At first, I was going to take a pass on this 4-hour DVD twofer. I'm not particularly into furthering the fortunes or fame of the children of privilege—Peter Simon, brother to Carly, Lucy, and Joanna, is one of the offspring of legendary enterprising publishing magnate Richard L. Simon, co-owner/founder of the mega-huge Simon & Schuster book company—but I've been very attracted over many years to Pete's work. The guy's endlessly shown that he's a true photographer and artist and has taken many iconic snaps of musicians, personalities, and events. So, I figured "What the hell?" and started in. That, too, wasn't at first terribly encouraging, as the guy's not exactly a public speaker nor charismatic in any fashion. But I kept watching anyway, looking at those photographs…and as I did, and as Peter began telling his story, I found myself engrossed.
He may have been gently born, but his was by no means a tale of sybarite luxury and ease. His father, an amateur photographer enamored with the magic of the craft, with whom he had a dodgy relationship, developed Alzheimer's and passed away by the time Simon was 12. Peter plainly and honestly conveys his odd relationship with the man and then goes on to reveal that he, Peter, was neither a good student nor a lion-heart, the target of bullies and such. Yet, from his very first photographs, it was obvious the budding gent had The Eye. More, his heart and mind were soundly Leftist, to the point that he readily unhedgingly admits having taken drugs, posed as being gay to avoid the draft, and a number of other other amusing incidents, chronicled with neither back off nor excuses nor boast nor apologies. At that moment, beyond earlier affinities for his craftsmanship, I became sold on the guy as a genuine Everyman, wealth and opportunities or no.
Through the Lens, then, becomes cousin to what I laud in the Pride and Sexy Intellectual labels in the rock doc genre, a mode that bids fair to overcome the print medium I work within, coverage of the musical arts. The visual side of the audio-visual portion of the house has recently been fully coming into its own while the chirographic aspect has been suffering terribly through the ill graces of glib, untutored, ill shod wordhacks…sure, with a decent scribe here and there, but overall? Pretty sad. Simon's presentation is a matter of visual and oral history, and his chosen medium is on the ascendant precisely through its willingness to shed phony earlier standards, speaking from proximity and experience without editorial steerage and "guidance" (soft or direct censorship). Throughout the narrative and exposition, it's exceedingly easy to put oneself in his shoes due to the man's easygoing non-egotistical mindset.
Then there are the photographs.
You're either a vampire unacquainted with the waking world or else a Republican if you haven't run across any number of Simon's snapshots. He caught seminal moments of 60s history, froze in time numerous rockers and other celebrities, including a drop-dead amazing photograph of Robert Kennedy on the campaign trail, taken when Peter was only 17, and, later, a shot of Springsteen and his full band that's mesmerizing. He helped create LP covers, posters, and various artistic bric-a-brac and recently even melded in with Occupy people to chart their uprising. Along the way, the guy was always a quintessential hippie. Had he lived down the street from me, compeers and I would've welcomed him to the fold, jokin' 'n tokin' and living the life. Chronicler, protester, nudist, artist, and just plain human being, in watching Through the Lens, you swiftly realize that Peter Simon put more into his life than any five people you've likely known.
Like me, you're going to be fascinated by the sights and perambulations from this fascinating character, swept into his and your own memories if you're a Boomer, or oriented to a first person visitation of times past, of history you missed, if younger. Pete was there, he lived the times, was given unusual access, and we're all the richer for it, events frozen forever and saved for posterity whenever he clicked the shutter, enshrining moments for generations to come. He operates The Simon Gallery not far his home in Martha's Vineyard, but, really, his oeuvre deserves museum preservation, perhaps an entire wing somewhere. I know I sure as hell would love to quietly study his work in such a setting, but, in the meantime, we have Through the Lens.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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