Saturday, October 29, 2016

Alive with the Dead or A Fly on the Wall With A Camera

Alive with the Dead or A Fly on the Wall with A Camera. Susana Millman. 2016. Hardback 260 Pp.
For a group of regular looking guys, the Grateful Dead have been subject to more than their share of photo opportunities over the 50+ years since they started as a band, and they have been the subject of numerous book-length photographic collections. The latest, and one of the best, is by Bay Area photographer Susana Millman who, along with her husband, author and publicist Dennis McNally, was part of the band's inner circle from the mid-1980s. Since that time, Millman has been one of the most successful photojournalists at capturing the human side of the band members, crew, and family that make up the complex and ever-evolving society that was - and in many ways still is - the Grateful Dead. This generous and beautifully appointed book contains plenty of great shots of the Dead onstage, but many of the most enchanting photos come from other situations - backstage, out to dinner on tour, or extracurricular musical events like Mickey Hart's Planet Drum tour or Jerry Garcia's collaborations with his own band and with David Grisman. Millman's familiarity with band dynamics makes for some humorous collections of photos, including a memorable series of shots from the set of the hilarious video the band made for "Hell in a Bucket" and three pages of Jerry Garcia's bemused and befuddled expressions at bandmate Bob Weir's musically and physically unpredictable presence on various stages over the years. Although 80%of the book focuses on the years Millman photographed the Dead up to Jerry Garcia's death in 1995, the remaining 40 pages breezes through the following two decades, wrapping up with a few choice shots of Dead and Company onstage. Although the main course of this book is the photographs, they are informed wonderfully by essays by both Millman and McNally, and by a heartfelt and incisive foreword by Mickey Hart. Full disclosure: I participated in Millman's Kickstarter campaign for this book.

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