Simeon Coxe was the keyboardist in Silver Apples, which regularly performed in Max’s second-floor room starting in 1968 and also performed as the accompanying musical act in the La MaMa production of the Play-House of the Ridiculous’s Cock-Strong.
It was at Max’s Kansas City that the pioneering electronic rock duo known as Silver Apples made a name for themselves downtown. Consisting of keyboardist Simeon Coxe and drummer Danny Taylor, Silver Apples regularly performed in Max’s second-floor room starting in 1968. Coxe said they were the only band that Ruskin would allow to play there at the time (turning down overtures from the Band and other high-profile artists). “We were just wild and crazy enough to fit his whole concept of the restaurant,” he said, “so we became the house band up there for the longest time, pretty much for a whole year.” Coxe grew up in New Orleans, and around 1960 he decided to move to New York City and become an artist. “Back then, the whole Lower East Side was pretty much inhabited by artists, writers, musicians, poets, and actors,” Coxe said, “and there were all kinds of part-time jobs available.” He recalled working at the American Kennel Club proofreading dog certificates along with up-and-coming painter Robert Rauschenberg and future members of the Velvet Underground. He first played rock ’n’ roll covers around Greenwich Village in the Random Concept and later joined the Overland Stage Band, which included drummer Danny Taylor. “Silver Apples were way ahead of their time,” said Ruby Lynn Reyner. “They were the original electronic band who had a huge, bulky, humongous piano-sized computer.” Coxe’s primitive synthesizer looked like a DIY spaceship control panel with several oscillators mounted on plywood. Taylor’s unique, pulsating drumming style developed because it was hard for Coxe to use his electronic equipment to play bass lines, which was the traditional way drummers locked into an instrumental groove.
From Chapter 18 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
The Silver Apples’s star was rising, but disaster was just over the horizon. The trouble started when Simeon Coxe and Danny Taylor shot the cover photo of their second album, Contact, in the cockpit of a Pan Am airplane. “They thought they were getting a lot of free publicity,” Coxe said, “so they put their logos all over the place.” However, Pan Am airline officials didn’t realize that the back cover would feature the two musicians superimposed on a photo of the wreckage of an actual plane crash. The next thing the duo knew, they were on the receiving end of a career-killing lawsuit filed by an angry multinational corporation. “They got an injunction and they managed to get all of the records pulled off of all the shelves nationwide,” Coxe says, “and they forbade us from performing any of the songs live.” Pan Am’s henchmen repossessed Taylor’s drums that were stored upstairs at Max’s Kansas City and were coming back for Coxe’s synths, so the two hid the equipment at a friend’s loft and laid low. When Silver Apples called it quits later in 1970, Coxe made an unexpected transition into television news reporting—landing a string of jobs in cities around the South, where he could be seen standing by a crime scene, signing off: “Simeon Coxe, Action News.”
In an unlikely turn of events, New York City mayor John Lindsay took a liking to Silver Apples and invited them to perform in Union Square, Tompkins Square, and other city parks. (“He just loved our stuff,” a mystified Simeon Coxe said. “I don’t know why.”) The mayor dubbed their droning, minimalist music “The Sound of New York,” and even commissioned Silver Apples to provide a live soundtrack for the Apollo 11 moon landing on June 20, 1969. They performed in Central Park while video projections showed the lunar module touching down on the surface of the moon. Silver Apples signed to a major label that had no idea how to market them, so the duo wound up on the oddest assortment of live bills. “They hooked us up with Jethro Tull, MC5, Procol Harum, Blue Cheer, 1910 Fruitgum Company, T. Rex, Tiny Tim,” Coxe said, “the whole spectrum.” Play-House of the Ridiculous director John Vaccaro recalled, “We used to see the Silver Apples at Max’s all the time. God, the sounds they made were just fantastic.” Simeon Coxe said that the Play-House people would always come to their Monday night residency, take acid, and watch the group play. “After a while,” he said, “John asked if we would be interested in doing an insane musical—right up our alley! What a beautiful but bizarre bunch of folks.” The musical was Cock-Strong, starring Ruby Lynn Reyner, and it ran in early 1969 at La MaMa.
“There was a long sequence of utter, absolute insanity,” actor Michael Arian recalled of the Play-House of the Ridiculous’s musical Cock-Strong. “We did a ‘Kama Sutra Ballet,’ performed by all of us doing weird fucking positions: humping, blow jobs, and this and that and the other.” As they mock-performed every imaginable sexual act, still partially clothed, Silver Apples did their thing. “Danny and I played this wild and crazy music,” Simeon Coxe said. “It was the only time we were allowed to improvise during the whole show, so Danny and I would play as wild and crazy as we could. When everybody was singing the last big high note, the whole audience got sprayed with water from the giant penis.” It was hooked up to a sink in La MaMa’s backstage area, and the giant cock prop erupted when the glitter-slathered cast sang, “Get it up, get it up! You’re gonna get it up!” cast member Ruby Lynn Reyner recalled, “I remember there was a heat wave at the time. It was in the summertime, and instead of the audience getting outraged, they went, ‘Aaaahh!’ They loved it. There was no air conditioning in those days at La MaMa. It was hot as hell.” Coxe added, “After the first show people came with umbrellas. When that cock started to come out of the stage and go out over the audience, everybody would pop their umbrellas.” Before Arian joined the Play-House of the Ridiculous as a cast member, he witnessed the spectacle as an audience member. “It was just funnier than hell. We’d be drunk and just in glee. It was so much fun. We would always sit in the front and we would put up an umbrella, and I saw every single performance.”