Any Other Way (Live) by Jackie Shane (1967)
Jackie Shane's Glam, Trans Sermon from 1967, By Harry Lindsey
Artist's Pronouns: She/Her
“Be sure to tell her this,” Jackie Shane adlibs before commanding an ex lover, “tell her that I’m gay.” Legendary soul singer Jackie Shane is playing with us on this live version of her hit Any Other Way. She toys with the audience throughout the 7 minute and 50 second performance, but at the root of such play is an empowering performance of trans vitality, live from 1967. Originally recorded by William Bell in 1962, Jackie Shane gave new life to the song Any Other Way when covering it the following year. When she sang “I’m gay”, she flirted with the double entendre openly at a time when the word’s double meaning remained outside of mainstream knowledge. For those who knew Jackie, they knew of her glamour and how she glittered in underground clubs and bars. The lyric functioned as a knowing wink to those who knew her, an expression of coded queerness intended for those gifted enough to recognize its queer ambiguity.
Many a fan of Jackie’s got to know her through live performances. Her shows were attended by the kind of people you’d see at a James Brown or Otis Redding concert. Her audiences came for her golden voice, which fed her crowds a soaring falsetto as often as it did a razor sharp quip. But Any Other Way exists as a success outside of her performance work. Any Other Way was a charting hit across Canada, reaching number 2 on Toronto’s regional singles chart. And so, as coded queerness in popular music often functions, the double entendre of Jackie’s declaration would have gone over many a music listeners head. Gliding along the smokey horns without even the slightest pricking of ears. But it is there, and it has deep roots. To unearth such roots, we must go by way of, perhaps, Shane’s most significant musical contemporary, Little Richard, with whom she shared a stage a handful of times.
Little Richard and Jackie Shane are both a part of a rich history of black, queer expressionism that gave way to many tropes that remain highly visible in contemporary pop music. The genderqueer aesthetics, peformance styles and songwriting of Jackie Shane, Little Richard and many others, like Big Mama Thornton, can be seen in all corners of the pop-universe. From the glam rock of Bowie and Queen, to the pop androgyne-figure of an Annie Lenox or Janelle Monaé. The list of influences goes on and on and still grows to this day. As Little Richard said themselves; “Michael, Bowie, Boy George, they’ve got my spot now,” and such a spot remains ever associated with Richard.
While Little Richard is considered a more pivotal influence on popular music than Jackie Shane, Richard’s success is arguably attributed to their own electric interpretation of a wider culture that had thrived since the 1920s. Queer, black artists had been touring America since before the Harlem Renaissance, but such tours saw an increase with post World War II road building, which functioned as a boom for queer artist’s to network and tour. Traveling performers, like Shane or Richard, weren’t seen as threats to the established heteronormative order of the towns they visited due to their fleeting occupancy. They appeared for a show and then were gone the next day, suggesting such black, queer expressionism was part of a scene that thrived across the country, existing beyond the restrictions of just one region.
Often, in how we tell histories, we reduce what happened to the landmarks and the firsts. And while Little Richard is largely considered the artist who first desegregated the American pop charts, their art is not just the sum of an individual feat, rather the work of an exceptional performer whose work is the product of a rich cultural history. To say Little Richard was “the first” diminishes the evidence of such a thriving scene of black, queer artists, as “the first” implies that before Richard, there was no performer like them, and that is far from the truth. As captured in this live recording of Any Other Way, Jackie Shane was performing with as much wit and spark as many of her contemporaries.
Outside the parameters of it’s studio version, Any Other Way transcends its limitations as Jackie leans further into double entendre with unbelievable charisma. What begins as playful adlibs between astounding croons becomes a glorious showcase of Jackie’s character. After the recognizable rendition of Any Other Way plays out, Jackie offers wisdom. With spontaneity and intention, the second half of the song feels like a sermon told by a trans-elder. Beginning by riffing on the ex-lover Any Other Way focuses on, she stops singing and rips into her audience, “I’m talking to you girls… If you’re square that means hold onto your man,” she clarifies before laughing. The double entendre of the recorded version expands, as love remains worth holding onto, even within the “square” parameters of heterosexuality.
Once we’ve been told to “get a good grip” on the one we love, Jackie spins the focus onto herself. Jackie, unlike her audience, will not be pinned down. “I look better than she does,” Jackie claims of the ex-lover she’s been singing about, playing with the presumed gender dynamics that would accompany any love-song of the time. What ensues is an abundance of playful nods to the idea that Jackie and the love she exudes will live and survive unshaken. In a reference to her supportive mother, Jessie Shane, Jackie riffs on her mother’s advice, “Don’t worry what people say about you because you look good, you take after mother. Damn Daddy!” Jackie is letting us know she is supported in her abundance. Her transwomanhood figuring as a fruitful source of reward; “diamonds on my finger, I can’t get no more.” And despite the play of her stage persona, she is serious and in control, “I’m no toy. I like fun and games but don’t get carried away.”
In the specific telling of trans stories, championing histories that are told as “firsts” often leads people to believe trans people are something of a new phenomenon. As we collectively reach new heights of trans visibility, we are often told we are new, purely because the dominant tellers of history had not previously thought to include us in their stories yet. Listening to Jackie on Any Other Way (Live), we are given a soaring reminder that trans people have always been here, and that our stories exist far beyond narratives solely populated by trauma. There is abundance, joy and prosperity in trans lives, and Jackie Shane won’t let it be told any other way, as she encourages us, “I live the life I love, and I love the life I live, and I hope you’ll do the same.”