Simeon Coxe III – Musician, Electronicist
Born June 4, 1938; died September 8, 2020
Simeon Coxe III, who has died aged 82, was a pioneer of electronic music, who, as one half of Silver Apples, fused a spaced out 1960s sensibility with analog sound waves to fashion a form of trippy sci-fi disco. While the two albums released during Silver Apples’ original lifespan kept them on the fringes of the New York scene, they influenced several generations of sonic explorers, from Suicide through to Stereolab and Portishead. The latter programmed Silver Apples at their edition of the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival.
The roots of the Silver Apples sound came about while Coxe and Taylor were member of the more conventional Overland Stage Electric Band. One night, Coxe decided to plug in an oscillator and jam along to see what would happen. The result split up the band. Coxe went on to build a multiple oscillator-based electronic rig christened the Simeon, while Taylor’s rolling drum patterns provided a propulsive groove to accompany Coxe’s hypnotic mantras.
Silver Apples’ self-titled debut album was released on the Kapp label in 1968, and sired the manifesto-like single, Oscillations, which Coxe said was the first song he wrote. The album’s follow-up, Contact, followed a year later. By the time Coxe and Taylor recorded what was scheduled to be their third album, however, both Silver Apples and their label were defunct.
This followed a lawsuit by Pan Am airlines, who had allowed the band to be photographed in the cockpit of one of their airliners for the cover of Contact on the proviso the Pan Am logo was visible. Pan Am was less happy with the flipside, which displayed an image of a plane crash. Copies of Contact were pulled from record stores, and Silver Apples were prevented from playing live. It would be almost thirty years before the lost Silver Apples album, The Garden, was completed and released, revealing one of the missing links of the 1960s musical underground.
“If we had continued,” Coxe said in a 2012 interview prior to a show at Glasgow Film Festival, “I guess we would probably have succumbed to public pressure in order to keep our contract. It wasn’t easy – and this is a confession – to walk into a room full of people and hear them constantly say things like ‘Why can’t you play in tune?’ It eats into you, and just because we’re human beings, we would never have kept that purity. So, in a way, I’m glad it didn’t happen for us, because there’s a cleanliness about that.”
Simeon Oliver Coxe III was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, and from the age of seven grew up in New Orleans before moving to New York. Silver Apples took their name from W.B. Yeats’ poem, The Song of Wandering Aengus. California-based electronic composer Morton Subotnick had already drawn from the same source with his 1967 debut album, Silver Apples of the Moon, while in 1953, science fiction writer Ray Bradbury named his short story collection, The Golden Apples of the Sun, after an accompanying line in the poem.
Coxe and Taylor’s way out sounds were championed by New York mayor John Lindsay, and they played in Central Park to an audience of thousands to accompany a live screening of the 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landing. They were admired too by Jimi Hendrix, a friend of Taylor. Prior to Hendrix’s flag-burning performance of The Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, the trio jammed an even more out-there version.
Following the band’s demise, Coxe stopped making music and moved to Alabama. He drove an ice cream truck and worked as a news reporter at the Mobile-based WKRG TV and other stations, once getting fired for revealing that Santa Claus wasn’t real. He also became an artist, curating at local galleries and “banging my head for twenty years against the political bullshit of the art world” as a painter.
Interest in Silver Apples was rekindled after their two albums were released as bootlegs. In 1994, a tribute album, Electronic Evocations, saw artists from a new electronic underground covering Silver Apples songs. Coxe reformed a version of Silver Apples with Xian Hawkins and Michael Lerner, releasing Decatur (1997) and Beacon (1998) before joining forces again with Taylor and the belated release of The Garden (1998).
Coxe was put out of action following a serious road accident the same year, and
Taylor passed away in 2005. When Coxe started playing live again as Silver Apples, rather than bring in another drummer, he used recordings of Taylor’s original drum patterns alongside samples of the now hard to replace oscillators. In 2016, Coxe released what turned out to be the final Silver Apples album, Clinging to a Dream. The sounds on the record might have been more familiar to latter-day listeners, but Coxe remained ahead of the curve.
“When we were around the first time,” Coxe said in 2012, “rock and roll bands were terrified of even using the word ‘electronics’, as though this was a threat to real instruments. Now, it’s the other way round.”
He is survived by his long-term companion and creative collaborator, Lydia Winn LeVert, his brother, David S. Coxe, and a nephew, Aaron Coxe.
The Herald, October 19th 2020.