Simeon Coxe III is well into his 60s, and he's got a head full of shocked, white hair. He wears trippy purple glasses and a matching purple shirt—he used to be an ice-cream-truck driver. He was also a painter, an armchair chaos theorist, and a musician. Jimi Hendrix once called him "Mr. Apple"; Rolling Stone referred to him as the "leading exponent of hippie technology." In his late-1960s band, Silver Apples, Coxe wrote songs with old World War II oscillators strapped to his elbows, knees, and feet. And when we landed on the moon in 1969, the Apples were NYC mayor John Lindsay's go-to band—he commissioned them to write the song "Mune Toon" for the occasion. For a band now filed under "obscuro," that's a lot of myth. So what the fuck happened to these guys?

Sponsored
Elliot Bay Book Co., NAAM & Tasveer Present Isabel Wilkerson: Caste- The Origins of Our Discontents
This book shifts and alters fundamental perspectives on how race and related matters are understood!

A vortex of unpredictability always surrounded Silver Apples. Part of that was by design: Coxe's cobbled-together synthesizer, referred to as "the Simeon" by press, was a temperamental beast. If the thing wasn't mildly electrocuting Coxe, it'd fall hopelessly out of tune, depending on the weather. As such, Coxe and drummer Danny Taylor were forced to improvise over the fluctuating nature of the oscillators. No two performances were alike.

Considering the inherent chaos, it's surprising that Silver Apples had great songs. But Taylor's ostinato-heavy drumming treated toms like pieces of melody: He played two kits live, and each one was specifically tuned to an oscillator. Meanwhile, Coxe would sing poetry and play organ-style bass lines with his feet. His other limbs controlled the rest of Simeon, drawing up drones and whirs. It sounded like a detuned guitar—big interval tones that bounced against each other in long figure eights.

Support The Stranger

Unfortunately, the band went into hiding after releasing their second album, Contact, on Kapp Records. The cover art featured Coxe and Taylor in the pilot seats of a Pan Am passenger jet with drug paraphernalia; the inner sleeve pictured the duo playing banjos amid superimposed plane wreckage. Pan Am didn't find the stunt funny, and sued the band for $100,000. In between that and Kapp Records' financial doom, the band was forced to dissolve near the end of 1969.

Contact is Silver Apples' best work—hinting at the shock mentality of Suicide, the drone of Spacemen 3, and the electronic dalliance of Stereolab decades later—but there's a great bootleg compilation on German label TRC that includes it and the band's first release. Soon after the bootleg came out, Coxe resurrected Silver Apples in various forms: one album made with tapes found in Taylor's attic (who since passed away in 2005), and another with Brooklyn musician Xian Hawkins. Today, Coxe tours solo with new and old material, still powered by Simeon's old electrical jolts.