Documentary that features Peter Simon streaming

WBCN film includes Simon’s photographs and commentary on the rock-and-roll station and activism.

A documentary that features interviews with the late Peter Simon and photographs from his collection about the early days of WBCN is going to be available for streaming to benefit an outer Cape radio station, according to a press release.

“WBCN and The American Revolution” is going to be available from Monday, May 18, through Sunday, May 31, for viewers to rent by visiting tiny.cc/wbcnoutercape. Tickets are $10, and proceeds will be shared with WOMR-FM Provincetown, the Payomet Performing Arts Center, Truro, and Wellfleet Preservation Hall in Wellfleet, as part of a nationwide campaign to support community radio, film, and media arts organizations during the pandemic and create a public dialogue on how media can create social change.

I wrote about the film after it was shown at the Woods Hole Film Festival last August. It was so popular that it was held over for a subsequent viewing. Speaking to Bill Lichtenstein, the director of the documentary, in an interview with The Times after the festival, he said Simon played an integral role in the documentary.

“His entire photo collection, in order to deal with the vast amount of stuff we ended up collecting for the film, we set up an archive at UMass Amherst, where they kept track of this stuff that was either shared or donated for the film, and Peter allowed us to use his photos for the film. Then at some point, he was looking for a home for his collection, and it ended up going to UMass Amherst,” Lichtenstein said. “He was just very involved. The money for the film was raised through crowdfunding, and he was extremely helpful with that — donating photographs we could give away.”

Lichtenstein said his relationship with Simon goes way back. “There’s a photo in the film where he describes that he would come to ’BCN and take pictures of people. There were two office photos, and it goes from one to another so there’s a slight shift in the photo. I’m actually in the back of the photo. It’s the day I met him. We stayed friends.”

Lichtenstein also recalls putting Simon on the air while he was at Brown University with a reggae show: “We were friends all those years. Just can’t believe he’s gone. Such a loss.”

The documentary was eight years in the making. Simon was interviewed for it in 2017.

In the press release, Lichtenstein said this is not the first time the film has been used to benefit public radio stations. “Now, in this unprecedented time, as we are all facing shared danger but must do so apart from one another, the spirit of community is stronger than ever. I’m thrilled that we’re able to share the inspiring message of the film in this way,” he said in the release. “Additionally, as the economic effects of the COVID-19 shutdown threaten so many of our most valued businesses and cultural institutions, I’m pleased that ticket sales will support three vital Outer Cape organizations.”

Simon, whom Lichtenstein described as a “lovely person,” told great stories about Bob Dylan and The Beatles. (You’ll have to tune in to hear them.)

The documentary is about more than the start of a revolutionary rock ’n’ roll station, it’s also about the activism of the era. “I think what is important to know is that the ’60s began as a kind of a cultural-style rebellion of young people that we see with every generation — some longer hair, the rock ’n’ roll,” he said. “But then, because of the war and the draft, it became a much more deepened generational divide — to the point of violence, to the point of conflict between young people and society — really, a revolution.”

That’s brought together with more than 100,000 images of the time, video, and the music. Lichtenstein said he enjoys being at public screenings of the film to see the reactions. There is “chuckling at these longhaired kids” smoking marijuana (which is now legal and accepted), and then you realize it’s no joke as “clubs come out and they really get beaten by the police.”

Along with Simon, there are first-person accounts from the station’s staff, as well as newly filmed and archival material from political, social, cultural, and musical figures of the day, including Noam Chomsky, Jane Fonda, David Bowie, Jerry Garcia, Abbie Hoffman, Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen in his first radio interview, and Patti Smith, performing with her band in her first live radio broadcast.

“It’s great. It’s fun to sit and watch it with everyone else and have that shared experience,” Lichtenstein said of watching it during the Woods Hole Film Festival with an audience.

 

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