Long Beach will be awash with authors Oct. 5.
Peninsula cozy mystery writer Jan Bono will appear at a book event with a host of writers with connections to the Pacific Northwest.
They include A.J. Downey, author of the Sacred Hearts Motorcycle Club romance series, young audience writer Signe Kopps from Portland, long-time anglophile poet Janice Thompson and Spokane-based Lewis and Clark historian Robert Heacock.
They will be appearing with many others at Books at Long Beach. It will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Chautauqua Lodge in Long Beach. Admission is free, and it is open to the public.
The event is work — and pleasure — for the organizer, Ragan Myers, events coordinator with the city of Long Beach. “I absolutely love books,” she enthused. “My biggest challenge in the entire event is not buying every book from every author!”
Several attending write nonfiction. Irene Francis Olson from Redmond writes about her experiences as a dementia caregiver. Allan Fritz writes — and publishes regular updates — of his book about kayaking around the Columbia River and nearby locations.
Perhaps the most unusual, however, is Rosie McGee, whose work will appeal to fans of the 1960s counterculture and music scene.
When asked about herself, the Portland resident admitted she might just be “a bit different” from the other Northwest writers participating at the Long Beach event.
“I came to be an author by way of being a photographer first, one who lived and worked with the Grateful Dead during their earliest years, and thus shot some candid portraits that much later became well-known images and historical documents,” she recalled.
McGee was born in Paris to French parents, immigrating to the U.S. at age five. She borrowed her father’s camera at age 11 to photograph a school graduation and has carried one ever since.
McGee photographed the Dead during their early years from 1964 to 1974. The group was formed from members of a “jug band” with original members Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann. A second drummer, Mickey Hart, who would later have a successful solo career, joined a couple of years later; McKernan died in 1973, a time of many personnel changes.
The band was known for lengthy improvisational jams that were never the same. The influence of drugs, in part, led the Dead’s sound to be labeled psychedelic rock, although it draws on folk, bluegrass and multiple other influences.
Garcia, their leader, died in 1995. Surviving members regrouped for reunion concerts in 2015 then resumed touring, performing in Portland and at the Gorge Amphitheater near Moses Lake in the last three years.
“I always wanted to publish the photos in a book, but by the time I could, the Dead were beloved by millions and the stories were wanted as much as the photos. So, I forced myself to write them down,” McGee said.
That’s how “Dancing with the Dead — A Photographic Memoir: My Good Old Days with the Grateful Dead and the San Francisco Music Scene 1964-1974” came to be published. Later, she narrated an audio version — an idea suggested by a Deadhead truck driver.
Set in the middle of ‘60s counterculture, it features 200 of McGee’s photographs, plus stories gathered from her years spent with the band. These include encounters with psychedelic drugs pioneer Timothy Leary, actress Julie Christie, comedian Lenny Bruce and ill-fated singer Janis Joplin.
Garcia’s ex-wife Carolyn, called the book, “a precious gift.”
Overseas travel included the Dead’s two-month 1972 European tour which produced a live album that some believe showcases the band’s best work. McGee worked as translator for the band’s 45-member entourage for three concerts in France.
Joel Selvin, a music critic, author and columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle between 1972 and 2009, labeled her photos “fantastic” when he reviewed the book.
“If you want the inside story of the Grateful Dead from the band’s glory years, read ‘Dancing with the Dead’ by Rosie McGee, by far the most perceptive and vivid account from any Dead insider,” he wrote.
McGee’s photos illustrate many other writers’ books chronicling the band, have featured in documentaries, and were displayed in an exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 2012. They have also appeared in Rolling Stone magazine and the New York Times.
She moved to Portland in 1991, later leaving for Arizona then the Bay Area but returning in 2015. Her “day job” resume includes secretary for a detective agency, typing burial contracts for a funeral home and working as a tax agency clerk. Sales-related jobs have included businesses marketing guitars, Tibetan rugs and fine jewelry.
She calls herself a “tribal storyteller.” More of her writing appears on her website, www.rosiemcgee.com.
Pieces including her eventful autobiography, intimate memories about life with the Dead in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, and a more recent story about uniting with a never-seen cousin in France.
She said unlike other authors attending the Long Beach event who might draw on the Pacific Northwest’s natural beauty for inspiration, it spurs her to “live well.”
“A photographer long before I became an author, I can’t go two steps away from my home, let alone two or 20 miles, without being inspired by the beauty that is all around me here,” she said.
“The natural beauty of this area does far more than compel me to raise my camera to my eye; it calms me and gives me a perspective that allows me to handle the crazier and less positive aspects of my busy life.”