CULTURE: QUEEN & COUNTRY
Flamboyant frontman of iconic glam rock-group Scissor Sisters Jake Shears has written a candid memoir, Boys Keep Swinging, an essential read for any music fan and LGBT person. Queen and Country magazine takes a peek inside.
Jack Shears is not the kind of boy to cower in the corner as a shy wallflower. In this vibrant coming-of-age memoir, told with sharp insight and self-aware wit, we find out how the flamboyant lead singer of Scissor Sisters became the unapologetic glam-rock star who has earned a well-deserved place in LGBT popular culture.
Boys Keep Swinging is a fiercely candid memoir following Shears' journey to stardom in the trailblazing downtown New York band turned international, platinum-selling pop sensation.
Shears grew up as Jason Sellards, a misfit growing up gay in the less-evolved America of the 1980s and 90s. He lived in Mesa, Arizona and San Juan Island, Washington, the only child of a second marriage. His parents were largely accepting, or at least tolerant, of his idiosyncratic approach to life, a need to be liked that manifested itself in a desire to perform coupled with a bravely flamboyant sense of style.
In school he was often the outsider, embracing his differences even when that daring act resulted in social isolation or bullying. His struggle was not so much with being gay as with figuring out how to be gay amid the fear and loathing of the AIDS era. His youthful sexual exploration was somewhat restrained, though marked by occasional poor choices. His friendships, honest and devoted, were often with other perceived outcasts.
Moving to New York City to finish college, he encountered both the horrors and delights of life there. He shared questionably-converted digs in an old factory in Williamsburg with a strange array of oddball roommates. His makeshift room flooded whenever it rained. The long subway rides to then-ungentrified Brooklyn could be tiresome, and he chronically struggled to make ends meets. But the life Shears encountered in downtown Manhattan was anything but mind-numbing. At clubs and bars he encountered people like himself, inhabiting a world where people could wear their differences openly and proudly. Suddenly the once-closeted boy from Mesa was making extra money dancing in a g-string on the bar and having the time of his life.
When Shears reconnected with Scott Hoffman, whom he had briefly met years before, their shared love of horror movies and video games morphed into something greater, and the Scissor Sisters – and Jake Shears the persona – were born. Beginning in the wake of 9/11, the band provided a refreshing antidote to those turbulent times. They performed in smoky gay clubs in New York, and found their first massive success in the UK, with such hits as Take Your Mama and I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’. Suddenly, the former Jason Sellards was socializing with such personal idols as Elton John, Debbie Harry, and Lou Reed.
Like Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Patti Smith’s Just Kids, and Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run, Boys Keep Swinging brilliantly captures that youthful frisson of a transformative era in our music and our culture. More than simply a rock star’s memoir, it is a poignant book about growing up different yet defiant—an enveloping story of dreams made real through originality and honesty.
What people have said about Boys Keep Swinging:
"Jake Shears puts it all on the line. He draws you in and you can't look away. Boys Keep Swinging is the book everyone will be reading and talking about." Sandra Bernhard
''Boys Keep Swinging goes beyond the origin story behind some of my favourite music... A wild, sexy, emotional ride through underground New York at the millennium. From the fringes to the top, its a tale that speaks to the outsider in all of us." Andy Cohen
Boys Keep Swinging is out now in paperback, ebook and audio.