Sunday, November 22, 2015
When I first discovered them, they were almost literally a secret cult. I'm talking about those two albums I stumbled upon one fine day in 1986 as I was pilfering through the massive record library at WFMU, that station I volunteered for and sometimes appeared on. One had its original cover and was called "Contact," while the other was a self-titled white label promo in a plain white jacket. The one album cover depicted two very stoned-looking long-haired hippie types sitting in the cockpit of an actual Pan Am jet on the front, and the same guys superimposed on top of a stock photo of a plane crash to make it look like they were just hanging out in the wreckage on the back. One of the two guys was playing a banjo in that shot and so I assumed I was in for some weird album of psychedelic banjo music or something when I put it on the record library turntable. Which it was... for two of its nine selections, anyway. The other seven tracks were just... plain... indescribable. Total electronic madness. Basically it was all one guy freaking out on a bank of oscillators and singing while the other guy played a huge, specially tuned drumkit. Sometimes it sounded tuneful and catchy, other times it descended into sheer chaos and confusion. But all of it was truly original and like no other electronic music I'd ever heard up to that point.
The mysterious duo was named Silver Apples, and their two albums were originally released between 1968 and 1970 on Kapp Records, a label generally known for anything BUT electronic, experimental rock music. I still half-cringe every time I think of Kapp's main claim Roger Williams' "Autumn Leaves" with his ridiculous cascading piano conjuring the falling of said leaves. Anyway, apart from the label and the names of the two members, one named Danny Taylor and the other simply called Simeon, there was nothing else in the way of information. It was obvious I wasn't the only guy at the station who was hip to Silver Apples, as both albums had warnings handwritten on their sleeves that serious consequences would befall anyone who attempted to steal either album. And soon I would become wise to the aforementioned secret cult of Apples fans which consisted of about half the station staff and a tiny handful of its listeners. It seemed like no one knew about them but us. In fact, the only outside reference we knew of was in some book about electronic music, the title of which escapes me, which had a single paragraph describing them, ending with this sentiment: "I think I may be their only remaining fan."
For a whole damn decade I wondered who and what and why about Silver Apples. How did a group this bizarre wind up on a fucking easy listening label? And who were these two guys who'd made this music, anyway? For awhile there was speculation that Simeon was the psych-rock alter-ego of another electronic musician, Morton Subotnick, who had released an album a year earlier called "Silver Apples of the Moon," but that was nothing more than all-too-obvious deductive reasoning. Nonetheless, a legend this good was bound to grow far beyond WFMU, and by the summer of 1996 bootleg CDs of their two albums had appeared, their German origin confirming that the intrigue had gone global.
And smack in the midst of that very summer, I tuned into WFMU one fine Saturday afternoon just in time to hear DJ Johan Kugelberg say "Stay tuned for a live interview with Simeon of Silver Apples." At long last the mystery had been solved! He told his story in detail and I stayed glued to my radio the whole time, hanging on his every word. They were indeed NYC-based, and the first band in history to play at Max's Kansas City. More than that, though, what really blew my mind was the fact that Simeon had been rediscovered at an art show which had taken place just down the street from where I was living at that time! It was there that Christian Hawkins overheard him identify hinself, offered to be his new drummer, and that was it -- Silver Apples were back in action for the first time in a full quarter century. With a new lineup and new setup, Simeon played several gigs in NYC and abroad over the next two years. I kept meaning to see these new Apples, but never got around to it.
Surely it was fate, then, that placed Danny Taylor in front of a radio tuned to WFMU at the precise point they were airing a song by... you guessed it. He called the station in earnest, was told Simeon (and the world) had been looking for him, and invited his old pal to see him at his home in the Catskills. While they were looking through a box of old Apples memorabilia in Danny's attic, they found a tape of songs they'd recorded for their unfinished third album, recordings which were thought to have been lost forever, just like Danny himself. The inevitable next move was to bring the Silver Apples revival full circle.
And again, surely it was fate that made September 18, 1998 the night I'd finally get it together to see them live at Maxwell's in Hoboken, NJ... just in time to bear witness to the first performance by the original duo in 28 years. My timing was perfect... as we shall now see.
I fully expected the place to be packed, but for some odd reason there were only about 40 or so people in the back room of Maxwell's. Flyers were passed out at the door proclaiming the special occasion and actually including the setlist for the show. Danny hadn't played drums since the pair broke up, so he bought a used kit at a pawn shop. The mysterious bank of oscillators called "The Simeon" had withered and died in Simeon's basement, forcing him to turn to more modern methods of recreating its sound. In spite of all this, they sounded pretty darn magical, though as you'd expect, a bit messy, with Simeon's voice occasionally cracking and Danny missing a beat or two. But that ragged quality added a certain charm to it all somehow, and with the small room and even smaller crowd, it felt almost like they'd come over to my house and set up in my living room.
You could feel the love for the band from the few lucky bastards (like me) who were there, and the love the band had for us in return, but most of all you could feel the love Simeon and Danny had for each other. I swear I saw tears in their eyes by the end of it. I may have had a few tears in my eyes too. In the final moments of their last song they rose from behind their gear, threw their arms around each other in a tight, brotherly embrace, then danced their way out to the last loop Simeon had left playing on his keyboard. A fitting climax to the absolute warmest, most intimate, most moving reunion show I'm sure I'll ever see in this lifetime.
I was damn lucky to be there that night, not just for the historic impact of it all, but also in light of what unfortunately happened next: just over a month later, after playing just two more shows, Simeon and Danny were involved in a near-fatal auto accident. If not for Danny's knowledge of CPR, Simeon, who had broken his neck, might have died before help arrived. It took him years to recover, and by the time he was able to play live again, Danny had passed away. It's kind of sad to listen back to the interview they'd given to WFMU the week of the gig at Maxwell's and hear of all the plans they were making for their future before fate intervened, which included a new album and a tour of Europe.
There is yet another subplot to my Silver Apples story: namely, their connection to a band from my current city of Orlando, Florida. The band is called Obliterati, and they've actually performed as Silver Apples with Simeon, an experience their drummer, the very versatile and multi-talented Nadeem Khan, told me was even more technically challenging than he expected; they also released an album on Simeon's own Whirlybird label in the late '90s. When I met the members of Obliterati here in Orlando, I was quite shocked when saxophonist Jim Ivy suddenly sprang to life as I spoke of seeing the reunion show at Maxwell's, then told me they had, in fact, opened for Simeon and Danny that night. I was, in turn, profusely apologetic for having ignored their entire set, opting to wait for the headliner at the bar with my friend. Yeah, I could have just pleaded ignorance, but truthfully, my mind was on only one band that night.
But all these years later, to my great surprise and delight, Simeon is suddenly about to bring his act to Orlando for a show at Will's Pub (to me, the city's equivalent to Maxwell's with its chill vibe and superb mix of interesting local and national acts) this December 2nd. With none other than the recently reunited Obliterati opening once again, along with my clearly awestruck friends Moon Jelly. Sometimes you do get a second chance. I will be there for sure, marveling the whole time at how things just keep coming full circle for me since I arrived in Florida. (Check out the groovy poster for the show by my very dear friend, graphic designer Adam Ibrahim, above!)