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Year of the Rats

A lost Portland punk outfit crawls out of the past for one last show.

Attempting to trace the history of Fred Cole's musical career is like mapping the human genome, only harder. He's played in approximately two zillion bands since the early 1960s, some of which even he probably doesn't remember. Toody Cole—his wife, bandmate and, at this point, personal historian—says there is, however, a clear point of division separating his days as an intermittent writer of minor garage-rock classics and the moment he became a punk-rock lifer: the night, sometime in the late '70s, when he got to open the Ramones' first-ever gig in Portland. At the time, Fred was fronting a group called King Bee, a "rhythm-and-bluesy" kind of project, Toody says. Once he saw the bruddahs from Queens plow through one of their legendary blitzkrieg sets, everything changed. 

"He saw their energy and was blown away by it and said, 'Hey, I'm doing something different,'" Toody says over the phone from the couple's house in Clackamas. "That's when he came up with the idea to do the Rats."

In the book of how the Coles became the royal grandparents of Northwest punk, the Rats are merely the epilogue to Dead Moon and the ongoing afterword of Pierced Arrows. The band put out three albums but never toured beyond the West Coast and broke up in 1984. But for those who were around back then, the Rats were a cornerstone of a scene that was essentially born out of that single Ramones show. And there was perhaps no bigger Rats fan than Andrew Loomis. He eventually became the drummer for Dead Moon, but only after worshiping Fred and Toody—both more than 10 years his senior—during his teenage years growing up in Portland. On Nov. 17, Loomis turns 50. All he wanted for his birthday was to see his favorite band one more time. They're going to grant his wish.  

"You might turn 21 three times, but you only turn 50 once," Loomis says. "I said, 'Fuck it. I'm a rock-'n'-roll fan. I'm gonna be 50, and I want to see my favorite band play.'"

For the Coles—who, at age 63, are still touring aggressively and writing new music—looking backward is a rare thing (appropriately, Fred was too busy loading up for a Pierced Arrows mini-tour to be interviewed for this story). More than just an obscure piece of Portland punk history, though, the Rats represent an important milestone in Fred and Toody's relationship: It's the first band they ever played in together. Sick of dealing with flaky "professional" musicians, Fred decided to teach Toody how to play bass and recruited Rod Hibbert, a regular at Fred's equipment store, Captain Whizeagle's, to play drums. Although a music vet, Fred was then just learning guitar himself, making the band a true symbol of punk's happy amateurism. Erupting in hooky, blink-and-miss-it bursts, the band became the bridge between Fred's psychedelic past and the backwoods punk that would cast an influence over the entire region.

"We were all basically starting out at the same time, and punk rock was a super-basic form, so it was pretty easy to have nothing but the basics down and get away with it," Toody says.

After four years and three drummers (Hibbert committed suicide in 1981; Sam Henry and Louis Samora will both sit in for the reunion), Fred dissolved the band and nearly quit punk altogether before starting Dead Moon's two-decade run with leftover Rats songs in 1986. If anyone thinks this one-off resurrection is a precursor for a reunion of the Coles' most-beloved  band, well, don't hold your breath. "Fred's pretty adamant about not dragging his bands up from the past that are over and done," Toody says. "This is a labor of love for Andrew. Otherwise, we wouldn't have agreed to do it.” 

Still, she admits they are having a blast revisiting songs they've hardly thought about for almost 30 years. "I was telling [Fred], 'OK, now we have an appreciation for anyone trying to cover any of the songs you've written, because they sound simple, but there's always these little tricky parts to them,'" Toody says with her easily conjured cackle. "It's been a riot going back and figuring out what we were actually doing.” 

SEE IT: The Rats play the Star Theater, 13 NW 6th Ave., on Thursday, Nov. 17. 9 pm. $10. 21+.