“It’s easy to underestimate the effect [Fred and Toody] had,” says Mike King, a Portland-based poster artist and designer (and retired musician) who’s worked with acts like Iggy Pop, Ben Harper, and Jack Johnson. “When I started playing music in the late ’70s, they ran an equipment store called Captain Whizeagle’s. It was a hub for people who wanted to make weirdo music. I wanted to make punk rock, and that’s where I bought my first bass. To still be doing what they’re doing,” he pauses, searching for the words. “I mean, to still be getting in a van and driving to Boise? I’m as DIY as the next guy, but I’m not that DIY.”
The wear and tear of four decades of this life have shaped Cole’s body like a nicotine-stained glacier. His left shoulder stoops slightly from having a guitar slung over it for 30 years. His blue hound-dog eyes rest on folded beds of skin darkened by days and nights of sound checks, dirty motel rooms, and pitch-black highways. His voice, a soulful yelp when he was 16, has been ravaged by screaming and smokes, leaving it a raspy approximation of Robert Plant and a braying mule. He is basically deaf and needs a hearing aid to make casual conversation tolerable. And then there’s the fist-size tattoo on his right cheek of a skull cradled in the nook of a crescent moon, the logo of his beloved former band, lo-fi rock folk-heroes Dead Moon.
But Cole still has all his hair, which is more than most 60-year-olds can say. When not corralled inside his trademark cowboy hat—so beaten up that it looks more like a wizard’s hat—the tresses run off his scalp and down past his shoulders in enviable strands of rust, black, and gray. He had to pull a tooth backstage in Germany a few years back, and another is glued to its neighbor to keep it rooted in his mouth. But the other 31 are still there. Above all, though, he still has his songs. Without them, Cole might be a delusional old coot. But over the course of his career, he’s wielded his dark, poetic gift like an ax, slamming home jagged slabs of sing-along rock and punk about life, death, love, and—above all else—grit-toothed perseverance. The music rumbles. It soars. And even when it plunges, it does so with a stiff middle finger.
His cult is small, but it is fanatic. It includes people like Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl. And as long as they’re out there—and as long as Toody is plugged in right beside him—Cole will keep playing. This is all he knows. There is no end in sight, save one.
“Once I play the moon and I’m a hundred years old, then yeah,” he says, sucking a cigarette down to the filter. “I’m outta here.”