As We Remember 1995: What Could Have Been, The Sad Tale of For Squirrels
As We Remember is a monthly series devoted to taking a look back at specific years in music. Who doesn't like to get nostalgic?Posted by Justin Spicer
The jangle of “8:02 PM” was the triumphant ring of the coming of For Squirrels in 1995. The Gainesville, Florida band was being ushered into the alternative world on a wave of ego and id. The band was being heavily compared to R.E.M. and early reviews of the band’s energetic live shows began to pile up in the press ahead of Example, the band’s debut album. There was no shying away from such lofty praise, and the bombastic happiness of “8:02 PM” only furthered the cause of a foursome grabbing tightly onto the brass ring, never letting it go.
(For Squirrels – “8:02 PM”)
The band’s eclectic taste spoke to many interests, but the dark, symbolic lyrics of Jack Vigliatura IV were at the forefront. No matter the sonic palette, the biting words and stark imagery inherent in the work of For Squirrels is what destined the band for breakout success.
Just how far For Squirrels could have made it is anyone’s guess. Just a month before the release of Example, the van that was carrying the band on tour was involved in an auto accident that claimed the lives of Vigliatura, bassist Bill White, and tour manager Tim Bender, leaving drummer Jack Greigo and guitarist Travis Tooke injured. Though the surviving members eventually pressed on under the name Subrosa, the tale of For Squirrels became one of what could have been rather than what was, leaving a legacy largely wrapped in the 10 songs that make up Example.
As an album, Example is far from perfect. Its divergent genres rarely mesh into a cohesive album meant for complete listens, but the glimpses of talent are many. Vigliatura’s voice is equally fragile and raw, able to convey a wide range of emotions. The band’s moody melodies range from bouncy pop-rock (“Under Smithville,” “The Immortal Dog and Pony Show”), to urgent post-punk (“Stark Pretty”), and allegorical beauty (“Orangeworker”).
(For Squirrels – “Orangeworker”)
The biggest impact within Example was the album’s aggressive songs; the jangle was replaced with jolts of pure rock and roll bliss. The wail of Vigliatura in “Superstar” forever resonates, shattering any comparisons to the demure tone of Michael Stipe. Lead single “Mighty K.C.” fell into the trap of memorializing Kurt Cobain in song. Unlike similar fare, “Mighty K.C.” did the deceased specter of Grunge’s past service by focusing on the troubled world of pestilence, war and famine. Like Cobain before them, For Squirrels sensed the growing entertainment culture, capturing it for the lethargic masses.
(For Squirrels – “Mighty K.C.”)
Stylistically speaking, “Mighty K.C.” was one of the reasons so many were excited at the prospects of the band. It blended the band’s many interests into a complete thought. The verses were tense, filled with venom toward a world wilting away; the chorus expectant of a sea change where the world awakes from its self-induced slumber to create a better place. A song in the trenches…
Example is all that stands in effigy of what For Squirrels may have achieved. The band could have easily fizzled out, weary of the pressure and buzz that comes with expectation. They could have toured themselves into exhaustion in the service of an album that was destined to only break so much in a crowded market overflowing with hot new acts. It’s even likely For Squirrels may have stumbled around the South trying to rediscover what it was that made them passionate and appealing after the modest success of Example was followed by a shove by their label, Sony, to rush into a studio for a roughshod second album. Or made them wait…and wait…until the buzz died down and the band grew lazy to avoid anxiety.
The scenarios are many but most of them point to a band that continued to grow and improve each time they stepped onto a stage. There are 10 songs of evidence that the band had roots, a staying power and adaptability that would have bequeathed them some form of success after the alternative world folded and the industry shot off into many directions.
These are the reasons why Example continues to stand out. It’s a testament of what was and what could have been. It sparks imaginations. And on the simplest level, it’s an engaging album no matter your mood. It’s brooding, compelling and powerful. For Squirrels left a heavy footprint, and no one’s come forward to wear the glass slipper.