Title: Boys Keep Swinging: A Memoir
Author: Jake Shears
Publisher: Atria Books
Length: 336 Pages
At a Glance: Shears is nothing if not a natural born storyteller who picks at the threads of memory and weaves them into a compelling novel.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: In this deeply affecting memoir, one of rock music’s most entrancing figures transforms the vividness of his musical world into an unforgettable literary account of overcoming the odds and finding his true voice.
Long before hitting the stage as the lead singer of the iconic glam rock band Scissor Sisters, Jake Shears was Jason Sellards, a teenage boy living a fraught life, resulting in a confusing and confining time in high school as his classmates bullied him and few teachers showed sympathy.
It wasn’t until years later, while living and studying in New York City, that Jason would find his voice as an artist and, with a group of friends and musicians who were also thirsting for stardom and freedom, form the band Scissor Sisters. First performing in the smoky gay nightclubs of New York, then finding massive success in the United Kingdom, Scissor Sisters would become revered by the LGBTQ community, sell out venues worldwide, and win multiple accolades with hits like “Take Your Mama” and “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’,” as well as their cult-favorite cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.”
Candid and courageous, Shears’s writing sings with the same powerful, spirited presence that he brings to his live performances. Following a misfit boy’s development into a dazzling rock star, Boys Keep Swinging is a raucously entertaining memoir that will be an inspiration to anyone with determination and a dream.
Review: “I knew in my heart that we were losing our lives as we knew them, but I also knew that the trade-off was going to be a singular experience that few people get.” – Jake Shears
Before there was Jake Shears and Scissor Sisters and kikis to be having, there was Jason Sellards, a self-professed born showman who, even as a kid, knew he was destined for greater things. Boys Keep Swinging is his story, and it’s a brilliant one that begins with his childhood in Mesa, Arizona, and eventually leads us to New York City—“the place that people went and fucking did something.” This is a story of drive, determination, and summoning the courage to live out loud.
Shears may be a born showman, but he’s nothing if not a natural born storyteller who picks at the threads of memory and weaves them into a compelling novel. With a voice that is by turns engaging and amiable, introspective and moving, passionate and unfailingly honest—even when he doesn’t come off well for it—he lays bare his journey from a precocious boy who always knew he was different, to a teenager coming to terms with his sexuality, and on into adulthood where he embraced his self-expression through writing, performing, go-go dancing, and, eventually, through music.
Action is the difference between those who dream of making art and those who then go on to make it. Shears was a one-man sexual revolution, dreaming big and tripping on the rush of conjuring his muse and realizing those dreams. He didn’t wait for opportunity to knock. He seized opportunity by the balls and made things happen, dancing on bartops to make some extra cash and struggling to fucking do something—to leave his mark on the world while grappling with an almost crippling self-loathing. Shears plucks up the names of people who were significant to his evolution and rise, and shares them with his readers, and, of course, as Scissor Sisters evolved from a concept to a major influencer on the indie rock scene, the list of celebrities he encountered along the way becomes all the more impressive. Yes, there’s some name dropping, but why wouldn’t there be? Shears worked hard, paid his dues and earned the right to brag about it a little—when Bono comes down from the mountain with advice for you, you listen and then pass it on. And as Scissor Sisters’ international star rose and peaked, we play witness in an intimate way to the rigorous schedule of touring and the steep emotional and physical toll it exacted on not only Shears but the band as a whole.
Raw and often poignant, Shears is unflinching as he recounts his struggles with loneliness in spite of a life full of people, with the weight of depression after realizing that he’d accomplished everything he’d set out to do, and with no greater mountain to conquer, that coming off the high of the success he’d yearned for and achieved was more a hurtling plummet back to reality than a gentle fall. As he grieves the loss of freedom, the loss of friends, Shears is also overcome by the realization that the city that never sleeps didn’t enter a stasis, time didn’t freeze while he was gone, and we witness the contrast between Jason Sellards and Jake Shears and the difficulty of his coexisting with feet in two different worlds.
Earnest and at times impish, Shears is an engaging narrator whose courage to pursue his passions led him to love and heartbreak. He shares the good, the bad, the ugly with us, and did something so many of us fail to do—he didn’t quit. You can’t spell success without suck, you’ve got to push through the difficult stuff, and Shears did that, which is what made this memoir possible. Shears lived fierce and hungry in his first thirty-nine years, became a star in his own right for it, and is once again inspired, has begun a new chapter in his life and is making more dreams come true. I’m now waiting for the next iteration of Jake Shears to appear in narrative form.
When a book has already been blurbed by the likes of Armistead Maupin and Sir Elton John and reviewed by Lambda Literary, there isn’t much that my two cents is going to add to the buzz. All I can say is that I was a little sad when I reached the end of this one. Shears leaves us on a note of melancholy and hope. Here’s to the next leg of his journey. May it be as passionate and fulfilling as the first.
You can buy Boys Keep Swinging here:
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