogy that a lot of people are gonna cringe at, but it's so the truth: If you get in an accident where you're not bleeding, motorcyclists say to just get back on and go ride for an hour," Lewis says. "There is something that it does to you. It kind of reverses this immediate fear of that thing.

"And it felt really good to do. It felt important."

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TESS VIGELAND, HOST:

Musicians often make their living driving from town to town, stage to stage. And when you log that much time on the road, you tempt fate.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HALF LIFE")

TWIN SHADOW: (Singing) We came up so carelessly.

VIGELAND: Singer George Lewis Jr. performs under the stage name Twin Shadow, and four months ago, he and members of his crew were almost killed when their bus hit a tractor-trailer. He says it was a foggy morning outside of Denver.

GEORGE LEWIS JR.: It was supposed to be springtime, and we just kind of kept running into the end of winter everywhere. And every time we'd get to a city, people would say, oh, it was so nice the last two weeks, and we're really sorry about the weather. So we kind of were plagued by it, and it did end up doing us in.

The accident happened in the morning. I usually stay up pretty late, but that night, I decided to go to bed early. I was kind of tossing and turning all night, actually, which actually woke me up before the accident actually happened. There were 12 people on the bus. I was the only one awake and actually up and walking around.

I remember walking to the front, using the bathroom, going back into the back. And I think my phone rang, and I reached for it. And right in that moment, I just was thrown across the room and kind of landed with everything that was in the back lounge on top of me. There was a couch that had flipped on top of me. The mattress had come off the bed and was on top of me. And I was just kind of pinned on the ground and kind of climbing my way out of all of that stuff. The first thing I realized was that I couldn't pick myself up with my hand and then kind of seeing the bones sticking - kind of making like a teepee out of my hand.

I guess traffic had come to a complete stop on the highway. I still am not completely clear exactly what happened because I haven't talked to our driver. All I know is that he wasn't able to see that everyone on the highway had stopped. It was just too late by the time he realized it.

There were people screaming on the bus who were very hurt. The entire front kind of just was smashed like a sardine can, kind of, so there was really no way out of the bus. With a chainsaw, they cut out the whole side of the bus and got everyone out because almost everyone had some kind of injury where they couldn't immediately walk. So everybody kind of came out on these gurneys, one by one. There were so many of us that the hospitals couldn't take everyone. So we kind of got split up between two hospitals, which was really stressful for all of us because that was everyone's biggest concern - is is everybody going to be OK?

That day, they just kind of set the bones as best as they could, and the bones weren't setting well. So it was a long, painful day of trying to get my hand into one piece. I had a really nice doctor who encouraged me to wait on getting surgery on my hand and go to a specialist in Los Angeles - someone who - you know, one of these Michael Jordans of hand surgery. I ended up getting seven pins in my hand, so that was fun (laughter). A couple weeks after the accident, we had a booking on Seth Meyer - "Late Night" show - and I decided that we should do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS")

SETH MEYERS: Tonight's musical guest is a Dominican-born singer, writer and producer performing his new single "I'm Ready." Please welcome Twin Shadow.

(APPLAUSE)

LEWIS: I'm going to make a motorcycle analogy that a lot of people are going to cringe at, but it's so the truth. If you get in, like, an accident where you're not bleeding, motorcyclists say just get back on and go ride for an hour.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M READY")

TWIN SHADOW: (Singing) There's a boy in a car at the top of the hill, looking down at LA.

LEWIS: There is something that it does to you. It kind of reverses this is, like, immediate fear of that thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M READY")

TWIN SHADOW: (Singing) He thinks that there's something - something that he lost.

LEWIS: It felt really good to do. It felt important.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M READY")

TWIN SHADOW: (Singing) He knows there is love.

VIGELAND: That's George Lewis Jr., also known as Twin Shadow. He and his band just resumed their tour this past Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M READY")

TWIN SHADOW: (Singing) Are the ghosts of embarrassing memories. It's in the air. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.