Read The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, the Music, the Seventies in San Francisco by Joshua Gamson Online


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 sociologistImagine 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 Joshua Gamson uses Sylvester's life to lead us through the story of the 1970s, when a generation took off its shame. Celebrity, sociology, and music history mingle in this endlessly entertaining story of a singer who embodied the freedom, spirit, and flamboyance of a golden moment in American culture....

Title : The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, the Music, the Seventies in San Francisco
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780312425692
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 336 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

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

  • Dennis
    2019-04-13 09:59

    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 Francisco. The book reveals the multifaceted personality of the diva superstar: his androgyny, generosity of spirit, penchant for the ephemeral, wry humor, conflicted religious convictions, and determination to become an international singing star.I was sad to learn Sylvester died penniless as is the case with most artists. I surmised early on that Sylvester lived in the moment and shared his success with his family and friends as naturally as breathing. It probably wouldn't have mattered how much money returned to him, and he ultimately lived life to the fullest, on the edge, and broke.My only criticism of the book was Sylvester's breakup with the Weather Girls. The book quickly glossed over this transition and I would have had enjoyed more history and explanation.The superstar's roots in the church came full circle at the end of his life. His non-acceptance at a young age probably left scars and I think he lived a conflicted life spiritually speaking.In the United States, Sylvester did not achieve major celebrity. He was renowned more on other continents than in North America. He was ahead of his time in his act and might have paved the way for future performers to safely reveal their androgyny. In 2014, Sylvester's talent could humble the greatest singers of our time. He was famed to have the ability to sing in a rare six octave range.I'm happy Gamson's wrote "The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, the Music, the Seventies in San Francisco and prevented Sylvester from falling into the shadows of obscurity.

  • Winter Sophia Rose
    2019-04-08 07:44

    Emotional, Real, Captivating, Page Turner!!! A Great Read! I Loved It!

  • Columbus
    2019-03-23 08:41

    Excellent biography on a performer who was well ahead of his time. Quote: "Don't conceptualize me, I am the concept"

  • Judah
    2019-03-26 15:43

    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 good intentions, at least. Much of the book is dedicated to the period of Sylvester's life after he moves to San Francisco and joins the Cockettes, up until his successful Step II album. I don't necessarily have a problem with this, in fact this is the portion of the book in which we get to know Sylvester most. It's been established in the beginning of the book that he's fabulous but, here, he begins to become three dimensional. After the Step II period, though, Gamson's overview of Sylvester's life becomes rapidly less detailed. This period seems generally the most obscure and consequently the most fascinating period in Sylvester's life. We know he's upset when Martha and Izora go solo, but we don't get an explanation of his relationship with the two after they leave. Similarly, I'm still baffled at Sylvester's approach to AIDS. It is clear that, when his friend and business partner Patrick Cowley dies of the disease early in the epidemic (when it was still rigidly referred to as GRID), he is affected deeply by it. Yet, we don't understand how it influenced Sylvester. He eludes to an amended sex life, yet there are hints in the text that he remained reckless. We understand that he is inspired to go to church more often, but we don't get much explanation of Sylvester's religious guilt at his own seeming unapologetic flamboyance. Though Gamson conducted infinitesimal interviews with people Sylvester knew, I suspect there was not much secondary information to give an accurate understanding of Sylvester's growth in the post-Step II period. For that, the book suffered. Ultimately, The Fabulous Sylvester offers a glimpse into 1970's gay life in San Francisco and a little context for Sylvester's most memorable and most wild moments, occasionally providing deeper hints of what truly made Sylvester Sylvester. On a side-note, I'm linking to my favorite Sylvester song- "Someone Like You," a minor hit from his more obscure period in the mid-80's. The electric piano in the intro makes me irrationally happy. While it's interesting that the song's lyrics are sang to an unnamed female (certainly an unfortunate byproduct of the time period), this song showcases, moreso than the more popular "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)," the range of Sylvesters falsetto. Enjoy the awesomeness..

  • Kimberly Hicks
    2019-03-19 11:39

    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 tragic. Everything you thought you knew about Sylvester, I can guarantee you one thing, you did not. After reading this book, I got a better sense of who Dooni a/k/a Sylvester really was. From his early childhood, sexual abuse, and lost loves and a broke heart, Sylvester weathered the storm. What I loved about his family is that although they knew he was openly gay, they never strayed from him. If anything, Sylvester kept his lifestyle away from them. His grandmother was such a driving force behind making him who he was and accepting all his "strangeness". When people said he was different or strange, he'd respond, "that's ok!" And he's right! I learned many things about him that I never knew and had a few surprises. I only wish I got to see him perform in person. I've seen all his videos and heard most of his music, but to experience a live "Sylvester" had to be the supreme ultimate. His falsetto was off the chain and he could belt out the vocals like nobody's business.I really miss Sylvester. His contribution to R&B and the movement of the gay revolution was outstanding. He's still a shining star! If you love biographies, this is the one to read. Side Note: Joshua did a great job detailing the 70s and disco and made you feel like you were a part of it. Well written! Also, the Kindle version did not have any pictures and I was little bummed about that. Not sure if the paper versions have pics or not?

  • Hester
    2019-04-04 09:48

    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 anyone define him, he simply was Sylvester. Gamson takes us through his years with the Cocketts to the ups and downs in his solo career and in his personal life. Sylvester never achieved the level of fame his talent deserved but that didn't stop him from living like the super star he knew he was. He spent his money on clothes, jewelry and friends like a sailor on shore leave and was a mega slut. Being a mega slut in San Francisco in the 70's and 80's was bad for your health and unfortunately Sylvester would succumb to AIDS in his early 40's.Despite the fact that this book is about so many things I love it just didn't suck me in like I thought it would.

  • Ralowe Ampu
    2019-04-19 16:00

    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) and love to hear how he made his music, under what conditions, and who was around him at the time. for any deeper meditation on the implications of sylvester's strategy for being in the world you would have to look elsewhere-- not that reading this won't give you with a lot to think about. gamson's writing provides an evolving san francisco as a backdrop as an extra, since sylvester's greatest focus was his art. reading this is greatly enhanced with either having his music playing in the background or watching his performances online.

  • Phil Overeem
    2019-03-24 09:54

    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
    2019-04-02 13:06

    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.

  • Steven
    2019-04-13 09:39

    This is a wonderful tribute to Sylvester and his musical legacy. It is detailed and competently written, if a bit gushing at times. Like most biographies of this type, it is written in linear fashion, starting with Sylvester's childhood and boyhood. This portion of a biography is often tedious to me, even though it gives all kinds of clues as to the life destiny of the subject. The book picks up momentum about a third of the way in, and I learned a lot about how Sylvester's career arc developed, peaked, and rather flat-lined. What I got from the book were the following key points: 1. He wanted to be a legendary diva similar to Josephine Baker. He saw himself as a diva, and he was enamored (no, CRAZED) about the clothing and accessories that would beam "fabulousness" to the word. However, he was neither a trans-sexual (he enjoyed being both feminine and a rather sexually assertive traditional male apparently). He was also not a drag queen. Instead, he embraced himself fully and reveled in his special-ness as a unique and eccentric character. That was what fascinated people about him, that he lived his life giving one big "F YOU" finger to those who might stigmatize, bully, or harass him for being who he was. Thus he was a role model in spite of the fact that he was quite self-serving and, if not narcissistic, at least proudly in peoples' faces. For that alone he deserved the acclaim and legendary status he earned. 2. He stumbled across "disco", rather than beckoned it or even fully embraced it as is primary bread and butter as a recording artist. He wanted to be a torch singer, a balladeer, a gospel artist, even a rocker. What clicked was a combination of gospel fervor and a series of great, rather cheaply produced dance music hits that connected big time with the gay dance club crowd, and yielded at least one smash hit ("You Make Me Feel Mighty Real"). He luckily found the right people to team with to churn out some dance floor classics, which remain his most passionate and celebrated work, although he could perform his beloved ballads and jazz standards with passion and flair as well. About half-way into the book it is as if an impending dark cloud can be sensed. The life and times of Sylvester and those who teamed with him was relatively brief before AIDS ,owed most of them down and brought the San Francisco gay liberation non-stop party to a tragic end. Particularly sad was the early death of electronic music pioneer Patrick Cowley, who probably was destined for a remarkable career a la Giorgio Moroder if he hadn't died so young of AIDS; he, too , should be remembered, for it was his production skills that dressed took what might have been otherwise ordinary disco jams into the sonic stratosphere that propelled them tot he top of the dance music charts. Bravo, Patrick, well done! Imagine "You Make Me Feel Mighty real" without the trippy keyboard effects and you know why I give props to Patrick. The Two Tons o' Fun also perfectly complimented Sylvester's impassioned style; Marha Wash is a dance music legend in her own right. I could've cared less about "It's Raining Men" bit I'm glad they got a big hit!) but just listen to "Earth Could Be Just Like Heaven" or "I Got the Feelin'" to hear how good these ladies were. if you hated 'disco" I am not so sure you would necessarily hate Sylvester's best dance music tracks. They were electrified with passion and energy, whereas some But by no means not all) "disco" records were formulaic, pleasant, and rather cheesy. Sylvester turned dance floors into Pentecostal church services; he turned a night of dancing into an EXPERIENCE of power, passion, sexual energy, and a spiritual rush. (Now I'm "gushing" a little, just like the author, but really... Sylvester was a mind-blowing artist who elevated dance music to ART. I'm really happy I was there, on the dance floor night after night, to experience that. Perhaps one of the sweetest and most unexpected aspects of Sylvester's life was the unflagging love of his mother and siblings. he may have been an "outsider", an "eccentric", etc. but he had support and love throughout his journey, and perhaps this is why there is no indication he resorted to substance abuse or addiction, which are all but music artist cliches. He was indulgent, and a romantic, but he was also strong and grounded. In the end it can be easily said: the man was true to his life's philosophy: he had FABULOUS down to an art! I doubt there will be a better biography of Sylvester written than this one. It is a fitting tribute.

  • Andrew Marshall
    2019-04-03 16:00

    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 - it's about seventies music, San Francisco (a city that I have visited and love) at a historically interesting time and features a larger than life character. Gamson has done lots of research and talked to everyone who knew Sylvester (who died of AIDS in 1988) and the book has won an award. Unfortunately, he is a sociologist and he writes like a journalist - reporting what happened and what other people saw but never allowing us to look through Sylvester's eyes.

  • AnitaDurt
    2019-04-14 07:44

    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 my inner drag queen and am loving this music (sorry dad). after reading this book i have a new respect for Sylvester- someone who could sing, perform, did whatever the hell they wanted, was loving and gracious and seemingly without fear.

  • Rebecca
    2019-03-28 09:04

    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 fame, identity, gender, self-expression, disco, race, status quo, and family. I'm looking forward to reading Freaks Talk Back and Claims to Fame.

  • Paul
    2019-03-25 07:40

    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 born of the mores, ethics and sequins of a world now sadly lost forever.... Can I get a witness?

  • Hank Stuever
    2019-04-09 15:39

    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 perceptions of cultural meaning. Sylvester is, admittedly, not a major celebrity, but Sylvester's life intersects with a great many events and twists of popular culture that are important.

  • Jennie
    2019-04-03 13:47

    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
    2019-04-13 09:48

    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
    2019-04-17 12:59

    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
    2019-04-01 08:55

    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.

  • Sumayyah
    2019-04-10 08:40

    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
    2019-04-03 15:46

    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.

  • lia
    2019-04-11 13:53

    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.

  • Sharene
    2019-04-18 13:46

    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
    2019-04-16 14:45

    Fabulous for anyone who is interested in/lived through the gay disco 70's San Francisco. Check out Sylvester CD's too!

  • Betsy
    2019-04-10 07:52

    I really enjoyed learning more about Sylvester and gay San Francisco during the 70s and 80s. The book is well written and very moving.

  • Ed
    2019-03-27 09:56

    biography is usually pretty boring, but this one has context.

  • Edwin
    2019-03-30 08:39

    Awesome story about an awesome person. Sad stuff at the end with P. Cowley and lots of others dying.

  • Blackbook
    2019-04-01 11:58

    Found this in a used book giveaway section. What a find! I miss Sylvester. He was a generous and amazing performer.

  • Christopher
    2019-03-22 10:08

    The best resource you'll ever find if you ever want to know more about this amazing 70s icon.