Jerry Garcia’s death may have been rock’s most discussed passing of 1995, but the tale of For Squirrels was surely the most tragic. On September 8, the group was headed home from New York City to Gainesville, Florida, after playing a triumphant showcase. In Georgia, a van tire blew out, singer Jack Vigliatura, who was driving, lost control and the vehicle flipped over, killing him, bassist Bill White and tour manager Tim Bender; guitarist Travis Tooke and drummer Jack Griego were injured. Vigliatura had just married his high-school sweetheart; the group’s major-label debut was due out in a month.
Example was released anyway, and listening to it only compounds the sorrow. For Squirrels had transcended the very R.E.M.-ish jangle of its earlier work — Plymouth‘s five songs were drawn from the self-released Bay Path Road — to show that it was a vibrant musical force with a fully realized sound and a knack for explosive, out-of-the-ordinary dynamics. For Squirrels did wear its influences on its sonic sleeve — the drama of Live, the punk-propelled pop fury of Soul Asylum and, of course, R.E.M. But the quartet’s songs tend to twist and turn enough to make those bands sound more like reference points than direct musical models. For Squirrels’ breadth was impressive, encompassing thrashing guitar rock (“8:02 PM,” “Long Live the King”), stomping anthems (“Superstar”), power pop (“Under Smithville,” “Mighty K.C.”) and dreamy, ambient pastiche (“Disenchanted”).
Some of Example’s lyrics are creepy in light of the accident; “Send me off to the morgue/I’m ready to be buried,” Vigliatura sings in “Mighty K.C.” But when he urges, “Please don’t give it up now” in “Stark Pretty,” it’s almost prescient. It’s gratifying that Example was able to get the hearing it deserved; Tooke and Griego vowed to soldier on, but clearly — and sadly — it can never be the same.