For Better or for Worse

Oregon underground legends Dead Moon write the handbook on relationships and rock.



Graceland, 381-3094, $7

9 p.m. Fri., Aug. 9

I have a friend who claims every love-themed mix tape she's ever received has come with a Dead Moon song on it. This same friend once lived in a run-down punk-rock house where a mural of the band's logo was the only thing her otherwise careless roommates purposefully preserved. Another friend, upon being accused (by me) of not having any "sensitive" songs among his personal top five, quickly named Dead Moon's "It's OK" as one of his all-time favorites. And Love as Laughter leader Sam Jayne, on his recent departure from Seattle, cited a lack of attendance at Dead Moon shows as symbolic of his reasons for leaving the city.

Dead Moon—the Portland-based husband and wife team of Fred and Toody Cole, along with drummer Andrew Loomis—inspire a strong, sentimental loyalty among their fans. But mention the name and you'll get a fair share of shrugged shoulders, too—even from otherwise knowledgeable music types. Although Europe's underground garage/punk scene caught on to their sound long ago, the band has remained under the radar stateside, even in their native Northwest, where they trace their local lineage back to the mid-'60s. (Several of the band's vinyl releases on their own Tombstone label were actually cut on the same lathe that produced "Louie, Louie.") Those who know them, know them well. And those who don't, well, those who don't certainly ought to.

Frontman Fred Cole, who began his career as a capricious 15-year-old singer (he was once billed as the "white Stevie Wonder"), seemed destined for stardom early on but only managed a succession of wild bands (Deep Soul Cole, the Rats, the Western Front) and even wilder experiences—he's been a homesteader and an Alaskan bear hunter. But where his musical career is concerned, Cole isn't the least bit bitter about what might have been.

"There are so many things that wouldn't have happened in my life had I 'made it' at an early age," says Cole, who for the past 30 years has continually maintained membership in a band of one kind or another. "I have never regretted the way things turned out. This may be hard to believe, but I often think I got the best deal out of this musical mess from the '60s. Most of the successes are no longer around or on the scene. I got passed over a lot in my younger days, but it seems like a godsend now. I would hate to be sitting here now telling you, 'I used to be Fred Cole.'"

The "successes" Cole refers to are people like Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and the Animals—artists often supported by one of his early bands, the Weeds. That Cole believes he walked away from those strange days luckier than any of his contemporaries has a lot to do with his wife and musical partner, Toody.

With their old soul-inspired Wild West rock, dark love-letter lyrics, raw harmonies, loose-and-fast instrumentation, and laid-back ideals, they're like John and Exene—only messier and, for better or worse, far more underground. They're an amaz-ing pair—musically and personally— and much of the dedicated fan response to the band is a direct result of their unique connection.

"Toody and I have been inseparable since we met in 1966," Fred says of his wife. "She's always been in the audience from the beginning until she started playing bass with me in [late-'70s punk combo] the Rats. We've been together so long now that if I ever looked across the stage without seeing her, I'd be lost. We work our business together, haul the garbage together, eat, drink, and smoke together. We've always been magnets on opposite poles. It may not be normal for most, but for us it's like breathing."

"I often hear from people [who say] that our music—especially the moody songs and 'love' songs—are very touching to their own lives," Toody says. "Fred and I have been through a lot together and apart. [We] have a longer life experience than most of our audience, and I [credit] Fred's lyrics for most of the connection. He hits on the right chord that runs through us all."

"I think," sums Fred, "we give a lot of people hope that you can feel this way about someone for a lifetime."

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