The new book by Neal Preston, Exhilarated and Exhausted, is finally here, available at Amazon, and it is his masterpiece. At 336 pages from Reel Art Press, favoring rich black & white photography on white or black border, the book is a stunning collection of Neal’s best work taken from the 1960’s through the present day. While the focus is on the classic rock bands on the 1970’s, a few shots from the 80’s and beyond are included (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Eddie Van Halen, Michael Jackson, Guns and Roses, and a few others). That means at least 200 shots from this famous photographer laid out among his stories in this highest quality hardbound keepsake.
What is really key about this collection are musings and recollections of Neal himself. There is absolutely no substitute for having the man who crouched into those pits in front of stages around the world tell his story in first person narrative, full of witty and wise anecdotes gleaned from a life on the road, a hard life, but one that in Neal’s case rewarded then and now, as evidenced by this exceptional book.
I first met Neal over the phone about three years ago. I had purchased a print of his classic black and white shot of Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant between songs on a giant outdoor stage. It’s the one where Robert holds a dove in his right hand, and a beer and cigarette in his left, peaceful smile on his face – you know the one – nearly every kid in high school had a similar (but not Neal’s shot) color printed poster on their wall. We framed it for my wife’s best friend and one of my closest as well. San Francisco Art Exchange passed on my digits, as I wanted to talk to Neal, and was also looking to license some shots for my own book. (by the way a bit of advice he gave me which I regrettably did not use? more B&W shots than color, Doug!)
I will never forget the phone ringing, and Neal on the other end saying something like “yeah, this is Neal, who are you? What is this idea about a book?” He proceeded to regale me honestly and without bluster as to his experiences, cramming in as many stories as he could in what ended up being a 2-hour call with some guy he never met (with numerous protestations that he “had to go, but just one more”). I felt truly lucky, knowing as I did then who Neal was, knowing already about his friendship with Cameron, as I devoured the “extras” on Crowe’s Almost Famous blue-ray release. So yeah, having that kind of time with someone also famous, who shared his passion and introspection without hesitation, was awesome. That’s what this book is, in print, forever.
At the time of our second meeting, Neal was about to stage a gallery exhibit for the lighting design crowd in Las Vegas. He had done a rare show in Germany with several of the same prints on display, and they printed a book of sorts, with many of those photos. But, there was a paltry few paragraphs written by Neal himself. Too few, I told him directly.
Not so here. We learn that Neal and Cameron met at a Humble Pie show in 72. We learn that Cameron hired Neal as the photographer for his first piece in Rolling Stone, about the band Yes (where are those shots!!!). Then we get a master class from Neal about the art, seat and tears that go into being a professional photographer. Neal writes his many stories in melodious voice, drawing us into his circle, sharing asides that make us feel that we are in the pit or in the first row at least, right beside him, seeing through his eyes. I’ve tried to do this – it’s hard – really, really hard to write with that kind of immediacy and even urgency. Neal nails it here.
Section titles such as humble musings on being lucky “The Greatest Job in the World,” “The Inner Sanctum,” (It’s a hot zone back there… think Chernobyl with guitars”), “Rock Tour Tension,” and “Bob Dylan Called Me A Leech” frame the stories. Each artist is given a page or more, and maybe some musings, and it’s all very much infectious. For example, when Neal shares his passion for all things Greg Allman, even if you are not a fan, you become one. One of my favorite bits is his advice for aspiring photographers: “I don’t care what kind of pictures you shoot or aspire to shoot…you’re gonna have highs and lows so you have to take the good with the bad.” See, he didn’t have to do that – he did not have to be generous in sharing what he knows and speaking to those of us who relate to what he does. But he does and it works – all of it. As we used to say, “go for it.” My highest recommendation.