Thursday, December 21, 2017

Book Review: "Boys Keep Swinging: A Memoir" by Jake Shears

"Writing about your life is panning your imagination for shiny bits. Much memory is grimy and covered with fuzz, like a component of some unknown thing that was left under your couch for years, attracting dust bunnies. When you find it, you're unsure what it was used for in the first place. You do your best to wash the pieces off and line them up on a table, in hopes that with a little concentration they might be understood for what they were. And maybe you find that a couple of the pieces fit together."

I decided to read Boys Keep Swinging, a new memoir by Jake Shears, the lead singer of the musical group Scissor Sisters, both because I was a big fan of the group's music and because, well, I'm fairly enamored of Shears, who has a penchant for posing for and taking pictures of himself in various states of undress. (Whatever. We all have our Kryptonite.)

Beyond his music and his physical appeal, I honestly knew nothing about Shears. In fact, I'm embarrassed to admit that because of the intonation he uses in some of Scissor Sisters' songs (say that five times fast), I thought he was Australian. But as much as this book is about the rise of Scissor Sisters and how Jake dealt with finally achieving his dreams, Boys Keep Swinging is so much more than that—it's a poignant and entertaining look at one man's quest for happiness, a sense of belonging, and peace with himself.

Shears, born Jason Sellards, was raised in Arizona. From a young age he knew he wasn't like everyone else—he didn't like sports, he preferred the company of adults (particularly adult women) to his peers, and he had a talent for writing and telling stories. And as he grew into his awkward teenage years, and realized he was gay, he wasn't ready to acknowledge this fact to his parents or those who knew him, but that didn't stop him from dressing and acting flamboyantly. He just didn't care what people thought, although he feared how his parents might react.

The book follows his journey into adulthood and self-acceptance, and his desire to find his place. He tells of friendships made and those lost, sometimes because of his own actions, and his desire to find someone to love. He endures interesting work and living situations, but slowly begins to realize he feels most alive when in front of a crowd, whether dancing on top of a bar in his underwear, performing in drag, or finally, writing and performing music he wrote.

As Shears describes how Scissor Sisters came to be, and the struggles the band faced on its way to success, he also touches on the numerous people—famous and behind the scenes—who inspired and helped him. He also isn't afraid to shy away from discussing how even at the pinnacle of professional and personal success he had trouble being happy, instead worrying whether everything would fall apart and he'd be left with nothing.

Unlike some memoirs, Shears doesn't paint himself as perfect in any way—he's more than willing to enumerate his flaws and how he mistreated some of those people closest to him. He's not afraid to discuss his regrets or his insecurities, even those he still deals with. That made reading this book a much more moving and fulfilling experience.

I enjoyed this book for a number of reasons, but particularly because I identified with Shears' struggles growing up, dealing with the bullying of his peers and seeking the acceptance of his parents and others. How many young people trying to come to terms with their sexuality and wondering if they'll ever find happiness haven't felt the way he did? I also identified with his struggles to feel happy even amidst the success and fulfillment he had achieved, as I've been there, too.

I felt that the book dragged a bit in places, particularly in the lead-up to the birth of Scissor Sisters. There was a lot of the same story over and over again, just with different celebrities or men he knew mentioned. (At times it feels like he has met or knew nearly everyone in the music business, as well as some celebrities!!) But Shears' writing style is engaging and self-deprecating, which made this tremendously readable. (I'd imagine the audio book, if one is produced, will be terrific if he reads it himself!)

Even if you don't know his music or aren't tantalized by his physical appeal, Boys Keep Swinging is a worthwhile read. I don't often pick up celebrity memoirs unless I think there's some depth to be found, and there was lots to be found here.

NetGalley and Atria Books provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!


  1. Hot and now thanks to you I will look for his book. Everything about him is appealing. We’ll see if the book verifies that . Thanks

    1. Thanks, Dwight! I agree with you. The book is really good but he’s not afraid to make himself sound unappealing at times...although hot at other times.