Jake Shears is many things to many people. Fantastic lyricist. Brilliant frontman. Future babydaddy. (One can hope.) Now musical scribe? Yep, over the last four years, when he hasn't been making the world a filthier, more gorgeous place, the Scissor Sisters' leading man has been putting the beloved Tales Of The City to music for the stage. Now, just days away from its world premiere, Jake tells us how he adapted Armistead Maupin's famous series into a fierce musical!
It was a real pivotal time in my life when I first read Tales Of The City, before I kinda even knew I was gay. I was 13 and had these two friends, a couple named Sean and Larry, and they were just great guys. They introduced me to a lot of music, kinda looked out for me. I remember Sean handed me a copy of Tales Of The City one day and said, "You should read this. I think you'll really like it." Of course I got totally sucked in! All those characters really meant a lot to me. Those books for me were a sort of rite of passage. And for a lot of people. So I feel really close to the books, which is why I was immediately sold on doing this. Though I never really got hired for it, I kinda just started writing songs. So for all I know, they've got someone else doing the same thing.
We've been working on this for four years, but it's had a nice pace. I was able to, thankfully, separate this music from Scissor Sisters. These songs were a real respite from Scissor's stuff, where I could take a week off from writing [the last album] and work on this. But the show is just like an album in that we've written twice as many songs as there will be in the show. It's just been a constant stream of cutting and rewriting. It's fascinating, and I've learned so much because I don't necessarily know what I'm doing when it comes to writing a musical. Jason Moore and Jeff Whitty [director and writer], on the other hand, do know what they're doing, so they've been instrumental in helping me out and pushing me in the right directions.
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Armistead has also been involved since the very beginning. When I wrote those first songs, I went straight to his house and played them for him. It was really important for me to have him have faith in what we were doing. And he's been amazing! Such a great presence.
Everyone's going to have different ideas on what it should be and what it should sound like, but this show is our version of it. Our take on it. And it's such a sweet show‚ it's very funny and has a lot of heart. Stylistically the music goes all over the map. I kinda feel like my writing is already so inspired by music from that time period anyway, so I didn't want to make it a period musical. I wanted the music to be extensions of the characters and thoughts, not necessarily what was playing on the radio in 1976.
There are definitely connections and attitudes that are really relevant to what's going on today. There's an attitude in the books that's made its way into the show. There's a lot of sex, there's drugs, there's tranny business and sexual proclivities, and the funny thing about it is I look at this show and it seems so, wholesome isn't the right word, but basically there's no judgment going on with any of these characters. It's interesting, because you can be playing with these ideas that a lot of people could find edgy or questionable, but because the show's not making any judgment calls on them, it's still something you could take Grandma to. It was an attitude that existed then in San Francisco, and I think we could all use a bit of that attitude today. I want this show to feel like it's breathing and has relevance now. And I think it does. I think these characters are very real and they breathe, and they're so strong and so established. They're like the fucking Golden Girls!