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The Fan Who Knew Too Much: Aretha Franklin, the Rise of the Soap Opera, Children of the Gospel Church, and Other Meditations Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 19, 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Dazzling . . .  Can a real fan actually know too much? The fulsomeness and jesuitical detail of Heilbut's essays argue no, and his arguments frequently spin off in serendipitous digressions, down whatever path it seems his enthusiasms lead.”
—Eric Banks, The Chicago Tribune

“Leapt off my desk and refused to be put down . . . Everything I know about gospel music I’ve learned from Anthony Heilbut’s compilations and writings; thanks to his crazy compendium The Fan Who Knew Too Much, he has now, also, taught me everything I know about radio soap operas, Aretha Franklin, and homosexuality in the black church.”
—Lorin Stein, Yahoo! News
"What Do You Give a Book Lover"

“Gloriously detailed . . . absorbing . . . Heilbut’s fandom and sharp critical eye allow for an enthusiastic but well-balanced analysis . . . searing and valid.”
Lambda Literary
 
“Profiles with verve and opinionated flamboyance gospel and blues vocalists, European writers and intellectuals, radio soap opera actors and network moguls . . . powerful . . . stunning . . . a delight.”
—Ron Wynn, ArtsNash

“Sprawling and juicy; as gossipy and anecdotal as it is academic.”
—Washington Blade
 
“Goes where most are wary to tread . . . a masterful piece of writing, ranking among the author’s best work . . .  revelatory and stirring.”
—Bob Marovich, The Black Gospel Blog
 
“Meditates evocatively on the place and plight of “the children” . . . Heilbut draws on a repertoire of vividly emblematic anecdotes, personal histories, and first-hand experiences that bear a deeply felt witness. . . by turns tragic, bawdy, transporting, and balefully beautiful . . . a dishy yet devotional guide to gay sense and sensibility that defined black gospel.”
The Gay and Lesbian Review
 
“Fascinating . . . Heilbut knows his stuff [and] argues persuasively.”
—Greg Kot, The Chicago Tribune
 
“A must-read . . . weighty . . . a book of revelations, and an essential document of our times.”
—Straight.com

“That all-too-rare thing: music writing that lays claim to the larger world.”
—R.J. Smith, NPR

“Holds nothing back . . . has up-to-the-minute implications beyond the pulpit . . . as Heilbut pivots from the historic music of the black church to its current politics, his point becomes clearer, and more forceful by the word . . . a must-read . . . intimate and informed.”
PopMatters
 
“There aren’t many fans like Heilbut, with his cataloguing ardor, his teeming frame of reference and his thirst for experience. . . . The people who fascinate him are the ones who walk the same tightrope he did, between old and new.”
—Louis Bayard, The Washington Post

“Anthony Heilbut has been a guide and a mentor to me. I know of no one who has the love and depth of knowledge of this extraordinary author.”
—Paul Simon
 
“Elegant . . . Heilbut's generous book demonstrates that no fan can know too much, or love too much.”
Slate
 
“Soul-searching . . . The 165-page centerpiece on [Aretha] Franklin is the most incisive and illuminating portrait yet drawn . . . about the wellsprings and inspirations of an American original.”
The Wall Street Journal
 
“A fine collection . . . arguably, the highlight of Heilbut’s writing career . . . heartbreaking and angry . . . never afraid to express an opinion—loudly.”
—Michael Schaub, NPR
 
“Rousing and impassioned . . . likely to spark debate on both sides of the church door.”
The Boston Globe
 
“[Heilbut’s] enthusiasms span a wide range . . . a glorious retelling of Aretha Franklin’s story . . . is worth the price of the book.”
—W. Kim Heron, Detroit Metro Times

“A brilliant, one-of-a-kind and immensely challenging book by a brilliant, one-of-a-kind, immensely challenging American writer . . . profound, personal and candid.”
The Buffalo News

“Feels like a late Beethoven string quartet, drawing on a rich career’s obsessions and paying tribute to sources of inspiration.”
The Daily Beast
 
“Fascinating, revelatory . . . [a] breathtaking trip through American culture . . . moves seamlessly (and stylishly) from music to literature and other historical reflections on popular culture.”
Shelf Awareness

“The timing of Mr. Heilbut’s book, and the intensity of his argument, has thrust it from the dusty corners of arts criticism into the heat and light of the political arena in a presidential election year.”
—Samuel G. Freedman, The New York Times

“Blends biography with criticism and anecdotes to create marvelously zesty, erotically frank, assumption-blasting essays. . . . This vigorous collection . . . takes us on a guided tour unlike any other through the spirals of the psyche and the mazes of social and cultural convention and dissent.”
Booklist

“Full of contagious enthusiasm, razor-sharp wit, and stunning insights . . . his musings on Aretha Franklin alone are worth the price of the book . . . The sensations of spending a few moments in Heilbut's company provide great bliss indeed.”
Publishers Weekly

“Detailed, freewheeling and very personal cultural essays from an admitted obsessive and an amiable and intelligent rambler . . . A cook’s tour through the passions of an expert whose style is as eclectic as his subject matter.”
Kirkus
 
“Take in his witty, passionate prose, his uncanny blend of scholarship and reportage, his analytic brilliance and his joie de vivre. You will be stirred and delighted.”
—Margo Jefferson, author of On Michael Jackson
 
“Nothing new in the last year gave me as much pure reading pleasure . . . Heilbut ranges over the culture like a madman, but with a fierce sanity in his eye, debunking myths and erecting new ones. I finished The Fan Who Knew Too Much wondering how, without it, I'd ever thought I understood a thing about America in the twentieth century. Let me ask: are you familiar with the history of gays in gospel? Or with the early, radio roots of soap operas? Then you, too, are similarly benighted. Get with this.”
—John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead

About the Author

Anthony Heilbut received his Ph.D. in English from Harvard University. He has taught at New York University and Hunter College and is the author of Exiled in Paradise, The Gospel Sound, and Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature. Heilbut is also a record producer specializing in gospel music and has won both a Grammy Award and a Grand Prix du Disque.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (June 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037540080X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375400803
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,072,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dear curious readers, here's a rare chance to get a most brutally insightful and painfully passionate work from one of America's best. "The Fan Who Knew Too Much" is almost an understatement. Anthony Heilbut wrote the definitive bible on Black Gospel music over 40 years ago! Critics, scholars, fans and most importantly the living souls he wrote of instantly agreed, "The Gospel Sound - Good News and Bad Times" was a masterpiece. Today that same author has honed his pen even sharper and painted a picture that would leave Rembrant's brush in shame. Some of his subject matter here is not for the faint of heart, but the truth is usually ugly and only a master can make sense of the myth. His forays into soap operas to drag queens, black radio and the blues are precise, honest and funny. Mr. Heilbut takes the reader deep into the Mariana Trench of Aretha Franklin's universe, from her first child at 13 to her singing for Barack Obama, it reads as written by a family member, like a Grandfather who knew her soul and what was coming before she did. Slowly the author's grasp of persecution becomes crystal, it could only come from a German Jewish kid lovingly adopted into the "Golden Era" of America's most insanely influential source of the Nile. (There's a reason it's still called the "Golden Era" ...nobody's ever topped it!) He surely did it by attending countless store-front churches to the Apollo on many, many occasions. It just so happens that Heilbut has the writing chops to do what most can't, walk the last mile of the way and tell the truth. 40s, 50s black American's soul? German Jews? Sames? (some say Gays) ....don't get more persecuted than that!

Buy this book NOW... you'll be richer than Noah. Somebody say Amen.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a great book of essays ranging over a huge and diverse set of topics. I have to admit that I'm a little prejudiced. I know Tony very well and have followed the writing of this book over many years. But the result is more than I ever expected. Or maybe I really knew that the result would be as fine as it is if it ever got completed. Because I have to read slowly (I'm a quadriplegic and have to read slowly I'm only part of the way through the Aretha chapter) I found the one on homophobia in the world of gospel music and in which it plays such a central role absolutely fascinating. I only knew Marion Williams slightly. I listen to her singing practically every day so it is wonderful to read of the role she played in the gospel music tradition. I saw Black Nativity back in 1962. Arranged the concert for her at Harvard of all places. She blew everyone away and by the end the lily white audience was clapping and shouting. A memorable experience. Anyway, I would encourage anyone who loves great writing about all sorts of subjects to read this book.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At last, Anthony Heilbut's long awaited collection of wide-ranging essays. Even topics of little initial interest to me revealed fascinating insights, controversy, humour, a unique perspective, luminous language, expansion on themes from previous books, plus courageous new exposes, much of which resonated even here in far away Australia ...now I'm only sorry it could be ages before more such delights.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the Gospel Sound, Heilbut wrote one of the seminal books on American vernacular music. He also wrote a great book on Thomas Mann. This is a great series of essays on gays in black gospel music, Aretha Franklin, German exiles in Los Angeles, the origins of soap opera and other topics. Highly recommended
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Heilbut's work has long been distinguished by his gift for taking on polysemous topics and spinning the reader through them, gracefully and compellingly--teasing out all sorts of unexpected associations along the way. It's a pleasure to read intellectual history where the frame of reference is so unabashedly broad and the weave of ideas so rewarding to follow. In this volume, the essay "Yesterday's Heroes," which looks into the afterlife of some of the figures he explored in his great book "Exiled in Pardise," contains a tour de force of cascading cultural links that takes readers from Hannah Arendt into Marlene Dietrich and Hedy Lamarr--then back around the block to Bertolt Brecht. It's an irresistible ride and full of discoveries.
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Format: Hardcover
Imagine a memoirist with the passion and urgency of a teenager and the sophistication of a Harvard Ph.D. in English. That's who you'll meet in "The Fan Who Knew Too Much," a brilliant collection of essays by Anthony Heilbut. He writes about the gospel music world that entranced him as a non-believing teen in the 1950s (and its gay counterculture); about the complicated life of Aretha Franklin; about soap operas; about German exiles who shaped America; about soap operas and male sopranos. He is the fan who knows too much, and he does not hesitate to reveal secrets and insights that make the book crackle with surprises. His immigrant mother said, "My poor son is always discovering areas of American culture that nobody else appreciates." She was wrong about one thing -- this book makes all those unappreciated cultural corners seem very important indeed. And as a longtime Aretha fan, I will say I have never read anything better about the Queen of Soul. R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the good Dr. Heilbut.
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