Fred Cole didn't choose Portland.
Appropriately for a guy who dressed like an Old West drifter, he just sort of ended up here. According to legend, in the late '60s he and his then-bandmates left their hometown of Las Vegas and headed for Canada, hoping to outrun the draft, but ran out of gas six hours from the border. Within a year, Cole met his wife and eventual musical partner, Kathleen "Toody" Conner, and gradually, he sank his roots into the Oregon soil. Maybe it's overly romantic to say it was fate, or that "Portland chose him." Whatever the case, for those who grew up in the shadow of his influence, or were drawn here in some way because of it, it's hard to imagine the city without him, even if that's something we'll now have to get used to.
So much of the mythology of Old Portland is simply a reflection of how Cole, who died last week at age 69, chose to live—in thrall to no one but himself. He didn't just record and release his own records, he cut them himself, at home in Clackamas, on the same lathe that produced the Kingsmen's "Louie Louie." He drove his own tour van and set up his own gear. While the music he made, most famously with Dead Moon and later Pierced Arrows, painted the world in dark tones, he lived in a way that suggested that you could insulate yourself from it by building your own. It's a lesson he passed down to admirers, from Pearl Jam to Jack White to damn near anyone in Portland who's ever dared to form a power chord: Your band could be your life, and your life could be your band.
Cole's reach extended far beyond the small niche he was content to exist in, as proven by the memorials in The New York Times, Pitchfork and across social media in the wake of his death. But it's here, in the town he broke down in 50 years ago, where he is being mourned the most. Here's how some of those who knew Fred Cole told us they will remember him.
"Fred Cole was a man unlike any other that I've ever met. I've never known anyone else who so perfectly embodied the self-made, by-your-own-terms, do-it-yourself ethos of the American West.
"I played music with Fred and Toody for nearly a decade, rolling across three continents and two dozen countries. Having lost contact relatively early in life with my own father—who, incidentally had been a bandmate of Fred's in the early 1970s—Fred became about as close as one can imagine to being a father figure to me. We lived the exhausting, bizarre and usually mind-numbingly boring lives of a hard-touring band for months on end, and sometimes fought with one another with the intensity that only those who truly care for one another can fight. During our years in the trenches, through our small victories and occasional defeats as a band, I came to know and admire a man for whom words can do little justice.
"Fred was a lot of things—a husband, father and grandfather who cared deeply for his family, a true visionary who refused to compromise his art for financial reward and, at times, a cranky old coot whose stubbornness was the stuff of legend. But, most of all he was, for me, a friend and and inspiration and a living example of a soul determined to experience and enjoy, firsthand, all that life has to offer.
"I'm writing this from an airport hotel outside of Amsterdam. I've just finished another tour, and the poignancy of the fact that this is the same hotel where Pierced Arrows stayed at every time we flew out if Holland isn't lost on me. Tomorrow morning I'll get up, catch a shuttle bus to the terminal, and board a flight back to Portland, a city whose cultural fabric was forever changed by the creativity and energy of Fred Cole—and a city that, with his passing, will never be the same."
— Kelly Halliburton, Pierced Arrows
"The first time I saw Dead Moon perform was when I first moved to Portland in 1998. Crammed onto the tiny stage at the Twilight Cafe—which amazingly still stands and is still a great venue—Dead Moon were all sweat and smoke and joyful danger, the true embodiment of filthy garage rock at the end of the last century. Fred Cole was old in the late '90s, having already churned out countless hours of lower-than-lo-fi rock'n'roll. His age may have showed in his face, but not in his attitude or his performance. The show was fantastic. Dead Moon was everything I had heard about them. They were loud, scary legends in their own time. It felt like they would never end. They were immortal anti-Gods.
"The last time I saw Dead Moon perform was almost 20 years later, at a Crystal Ballroom reunion show in early 2015. I've seen countless bands reunite and play for adoring, sold-out audiences, but I've never seen a band deserve it as much as Dead Moon did that night. The show for the Crystal's 1,200-plus audience was as intimate and dirty as it was for 100 people back at the Twilight. Dead Moon played hard, fast and loud. The band and crowd alike seemed to realize how special the night was. Fred's health had been on the decline, and every show could have been his last.
"We've lost a lot of our heroes in music lately. The passing of any great artist obviously brings sadness. But like many we love, Fred Cole has left us so much of his heart and soul and his talent in his songs, and they will always be with us. Like Prince and David Bowie, Fred Cole will never truly die."
— Hutch Harris, the Thermals
"A lot of my best memories of Fred come from being on the road with Pierced Arrows. Multiple continents and hundreds of shows with barely any time in between, and he never complained. He and Toody just loved playing and being out there. He was always the driver, too. Man, if I had a nickel for every time Kelly [Halliburton] and I were in the back of the van yelling, "Fred!" He was the master of just about crashing into something at all times.
"One of my favorites was the first time I'd ever been to Europe at all. I flew to England with them for a festival, and once we landed, Toody went and got the rental car. It was this little two-door hatchback thing, so Toody and I rode in the back, and Kelly in the passenger seat. The roads are all so small and narrow, and everyone is just totally on Planet 9 from the flight. We've got about a two-hour drive to the place we were staying, and Fred just starts hauling! We were laughing and screaming. I think he shaved off half the hedges that were bordering the road. I'm sure we snagged a few bird nests, too, because after we got to the venue and rested, we came back out to the car a few hours later, and it was completely covered in bird poop. The only car in the lot with it, too.
Another time, I drove up to Calgary with them and we did a straight drive home, which is about 15 hours. It was just me with Fred and Toody because Kelly flew to Scandinavia to start a separate tour. Fred drove the entire way, and Jesus, it was such a long drive. Once we got back toward Portland, he was talking about how he was excited to get home so he and Toody could hang out and drink some Grand Marnier. I think I was more amazed that anyone would drink that straight more than I was about the fact they didn't want to get home and go to bed.
I'm forever grateful that Fred was willing to let me tag along on their tours and show me the ropes on how it's really done when touring and music is your life. I'm going to miss his stories about the wild adventures he and Toody would find themselves on, and I'm going to miss hearing him say, 'Oh man, you wouldn't believe it' or 'What a clusterfuck!' That's when you knew a good one was coming."
— Jenny Connors, Jenny Don't and the Spurs
"Sometime in the early 90s, I went to Tombstone Music with a friend of mine who was one of those guys who was scouring the pre-Internet world for tubes and weird distortion pedals. At some point I must have looked bored because my friend told me to ask Fred about his Jim Morrison story. So I did.
"One of Fred's early, Nevada-based groups was playing at the Whisky-a-Go-Go, and someone in the audience was relentlessly heckling them. Eventually, Fred figures out it's Jim Morrison, who is drinking red wine and is completely wasted. After a few songs Fred can't take it anymore and says to the heckler, who Fred really doesn't seem the bit impressed by, "Hey, if you think you can do a better job, get up here." Morrison staggers his way to the stage and right when he's close enough Fred dropped him like a sack of potatoes."
— John Whitson, Holy Mountain Records
"Fred Cole's music is a beacon that guides me back to the righteous truth of a life lived through one's art. Whenever I was fortunate enough to share a bill with Fred or saw him play, I was reminded of why I got into rock'n'roll in the first place. Direct transmission. He will always be one of my heroes."
— Pete Krebs
"Fred Cole's rock'n'roll essence extended to everything he did, right down to the most mundane. I interviewed him many times and my band even opened for Dead Moon once, but renting a house from Fred and Toody in 2007 and 2008 was how I came to truly understand how much he embodied rock'n'roll.
The house stood (and to my knowledge still stands) on a corner of Southeast Stark Street far enough east to live up to the street's name. It's all by itself on a wild grassy lot the size of a city block because the houses around it have been torn down. I understood the property to be Fred and Toody's retirement plan—a plan that, tragically she will now have to enact without him.
In addition to the fact that I had no fear of reprisal for having band practice there, one of the perks of living in the house was a series of surreal encounters with Fred. I'll never forget when he showed up at the house to fix the roof on a blazing July day dressed from head-to-toe in thick black denim. He once spent a week weed-whacking the grass on the property because it got too long to mow, all while wearing his trademark black cowboy hat. He'd arrive to fix a sink, smoking as he walked through the door, just assuming that was cool. Of course it was. He existed outside of time and outside of the rules we live by. Back then, I thought he was invincible. Clearly, he was not. But he is—I am certain—immortal.
— Jason Simms, former Portland freelance writer
"So in 1990 I worked at a place called Music Werehouse. It was like a bootleg Tower Records that also rented videos, across the street from Clackamas Town Center. Fred and Toody would come into this place to rent videos. I had no idea who they were, but I appreciated that they flew the freak flag high. So I'd always talk to them about the movies they rented, and what they would recommend, and I would recommend movies to them I had absolutely no idea that I was discussing the finer points of Kindergarten Cop with rock'n'roll legends.
"Fast forward about a decade and I'm working at Satyricon. Of course I knew who Dead Moon were by this point. I'd become good friends with Andrew Loomis. I was living about six blocks from him at the time. One night, after Dead Moon had played, they finished loading out and Andrew asked how much longer I had to be there. He said, 'Ma and Pa can give us a ride home'—Ma and Pa, of course, being Fred and Toody.
"So I jumped into the Dead Moon van. On the way toward home, Fred decides he wants to stop at a convenience store for a hot dog. So we first stopped at the plaid pantry on MLK and Burnside—no hotdogs. When we got out of the van, I noticed Fred was giving me a strange look. Went to the Hawthorne 7-11—no hot dogs. So we're winding through the inner eastside stopping at every 24 hour mart checking for hot dogs. I keep occasionally catching Fred out of the corner of my eye giving me a strange look. I had settled the door with Toody earlier in the night, and she seemed happy with the band's pay. So I couldn't figure out why I kept getting these strange looks from Fred Cole.
"Finally, at about 4 am, we ended up at the 7-11 on 60th and Burnside. They had the hot dogs! About to climb back into the van, and I see Fred giving me that strange look again. So I asked him how his hot dog was. He said, 'Great!' Then he said, 'Hey did you used to rent movies to us?'
"This guy who's toured the world, met thousands of people, influenced every band that matters in some way or another, remembered some high school nerd that used to rent movies to him a couple times a month a decade previous.
"Just goes to show what kind of a man Fred was. He will be missed."
— Jason Keebler, Dante's bartender
"Fred was always so kind to me. Toody, too. It's hard to mention him without her, because to me, and everyone, really, they are inseparable. I always loved going to their shows, whether it was Dead Moon, Pierced Arrows or seeing them as the duo. It was always a blast—a lot of fun, friends and spilled beer, especially during the time with Andrew.
"Over the years, Fred put up with a lot of my questions about 'the old days,' dating back to the '60s and his time as 'Deep Soul Cole.' He'd always prefer to look forward rather than backward, and how can you not admire that? Knowing that I was a record and poster collector and DJ, he put up with it and always took the time when I saw him to thank me for playing his records.
"Being able to DJ the Rats reunion for Andrew's 50th birthday at Star Theater in 2011 was a highlight. Fred even went out of his way a couple of years earlier to press a single record for me on that legendary lathe, transferred from a DAT, no less—something I had to track down because even that seemed so archaic at the time.! But he did it without question and it's a treasured possession to this day. He was always giving, an honorable and admirable trait. Being asked to help present Dead Moon Night at City Hall and work on the Dead Moon book for Mississippi Records has meant so much to me. It's a way to give back to Fred—and Toody—who gave so much to me, to this city and to the world. No question, I will miss him."
— Jay Martin, aka DJ HWY 7
"Fred and Toody are just kids. Sure, they were grandparents in 1991, and were on an independent "world" tour—they had just turned down a tour with Nirvana, think about that. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in June of this year. But still, they are kids. They were so dedicated to D.I.Y. that they rocked until just a few weeks before Fred's passing. They loved small clubs because they loved connecting with their people, and we always felt lucky—all of us—when they played Mississippi Studios and the Revolution Hall roof. Yet as much a model of community and rock and marriage as Fred was, he understood pain: "I know and you know how wicked and strange this trip has always been." I just want us all to follow his lead. He was decent and without compromise. He was always organically beautiful and fearless. If Portland doesn't keep being weird, it's because people haven't listened to the records or words of Fred and Toody. Be fearless and live fully until the next coming of Fred Cole."
— Jim Brunberg, owner of Mississippi Studios
"In June 2001, Fred, Toody and Andrew met us in the parking lot of Schiphol Airport [Amsterdam]. Fred grabbed us all into a giant bear hug, took our fists into the center and said, 'Don't forget, whatever happens, no matter what anyone says—you're in the band! You are Dead Moon!' And away we went on the the best damn four weeks of our lives, a madcap European tour with Fred at the helm, spinning out riotously funny stories and treating us like long-lost family from day one. Fred thought we were insane for wanting to make a film about them, but Fred was a person who always respected whatever "your bag" was, however unusual your tastes might be. As long as you loved what you were doing—this was all that mattered. His enthusiasm was genuine and contagious. "Well, I just think that's killer, you guys! Just killer!" he'd say over and over. And then, eyes twinkling, Fred would launch into details of whatever zany feat he was planning next, however incredulous it might sound. A giggling schoolboy at heart, with the kind soul of a wise old sage."
— Kate Fix, co-director of Unknown Passage: The Dead Moon Story
"Fred was a person who had very particular and strong ideas about the world and how he wanted to operate and succeed in that world. He had an unbelievable work ethic, which made his many crazy ideas possible. The excitement and wonder with which he approached everything was infectious. You couldn't help but get drawn into his notions. I'll never forget when we stayed with Fred and Toody shooting our film, and Fred was running around the house at 3 in the morning in his bathrobe, wearing his bifocals and cutting a disc for us on the famous lathe in their music room. He was as excited as we were, and he looked like Ben Franklin to me, with his long hair and getup. I still get chills when I think about it. Fred had a genuine love of sharing, and a warmth that radiated."
— Jason Summers, co-director of Unknown Passage: The Dead Moon Story
"When I saw Dead Moon for the first time back in '91, at the Metropolis Festival in Rotterdam, I wanted to see the guy who wrote 'You Must Be A Witch.' Guess what? They did not, as expected, save that song for the encore but they started off with it, making the audience simply explode. And yes, the rest of the set was just as good.
"That tells you something about Fred: He didn't follow any rules but his own.
"When they returned for a club tour—one of many to come—I ran into Fred and Toody right after soundcheck, outside the venue in the Hague. I had some questions about their equipment, and they immediately invited me to talk some more after the show. It was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship with Fred, Toody and of course Andrew.
"There is a lot I learned from them. When I started touring myself, I had found the perfect role model. Do things yourself. Do it for the right reasons. And don't be an asshole, not even when you're the singer and guitarist of the best fucking band in the world. Yes, being cool is part of the whole rock'n'roll thing, but Fred actually said that, "Hey, you don't have to choose between being cool and being nice. In fact, if you think there is that choice, be nice. Because that's cool."
"Fred showed anger in his songs, bitterness, despair, frustration—but all that came from the enormous love he had in his heart. He was a giver, just like Andrew and just like Toody, to whom my heart goes out now. She knows the worldwide Dead Moon family grieves with her. We wish we could do more than that. Fred gave us so much, and we can honor him by passing it on.
"Know what? First of all, let's not be assholes."
— Eric Geevers, musician
"I want to thank you once again for the very important role you played in my life, you as well as Toody were people who guided me in my life. When I first met you in 1991, I was on a road to nowhere, completely lost, and from the moment I met you, my soul was lifted and you showed me the right direction, wherever that was or will be. You gave me friendship, love and especially trust. You have appreciated me for who I am, and I will never forget this. I am proud for being a part of the Dead Moon family and for what I have accomplished with Pierced Arrows, together with you. You gave me your guitar when I had designed the Pierced Arrows logo, and later on you presented me with the backline of Dead Moon which now stands proud in my home. More than enough to last is the love you gave me."
— Jozzy Rubenski, Pierced Arrows manager
"I've known the music of Fred Cole since the release of the Lollipop Shoppe album and always followed his activities and releases and side-trips since that time. When he started his 'new' band, Dead Moon, in 1987, I contacted Fred and Toody, and we hit the right string and started a business relationship. My label, Music Maniac Records, released his products in Europe and beyond these borders. A fantastic, close relationship started and never ended. Fred said, 'Hans, when it all works the way we intend, you'll have us for lifetime.'
"Fred was the most independent person I ever met. He refused closeable record offers from major labels like Columbia Records. He never, ever sold his soul, never, ever lost control.
"I worked with many bands in the past and they all had road managers, tour managers, soundmen, managers, lawyers and nice, comfortable, expensive tour buses, expensive hotels and all the comfort one can think of during their tours. Not Fred and Toody. Fred got a small van, drove it himself throughout Europe. Toody did the daily business thing, Andrew was the funnyman. They all carried and built up their own equipment before and after the concert. They only needed one person for the merchandise—Fred could not do that himself. I gained a huge respect for their setup, which worked out perfectly for them. Not many people could have done this. After their tours they were always exhausted, looking forward going home.
"But Dead Moon never, ever canceled any concerts. Driving in their rent-a-van through Scandinavia in winter, down to Yugoslavia, they played Kiev, Ukraine—then to Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Belgium and Holland. They played London with the Dead Milkmen as double bill. We all know how the setup was, with Fred, Toody and Andrew at the edge of the stage. When they saw their setup, the Dead Milkmen said, 'Ah, you are going to open up for us?' Fred said, 'Oh, OK.' After Dead Moon's show the entire audience left, leaving Dead Milkmen without an audience."
— Hans Kesteloo, Music Maniac Records
"I've known Fred and Toody since around 1989 where Andrew introduced me to them at some tiny little hole in the wall bar they were going to play at on Hawthorne. It was like, 'Hey, this is my good friend Anton, and don't believe a single word he says,' and he runs off leaving me alone with them while they are laughing their asses off. I was horrified, but they reassured me that's just Andrew. After this I end up helping load gear and getting to ride along to shows around in the Northwest. I'm still amazed at how Fred could load all that gear and all of us into that old Pontiac.
"Fred was good at opening people up to talk and was really interested in what you were doing. He was so encouraging. One time I got to go with them to Seattle for a show at the Showbox with Dinosaur Jr with Henry Rollins. After the show, Fred and I were hanging outside after loading up the van and Henry came out. Fred asked him what he'd been working on and Henry told about coming back from Cambodia where he was helping with some special thing. Fred asked him what it was like being there and Henry told him about being with some guides where they were waiting on some rural dirt road, and he kicks at some gravel and slowly realizes, to his horror, that they are human teeth. Fred said there are things in our life here that we really take for granted.
"I think we have been blessed to have Fred and Toody in this town. They have been a real beacon of positive energy while this town has grown and changed around them. They have always stayed true -natured souls and I am so very glad they discovered each other here and planted roots that grew into such a tree and spread seeds that will sprout for years to come."
"Some people may know that Fred was deaf in his left ear. Too much loud rock'n'roll will do that to someone. He wore a small in-ear hearing aid for day-to-day, travels but not during shows. He always took it out a bit before stage time, so you would basically have to yell for him to hear you. I call this "Fred Volume." "FIVE MINUTES TO STAGE FRED!" Or, "YOU GOT A STAGE BEER?" I learned early on, if you wanted him to hear you, you had to speak up. Literally. But it always made me chuckle out loud as I'm bellowing, 'cause I'm sitting here yelling at the kindest soul I know.
"Sometimes, post-show, he would forget to put his hearing aid back in. Three in the morning, walking through hotel hallways post-show in Berlin. Fred: 'What rooms are we in?' Me: 'THEY ARE COMING UP HERE ON THE LEFT, ROOM 208 AND 207!' Woke the entire floor up, people poking their heads out their doors. Left us laughing like school girls. I didn't even realize I was yelling, it was just normal to project!
"During one of our last show load-ins together at the Crystal Ballroom in 2016, after like 15 years of shows, I caught myself speaking at "Fred Volume" without even thinking. Muscle memory, I guess. When I realized I was yelling at him, I laughed and laughed. Pretty sure the entire production staff thought I was nuts."
—Heather du Lac, Ash Street Saloon sound engineer
"I remember a show at Goes in Holland. After the show, two fans came backstage to thank Dead Moon. But there was one little "but"—their favorite song, 'I Hate the Blues,' wasn't played that night. "Do you have a minute, then? I will fix that," Fred said. Edwin Heath [Dead Moon's European tour manager] had a tiny guitar amp with him. Fred plugged in his guitar and sang the song like it was the most important thing he ever had to do in his entire life. I had goose pimples all over. And the two fans stood in front of Fred, completely confused. For me, it's one of the highlights in my Dead Moon memories."
— Kees Visser
"My Dad, Fred Cole, was my hero! He taught me the most important things in life: Tell the truth, always. Treat people kind and nicely. And always be fair, honest and true to yourself and all others in your intimate circle."
— Weeden Cole
"I had the privilege of seeing Fred this week and he managed to give me quite the soliloquy on subjects ranging from what happens after you die to what's important in life.
"If it's a bunch of spirits who were once on earth hanging out after you die, Fred plans on finding Andrew—if Andrew does not find him first—and then going to find Lemmy to play bass in a supergroup consisting of the three of them. He had a hunch he might come back as a guardian angel, too. If that happens, you should be looking for the signs around. Fred will sneak in all kinds of messages via numbers and obvious symbology, not too mention the simple, occasional blowing on the back of your neck to make the hairs stand up when it's a good idea to run. Fred did not rule out reincarnation or anything else as a possible next step. He was not dogmatic, more curious and, dare I say, almost excited to see what happens next.
"A fearless man til the end, Fred will live on in legend and songs and good deeds and family and friends. He built so much for us all, and now it's up to us to live our lives in a way that would make him proud. Fred told me to keep working my ass off, but find enjoyment in doing it, so that's the plan. He supported me so much and gave me all the inspiration I could ever want from someone. loved him like a father and will miss him."
— Eric Isaacson, Mississippi Records
"Fred had that quality of being 'immortal' and I believe his songs & recordings will make it so. We can always hear his voice & his passion there and remember it like it was only yesterday & will go on forever."
— Toody Cole, via Dead Moon Fan Page on Facebook
See Related: Remembering Andrew Loomis.
MORE: Unknown Passage: The Dead Moon Story screens at Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd., on Saturday, Nov. 18. 8 pm. Free.