by William Stockton, Lambda Literary Review
In Boys Keep Swinging: A Memoir, Jake Shears, the iconic frontman of Scissor Sisters, examines his life before becoming a glam rock star. The book traces Shears’ journey from west coast youth to New York City adulthood at the turn of the millennium. Shears was kind enough to answer several questions about his work as a writer and a musician.
What compelled you to write a memoir at this point in your life?
The book was my editor’s idea. He thought it would be great to write a memoir that focused on a specific time, New York City at the millennium. It seemed daunting, but I’m not one to pass up an opportunity for a big challenge. I also felt that if I ended it in 2006, I had enough separation from that time to have some perspective.
What are some of your favorite memoirs? Did any of these provide you with a model for Boys Keep Swinging?
One of the biggest influences for this book was Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes me a Modern Girl. It came out just when I needed it. There was something in her story and the way she wrote it that gave me the confidence to know that writing this book was possible. Other books that were inspiring were Girl in a Band, by Kim Gordon, and also the David Sedaris diaries.
You write quite a bit about your relationship with Elton John, who just announced that he would soon retire from touring. What has he taught you about being a queer artist or a queer musician specifically?
Elton has experienced so much in his life and has had a pretty wild ride. He is someone that has been able to harness his extreme experiences and wear them proudly. He is someone who is unapologetic, especially about painful moments of his life, and he draws from that every night he performs. You can plainly hear it in his voice when he sings. He’s truly an amazing man and has had a huge effect on my life.
How has your education in creative writing shaped your work as a musician and a memoirist?
I studied under Hettie Jones and Chuck Wachtel and the poet Sekou Sundiata back when I was in school, and I have to say, I carried much of what I learned from them in my book. Sekou always said the most important stuff you will ever write would be about your life and times. I’ve carried that always in my songs, and now I applied it to this book. And I think there’s huge truth to that statement, whether you’re writing a novel, a memoir or a song.
Arguably Boys Keep Swinging ends prematurely. What made you decide to conclude the book with the release of Ta-Dah?
I never wanted this to be a history of the band. I wanted it to be a history of myself. The book ends with a death of a friend, and the start of our second record, both of which felt like the end of a chapter in certain ways. Once I have enough distance from the rest of it, I think I’ll be happy to continue that story.