Renowned rock photographer Neal Preston (Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Who, Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen) talks about his career-spanning book, “Exhilarated and Exhausted,” with Stephen K. Peeples.
It’s no hype to say that Neal Preston is one of rock’s all-time greatest photographers. It’s a fact. He was the official tour photographer for Led Zeppelin, Queen, Bruce Springsteen and The Who during their peak years, just for starters.
Add The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Madonna, Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Frank Zappa, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Michael Jackson…his client roster goes on forever.
Preston’s first book, “Exhilarated and Exhausted,” published November 21, 2017, in hardcover by Reel Art Press, collects 336 pages of highlights from his 40-plus years as a rock insider.
The massive tome measures 10″x12″x12,” weighs five pounds, and retails for around $45 wherever fine books are sold in stores or online.
Preston’s “Exhilarated and Exhausted” co-conspirators were rock journalist-turned-filmmaker Cameron Crowe (of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Almost Famous” fame, among many others, and Preston’s roommate in Hollywood before either was famous), who penned the foreword; and renowned music photo editor/archivist Dave Brolan (books featuring iconic work by Baron Wolman, Jim Marshall, Barry Feinstein, Andy Earl and others), who contributed the introduction.
Preston’s work combines technical precision with his uncanny editorial eye for composition as he captures intimate and dramatic moments from angles only all-access photographers can see. He can capture a quiet scene backstage in one shot, and the explosion of mass adulation out in the concert hall in the next.
Sitting down to read “Exhilarated and Exhausted” is like jumping into Preston’s camera bag and joining him on a wild, frenetic tour that packs four decades into the time it takes to give it a proper read — about the length of a marathon set by Led Zeppelin, The Who, Queen or especially Springsteen.
As Preston is quoted in the book’s press hype: “I want the reader at the end of this book to feel like they’ve just spent a year on the road with Zeppelin with one day off, then six months with Guns ‘n’ Roses, with one day off and then five years with Bruce Springsteen. Exhilarated and exhausted.”
Preston and I met backstage at a Queen concert at the Oakland Coliseum in mid-1980, on the band’s tour supporting “The Game.” He was shooting the band and I had just joined the Media Relations crew at Elektra Records, Queen’s label, and was tasked with hanging out with the band to get info to be used later for press releases, newsletters, bios and creative.
A couple of years and several more Queen concerts later, when Elektra/Asylum released the soundtrack to “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” Preston introduced me to Crowe.
Fast-forwarding to 2000, Crowe’s celebrated film “Almost Famous,” inspired by his experiences as a teenage rock journalist for Rolling Stone in the early ’70s (in particular, road-tripping with The Allman Brothers Band), resonated loudly with me, as a not-anywhere-near-as-almost-famous rock journalist and record company Media Relations editorial director (broke into the biz in 1975 as an editor for the music industry trade magazine Cash Box).
When “Almost Famous” opened, my son Scot was 15 and had already been my music research assistant for a few years. By then I was producing editorial content for Warner Music Group’s websites. Seeing the film together was a great bonding experience, and stoked Scot’s dream of producing soundtracks.
Another decade later, Scot began his career as a film music supervisor (and met Crowe at an “Almost Famous” stage performance in San Diego in October 2019).
Fast-forwarding again to February 2018, Preston invited me to visit his Burbank office to catch up and talk about “Exhilarated and Exhausted.” What was to be a 20-minute interview lasted more than two hours, and could have gone on longer had our schedules permitted.
For starters, Preston basically said he thinks most rock photo books suck and say little about the character behind the lens.
Instead of the usual rock photo book format, Preston set out to create an immersive experience that would not only be a visual mind-blower for the reader, but also capture the full-tilt intensity of both his job and his personality.
“We’ve all got that big pile of rock books in the corner, and I was going over some, plus I bought some on Amazon that I didn’t have, so I had pretty much every book by every major music photographer that was ever done,” he began.
“I spread them out on my bedroom floor and realized that they all suffered from the same disease. I noticed this within 15 minutes.
“They all felt the same, looked the same. They all had pretty pictures in them, some mediocre pictures. And they all had those cheesy little captions — ‘I photographed Bruce Springsteen and then we had a cheeseburger and he was a great guy.’
“And I thought these were flatlined, devoid of personality. If I’m going to do a book, it’s going to have my personality in it, or as much as I can get in, in words and in pictures. So my challenge was to do a book that nailed my personality.
“I decided the route I was going to take was to write a fair amount of text but to make it about my job. Here’s what it’s like having what you think is the glamour job of the 20th or 21st century, but it’s not as glamorous as it seems. On the contrary. It’s rarely glamorous, and more often than not, exhausting, and the pressures, the stresses, the deadlines — all this stuff goes into having the job that I have, that not a lot of people on the planet have had.
“So I wanted to write about it from that point of view. That would be the spine of it. And then from the spine would grow rock stories, and I’ve got a million — you know how many rock stories I have. I’ve got more than anyone, and they’re all great, and they’re all real — none of them are embellished. But I wanted everything to flow from my job and to point back to my job when I was finished telling each individual story.
“There are some famous photos in the book, there are some not so famous ones, there are ones that illustrate whatever story I’m telling, but it’s really written conversationally with a healthy sense of humor and an even healthier dose of self-deprecation.”
So I interviewed this Neal Preston character, we had a coffee, took a selfie. He was still a nice guy, more than half a lifetime after we met.
Here’s our unedited interview, in eight parts.
Santa Clarita Valley journalist Stephen K. Peeples was raised by newspaper journalists in Miami and Los Angeles. He was the original, award-winning producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for Westwood One in Culver City from 1988-1990. He is also a Grammy-nominated record producer (“Monterey International Pop Festival” box, Rhino/MIPF, 1992). Peeples’ first music industry gig was as an associate editor at Cash Box magazine in 1975. He was a record company Media Relations-PR executive for Capitol Records (1977-1980), Elektra/Asylum Records (1980-1983) and Rhino Entertainment (1992-1998). He was Rhino’s first web editor (1996-1998), then elevated to content editor of Warner Music Group websites (1998-2001). In California’s Santa Clarita Valley, Peeples was the award-winning Online Editor for The Signal newspaper’s website from 2007-2011, and wrote-hosted-co-produced SCVTV’s WAVE-nominated “House Blend” local music TV show from 2010-2015 (69 episodes still airing in reruns and on-demand). He is now a News Editor at SCVNews.com, Editor/Features Writer for Wealth Wisdom Wellness magazine, and VP/New Media Emeritus for Rare Cool Stuff Unltd. For more info and original stories, visit https://stephenkpeeples.com/. For more exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews, subscribe to Peeples’ YouTube channel.
Article: Rock Photography Career Leaves Neal Preston ‘Exhilarated and Exhausted’
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Category: News & Reviews
Article Source: StephenKPeeples.com