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The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, the Music, the Seventies in San Francisco

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  153 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
Imagine a pied piper singing in falsetto, wearing sequins, and leading the young people of the nation to San Francisco and on to a liberation where nothing was straight-laced or old-fashioned. And everyone, finally, was welcome--to come as themselves. This is not a fairy tale. This was real, mighty real, and disco-sensation Sylvester was the piper.

Yale-trained sociologist
Paperback, 336 pages
Published January 24th 2006 by Picador (first published 2005)
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Apr 24, 2014 Dennis rated it it was amazing
Reading Joshua Gamson's memoir of Sylvester was like entering a time machine back to the 70s, 80s. Sylvester's songs defined an era. You could not enter any gay bar or club during those years and not hear the tidal wave sound of his falsetto. I feel fortunate to have attended a memorable concert at the Backstreet Club in Atlanta circa 1981.

Gamson paints a thorough, detailed portrait of the artist from his dysfunctional childhood discotay days in Los Angeles to dying too young of AIDS in San Fran
Winter Sophia Rose
Oct 28, 2014 Winter Sophia Rose rated it it was amazing
Emotional, Real, Captivating, Page Turner!!! A Great Read! I Loved It!
Aug 08, 2013 Judah rated it liked it
The fact that I'm currently ridiculously obsessed with all things Sylvester almost tempts me into giving this biography five stars. It is a well-written volume, certainly, and I admire Joshua Gamson for doing his part in rescuing a San Francisco legend from the depths of obscurity. For the first few chapters, though, I was troubled at how much time he spent complimenting Sylvester, so much so that it seemed patronizing at times. Over the course of the book, though, it's clear that Gamson has goo ...more
Kimberly Hicks
Nov 10, 2011 Kimberly Hicks rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Biography Readers -- Viewer Discretion is Advised
Recommended to Kimberly by: Goodreads
I waited three years for the publisher to put this book on Kindle, and wouldn't you know it, they gave me an early present. FINALLY, I got to read about one of my favorite singers!

I miss Sylvester. I remember the first time I heard his live rendition of Patti LaBelle's You Are My Friend. He and the Two Tons o'Fun tore that song up and back. They sang the words off that song! Every time I hear it, I still get goosebumps. Sylvester was so ahead of his time and his early demise due to AIDS was just
I love drag queens. I love a man who knows how to beat his face, stomp down the street like a super model and wear a dress better than any woman alive. Sylvester had all of that going on and so much more.

Sylvester was born with the gift of fabulosity and he knew it. From a young age it was apparent that he was gifted, he could sang and he knew how to dress either as a boy or a girl. He also knew he was gay from an early age and felt no shame in that. Sylvester knew himself and refused to let an
Ralowe Ampu
Dec 28, 2011 Ralowe Ampu rated it liked it
my curiosity for strategies to negotiate the white gay world led me to this. when its not feeling as exploitative as a selected reading for a sensitivity training, all of the contest to see how many times "glitter" and "sequin" can plausibly be made to occur on a page falls away and i'm able to get a glimpse of the strategy for living that was sylvester. this book is made for people who love love love his music (who else could endure the tedious lists attempting to recreate his outfits in prose) ...more
Phil Overeem
May 09, 2011 Phil Overeem rated it really liked it
A very moving and informative life of a brave human being and truly unique superstar. Gamson tells Sylvester's story with clarity, wry humor, and respect, weaving in with it the ebbing and flowing of San Francisco's freedom culture. Definitely recommended to readers who admire (in John Waters' phrase) "minorities who don't even fit in with their own minorities." I may have to donate it to my school's library. Thanks to Apop Records in St. Louis for carrying it!
Larry C
Aug 28, 2016 Larry C rated it it was amazing
The best biography I've ever read. Joshua Gamson writes Sylvester's life not as an examination, but almost as if was an actual witness from birth to death.

If you read this biography, I highly suggest that when an album is discussed, stop reading, listen to the album, go back to reading. Immerse yourself in it. Feel inspired. Feel the realness.
Andrew Marshall
Mar 17, 2017 Andrew Marshall rated it liked it
I'm sure you remember the hit 'You make me feel mighty real' but perhaps not the man with the falsetto voice who sang it. I vaguely remember a promotional film on Top of the Pops of a strange looking black man in shorts submerged behind plants - almost as if the director was trying to hide him. I think I'd heard he was a drag queen which in the seventies seemed something exotic and definitely not from Bedford where I grew up. A biography about Sylvester should have been an automatic five stars - ...more
Jul 14, 2008 AnitaDurt rated it really liked it
Recommended to AnitaDurt by: melanie
currently so obsessed with sylvester!... i really enjoyed reading about the discotay days and the cockettes and all of Sylvester's flaming around town. its the kind of book that makes me proud of my hometown of san francisco for the amazing gay history there is here. i like that the book exposed the bullshit of the castro and makes no illusions about the general shittiness of the murder of Harvey Milk and Moscone, the AIDS epidemic, etc. i was raised to hate disco, but i have recently unleashed ...more
Feb 02, 2009 Rebecca rated it really liked it
I think I was crying for the last forty pages as Sylvester's illness unfolded, which is a remarkable contrast to the first 40, in which I was entertained but also unsure of how this person, his music, his time would resonate with me personally. I'm impressed with what I imagine was a great deal of research and interviewing and transporting by the author into another person's life and being able to make it seem like you were there. There were many sentences that were a gift for thinking about fam ...more
Jan 12, 2008 Paul rated it it was amazing
DO YOU WANNA FUNK? Other books have been written about the gay music and disco scene in New York but if you want to know what life was like in those heady days in San Francisco - from Sylvester's involvement with acid-drenched, Hippy freak-show, The Cockettes to the heights of his success as a gender-bent Disco Diva, with top 40 hits to the fatal low of his early demise from complications due to the AIDS virus. Meticulously researched and dishy as it is factual, this is a portrait of a creature ...more
Hank Stuever
Apr 01, 2012 Hank Stuever rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't believe I've neglected to add Joshua Gamson's "The Fabulous Sylvester" to my list of Goodreads books. I read back when it was released in 2005 and was amazed by its thorough reporting and elegant writing. The beautiful opening chapter still sticks in my mind and I sometimes like to go back and look at it again; one of the best beginnings I've read in almost any biography. All throughout this book you will encounter an amazing ability to synthesize the facts of a life with smart perceptio ...more
Apr 13, 2010 Jennie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, music, culture
Commenting on Sylvester's death:

"Many people in the room, too, must have sensed the collapse of something bigger, which Sylvester embodied but did not create: a respect for the uniting freedom of fabulousness, for the power of audacity over conformity. Gratitude mixed with despair. How do you go on when a sequin in the right light is no longer enough?" (p. 270)

Lisa Hern
Mar 01, 2015 Lisa Hern rated it liked it
Pretty good story about the very Fabulous man who paved the way for so many to come out come out wherever you are. Unabashedly flamboyant, he was a rare star who didn't forget where he came from. He gave so much to so many. May we remember that March 11 is Sylvester Day in SF. Thank you, oh sparkly one.
Tim Nat
Jul 27, 2012 Tim Nat rated it it was amazing
Needs to be made into a movie.

Of all queer lit./LGBT history, this inclusive story of Sylveter and his life should be a part of the collection of the gay/lesbian library.

It is quite a read, almost his entire life's story, but worth every page turn.
Ellie Steever
Aug 19, 2014 Ellie Steever rated it really liked it
This did an excellent job of informing me who Sylvester was, but I wanted more broad strokes of the background, especially in the beginning and last chapters. Once it gets to AIDS, it just kinda ends. Either way, I'm convinced that Sylvester is someone I would like to shop with, somehow.
Feb 17, 2013 Sumayyah rated it liked it
The biography of the disco/pop singer, Sylvester.. except when it's not. At times, the author spends more time detailing the times and surrounding city events than he does talking about Sylvester's part in it. Overall, a clear portrait of LGBTQ life in San Francisco, California.

Claude Bouchard
Nov 05, 2013 Claude Bouchard rated it it was amazing
Loved this book! I was fortunate enough to meet Sylvester at Cafe San Marcos in SF back in 1986. Very sweet man; I even got a hug! Very well-written book. Sylvester was much more than "just" a disco singer.
Apr 28, 2011 lia rated it liked it
this book was amazing, but possibly the information drawn upon wasn't as robust as i would have liked, but an interesting look at what genderqueer looked like in the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties.
Mar 17, 2009 Sharene rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book a lot, its fascinating. If you enjoy pop culture of the 70's, live(d) in the Bay Area, are interested in the history of r&b and disco music of the 70's and 80's, and like reading about really interesting people, you should read this book!
Raymon Gottfredson
Dec 02, 2008 Raymon Gottfredson rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Raymon by: Heard about it on NPR
Fabulous for anyone who is interested in/lived through the gay disco 70's San Francisco. Check out Sylvester CD's too!
Jun 16, 2009 Columbus rated it it was amazing
Excellent biography on a performer who was well ahead of his time. Quote: "Don't conceptualize me, I am the concept"
Feb 11, 2009 Betsy rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed learning more about Sylvester and gay San Francisco during the 70s and 80s. The book is well written and very moving.
Aug 07, 2008 Ed rated it really liked it
biography is usually pretty boring, but this one has context.
Aug 07, 2011 Edwin rated it it was amazing
Awesome story about an awesome person. Sad stuff at the end with P. Cowley and lots of others dying.
Dec 15, 2011 Blackbook rated it really liked it
Shelves: bio, 2011
Found this in a used book giveaway section. What a find! I miss Sylvester. He was a generous and amazing performer.
Oct 15, 2007 Christopher rated it it was amazing
The best resource you'll ever find if you ever want to know more about this amazing 70s icon.
Zachary Harless
Zachary Harless rated it it was amazing
Jun 22, 2015
Kim Goudy
Kim Goudy rated it it was amazing
Jan 15, 2013
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