Of all the things we’ve lost this year, encouragement seems to rate high up the list. As options and opportunities wane, it is not hard to be discouraged. Anyone thinking about the election process could tell you that. Anyone in the Black Lives Matter movement can tell you it takes a galvanized, united and noisy effort to overcome it.
We’ve also gotten accustomed to finding musical artists, actors and authors in the obituary pages, people whose work shaped a lot of us. Rockers either die at 27 or they hobble off the earth, struck down by the same afflictions their fans suffer, in their seventies and eighties.
Ever hear of Simeon Coxe? I didn’t think so. He died this week at 82. In the early 1960s he was part of a teenage band in New Orleans, and when he introduced a synthesizer – actually an oscillator, making a single, adjustable electronic tone – to the ensemble, all but the drummer quit. Coxe and his drummer then formed Silver Apples, a two-man band; drummer Dan Taylor drummed while Coxe fiddled with knobs. Outer spacey noises, with a beat you could dance to. Two albums. Toured the world. Some critical acclaim, and cult status.
He later drove an ice-cream truck and worked as a television cameraman, but no one stopped him, not even his former bandmates.
No one stopped him.
He was encouraged to develop proto-synth pop – that’s a musical genre -- by people who eventually included Andy Warhol, Jimi Hendrix and New York City Mayor John Lindsay, who had Silver Apples play in Central Park on the night a crowd gathered to mass-watch the 1969 moon landing.
About 50 years ago and a know-it-all college kid, I somehow was in a gym, observing some high school’s talent night. It included a one-man band, banging hammers against brake drums and other automotive parts, running knives and spoons through a wind chime made of hanging knives and spoons, and generally making someone’s idea of music with what the art world calls “found objects.”
He received polite applause after his performance from the audience, but oh man, was he razzed about it by the other high school-age players and other performers.
For some reason not even known to me at this late date in life, I told him I did not enjoy his presentation much but I was glad he was doing it. I referred him to the compositions of Frank Zappa, Harry Partch and a few others doing what he was doing. Why this sort of encouragement was being flung around still baffles me, except that perhaps he needed it, or perhaps I envied him.
Whoever he was, I wonder sometimes if he continued his musical studies, or if they were crushed under the weight of scorn.
We come now to a point in collective observation in which the West Coast is on fire, 15 percent of the population needs the validation of knowing their lives matter, a presidential election of consequence approaches with myriad potential problems, and a quarter-million Americans will be dead of a pandemic by Election Day. Staying in one’s home, more moments than fewer, is the agreed-upon response. Whether you’re home on the couch, maybe in bed under a blanket, or maybe dragging out the artist’s easel, that old guitar or the yoga mat is up to you.
Strangely, it is the commercials of television that seem to propel enthusiasm at the moment, with encouraging words suggesting you do something – drink coffee, drive a Toyota, order pizza while hanging around with your kids – pressed between sad news stories and programs produced before anyone thought of wearing a mask.
Need encouragement? William Shakespeare wrote Hamlet in 1601 in his hometown of Stratford, after fleeing London during one of its regular plagues. Isaac Newton did some of his best mathematical magic at the family mansion in Oxford, there to escape another London plague. A theory persists that if and when the current travails weaken, they could be replaced by better planning and something of a 21st-century Renaissance. May we all be alive to see it.
Meanwhile, I accept encouragement like a sponge accepts whatever has been spilled, and if you’re doing anything not resembling sloth or disdain for the law, my hope is that you will keep at it. If your home is not filled with implements of creativity that you once regarded as important until life got in the way, your mind likely remains full of that stuff. My own list of things to do until the election and beyond is my business, and I hope that your list, the items now more impervious to others’ disdain than ever, is put into play.
Contact Ed Adamczyk at EdinKenmore@gmail.com.