It’s not often the death of a Mobile Bay resident immediately reverberates around the globe, but that’s what happened when musician and artist Simeon Coxe passed away in Fairhope on Sept. 8. The spiritual “pater familias” of the Bay area’s edgier arts scene, Coxe’s death revealed his titanic stature beyond his languid Gulf Coast home.
A quick search across social media showed nearly 60 global media outlets rushed to Facebook with the news. Entities like Rolling Stone, The Guardian, Billboard, BBC, Vulture, Consequence of Sound, The Daily Star and others were stuffed with condolences and memories from celebrities like Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, who called Coxe “an inspiration, not just in music but in life.”
Ironically, were you to ask the average Mobile Bay rea resident to describe Forrest Gump, Jimmy Buffett and Simeon Coxe, they would have little clue about the last. Unless they were in our arts world, that is.
Born in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1938, Coxe grew up in New Orleans, then aimed for wider horizons. His 1960s New York City relocation resulted in visual art exhibited in places like the Museum of Modern Art, but it was his sonic explorations that made his name.
Coxe partnered with drummer David Taylor to form the experimental psychedelic rock duo Silver Apples. Coxe’s hand-built electronic rig of 16 oscillators, foot pedals, telegraph switches, wah-wah pedals, Echoplexes and more was tabbed “The Simeon” and fueled wild explorations that gathered fans like Jimi Hendrix, with whom Coxe jammed on occasion.
Silver Apples’ groundbreaking work put them in influential Big Apple company like artist Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol’s Factory tribe, but it didn’t bring economic freedom. After legal trouble with Pan Am Airways over album artwork, Coxe called it quits. He boarded a sailboat and finally docked in Mobile, where he had relatives.
Coxe landed a job as a news reporter at WKRG-TV. True to form, his irreverent expose on mall Santas deluged the station with angry phone calls.
A 1998 auto accident left Coxe with extensive injuries, including a broken neck. He returned to his visual art and within a few years joined with Fairhope doctor Lynn Yonge to form GULF Artspace. Combined with the recent emergence of a new contemporary art house in downtown Mobile — now Alabama Contemporary Art Center — it marked the beginning of a new period in Mobile area arts.
Coxe cultivated community. Shows at GULF featured a wide swath of ages, all non-traditional, all encouraged to entertain their wildest predilections. Installations, performance art, video, film — it was all present at GULF in ways unorthodox and delightfully unexpected.
He was a presence at area openings and shows, not just at formal institutions but at grassroots efforts from young talents who have since developed their own careers. He took proteges to other continents to further their aspirations.
I never encountered pretension from Coxe. Unlike some locally heralded luminaries, he didn’t immediately drop the names of heady contemporaries to stoke his own importance or demand to hold court. He was just Simeon. He would run off to tour Asia, play All Tomorrow’s Parties festivals across the continent or head to Art Basel in Hong Kong, then reappear in the Mobile Bay area like he had merely returned from the grocery store.
After finally departing GULF Artspace near the close of the ’00s, he formed the musical duo Amphibian Lark with Lydia Winn LeVert. Some readers might recall their 2014 Mobile Museum of Art show.
True to form, Coxe wanted no final service. His memorial will be in what he produced while with us.
The state’s gossip mill has an award-winning documentarian shooting a new film on the Africatown saga. Considering how Africatown has touched their previous work and their past plaudits, Artifice is highly intrigued.
Speaking of historical pieces, there’s chatter about another upcoming documentary focusing on the Michael Donald lynching. It’s said to be produced by a major cable news outlet.
LoDa ArtWalk took some tentative steps into the “old normal” on Friday, Sept. 11. Despite the solemn anniversary, Mobile Arts Council Executive Director Lucy Gafford noticed an upward trend.
“We had 212 people in the gallery as opposed to 46 last month. It looked like thousands were downtown,” Gafford said.
She said almost everyone on the street appeared to be sporting masks. Those who entered their exhibit space beside the Saenger Theatre were eager to comply.
“I did hand out maybe 10 masks to some who didn’t have one,” Gafford said. If old trends hold, October should be even better.
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