Old Skull are young and half-informed.
November 30, 2013 6:26 PM   Subscribe

"It is truly punk beyond any of the music played by celebrated punk bands at the time of the term’s genesis." Old Skull were a trio of prepubescent boys from Wisconsin whose raw (some would say talentless) thrash punk albums in the late 1980s gained them nationwide attention and a record deal. The band consisted of J.-P. and Jamie Toulon and Jesse Collins-Davies, with a lot of help from the Toulon patriarch Vern. Their songs dealt with issues big ("Homeless," "AIDS") and small ("Pizza Man," "D'Yall Know Where the Herb Is?"). They opened for Sonic Youth and Gwar, they made it onto MTV and into People Magazine. Then their 15 minutes passed. Here's a haunting 2010 WFMU interview with Jamie Toulon when he was a homeless addict in NYC. Then the Toulon brothers died within a year of each other.
posted by goatdog (29 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Old Skull! A DJ at my college station was obsessed with their record.
posted by lownote at 7:05 PM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

sad. I played some Old Skull on my radio show back in the day, purely for the novelty (they fit in well with a noise collage). They certainly didn't strike me as anything that would be interesting once the voices changed. So yeah, I guess we can chalk this one up as yet another cautionary tale -- child stardom being a mostly toxic affliction.
posted by philip-random at 7:07 PM on November 30, 2013

Oh wow. We were so jealous of them in middle school. And I think we thought they were sell-outs or poseurs for some reason. Adolescent punk is hard to figure out in retrospect.

Poor kids.
posted by stet at 7:12 PM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

philip-random, were you the mystery DJ at lownote's college station?
posted by atbash at 7:12 PM on November 30, 2013

Holy fuck. Unearthed memories! I can't believe I forgot about Old Skull!
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:18 PM on November 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

You know, I feel like I may have even seen them live. Is there a list somewhere of the dates they played with Sonic Youth or GWAR? I saw both of those groups a lot around this time.
posted by Saxon Kane at 7:23 PM on November 30, 2013

Madison is a small town, especially the "troubled youth" scene. I knew them and was very close to some of their good friends. Brings back a river of memories for this old as shit 30 something who somehow managed not to entirely self-destruct. Feels like several lifetimes ago. I heard about their passing a few years back from another friend; and although neither of us were exactly surprised, it was sad and signified an end of a weird local era. RIP.
posted by milarepa at 7:29 PM on November 30, 2013 [11 favorites]

...this is totally irrelevant, but it totally messed with me that the background clock on the first link reads "7:35", and that was when I clicked through. I kept reloading to see if it was an actual clock or not. It does not appear to be.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 7:40 PM on November 30, 2013

Well it wasn't all bad...

While the Toulon brothers met very young and extremely tragic endings, the other founding member of the band has led a very successful life; Jesse Collins-Davies is now a DJ in Wisconsin and has a very successful career going for himself.

(from the last link)
posted by grog at 7:43 PM on November 30, 2013

I remember reading about them at the time as a novelty act. There was a couple of years where they would pop up in articles, and I probably heard them on the radio or on compilation tapes a few times, and then they just disappeared. It's sad to learn about what happened to them later.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:54 PM on November 30, 2013

philip-random, were you the mystery DJ at lownote's college station?

I doubt it. I wasn't what I'd term obsessed.
posted by philip-random at 8:14 PM on November 30, 2013

I remember being totally jealous of the guys in Old Skull and slightly obsessed with Get Outta School when I was in high school. The dudes were just a couple years younger than me and more punk than I could ever dream.
posted by brand-gnu at 8:27 PM on November 30, 2013


A late Milwaukeean, I remember these guys from back when. Glad, and sorry, to see them here on the Blue.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 8:29 PM on November 30, 2013

I too was a college radio DJ in Wisconsin in the 90s. Let us now mourn Old Skull.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:43 PM on November 30, 2013


And this is making me feel awfully, awfully old.
posted by queensissy at 9:24 PM on November 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

More college radio memories: whenever my station in California tried to purge albums to free up space, Old Skull would always end up on the list by people who didn't know the story of the band, and their album(s?) would always be saved by the punk DJs.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:11 PM on November 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

I only listened to the first ten minutes of that WFMU interview with Jamie Toulon. I had to stop because they were just straight up mocking him the whole time. It was dumb and gross.

At 8:24 they added crash sound right after he mentioned that his mother died in a train wreck.

What the fuck WFMU?
posted by mcmile at 11:00 PM on November 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

"I hate you, Ronald Reagan!"
posted by WalkingAround at 3:45 AM on December 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

I was 12 when they came out. my older brother and his friends listened to punk, and I thought it was an inherently revolutionary genre. when little me saw them on MTV News, it was disconcerting: how could a genre like that produce a novelty act? that made me realize that punk is just pop music wearing a Misfits jacket, and there was nothing inconsistent about a mixed tape with an Agent Orange song followed by a silly love song. so they were something of a turning point for me in a negative moment in the dialectic sorta way.
posted by jpe at 6:06 AM on December 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

I remember when this came out. They were young enough to be my kids. For a while, I thought Punk might live on. For a while, I thought I might live on. I was wrong.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:07 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I saw them with Gwar and I didn't experience them as a novelty act. They just seemed punk rock to me. I have fond memories of Old Skull from that show. Thanks for posting this.
posted by layceepee at 10:31 AM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

filling in some questions from the article:

JP and, a year later, Jaime, moved to New York and lived in the Lower East Side squatter scene starting in around 95-96. It was (is) a tight community of people who lived, worked, and traveled together. We had an amazing level of tolerance for mental health disorders and drug problems, with a lot of nonjudgemental support for our friends.

A lot of the more longtime Lower East Side squatters eventually ended up with land in the South, homesteading and doing working-class jobs, and Lynchburg was one of the stops in that migration.
posted by girl Mark at 4:04 PM on December 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, jeez. I was just off to college when they were starting and remember Pizza Man from seeing it on MTV. They got a lot of ink in the Wisconsin music press at the time. Totally saw them as a novelty act, briefly wondered if they were being exploited and then promptly forgot about them, as college kids are wont to do.

What an awful shame about the family, what with mother, father and children all gone, and so young. I hope J.P.'s son is OK.
posted by droplet at 9:01 PM on December 1, 2013

posted by larrybob at 9:13 PM on December 1, 2013

JP was in my class in middle school. We'd moved to Wisconsin a year before, which was right after I'd read about Old Skull in People or some such. JP was tiny even for a sixth grader and had the sharpest mohawk I think I've ever seen. I remember him tromping around on all fours singing, "I'm a cow, I'm a cow..." For being so obviously punk with a capital P, he was pretty good-natured, although I recall things getting a little more aggressive within the next year or so. Mainly, he just kept people entertained. He and his brother and dad supposedly lived within a few blocks of us in an unremarkable neighborhood.

Years later, walking down State St. as a college student, I started noticing someone different among the usual panhandlers. This guy would stand outside Einstein's and ask for change in an almost nauseatingly polite manner: "Excuse me, but could you kindly consider supplying a few pieces of spare change?" He held his hands behind his back and pulled his body in tight, as if about to launch into a pee-pee dance.

Finally I managed to ask someone what his name was (you know, fitting into the pantheon somewhere behind Scanner Dan and Cosmo). It was Vern Toulon.

posted by Madamina at 9:37 PM on December 1, 2013

There are certain parallels to the Shaggs, in terms of a stage parent and arrhythmic playing.
posted by larrybob at 9:47 PM on December 1, 2013

See also Heene Boyz Previously which has some Old Skull related comments.
posted by larrybob at 9:54 PM on December 1, 2013

stage parent and arrhythmic playing

that's a title in search of a short story, or perhaps a song
posted by philip-random at 11:05 PM on December 1, 2013

They opened for the Butthole Surfers many times and were always a lot of fun to have on the bill. Their stage diving was done with a fearless abandon that was hard not to envy! They hadn't quite mastered the intricacies of three chord rock yet but were still a lot of fun to watch. I was just describing them to someone the other day who thought they had "seen it all." Much to their consternation they had never heard of Old Skull! I had no idea that the brothers had both died...sad.
posted by gigbutt at 10:12 AM on December 2, 2013

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