Next up, “Mighty K.C.” KC stands for Kurt Cobain. He’s dead. The song is by a band called For Squirrels. They’re dead, too.
There’s no use walking on eggshells, folks – the story of For Squirrels is one of the most ridiculously depressing stories of one-hit wonderdom ever. Not just within the ’90s alternative arena – ever.
It basically shakes out like this: a bunch of kids in Florida got together, like kids all over the country, to goof around and play guitar. Most of their songs were kinda dumb and silly, and their big hit was an acoustic-folk version of the rap classic “Mama Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J.
They started playing local coffee houses and actually got the chance to open for a real band. And they blew. They didn’t have it, they weren’t serious, and everyone could tell.
So the band sat down and decided, look, let’s go big or go home. Let’s shit or get off the pot. Let’s be the biggest band in the world, or die trying.
And the truly terrible thing is, that’s precisely what happened to them. They recorded a pretty good album called Baypath Road – lots of REM influence, which got them signed to Sony. Sony ponied up the money for their major label debut Example. And, holy Cobain, that’s a great record. Start to finish, it’s 10 songs of pure jangly guitar bliss, with bursts of glorious punk aggression. They’re starting to sound less like REM, too, by this point. They’re starting to sound like For Squirrels.
Jack Vigliatura ‘s their lead singer, a stocky formidable guy with an undeniable ear for an amazing hook. As someone who pretends to write songs in his spare time, I’ve learned more from his vocal and lyrical style than I’d care to admit. He writes songs about disenchantment, megalomania, Florida, and death. And Kurt Cobain. Ostensibly. It’s more of a tone poem. But it’s obviously great – there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here, including a nice contrast between the verse and the chorus that makes the tune feel way more like an anthem than it should.
Seriously, they almost made it. There’s nothing that says that, in an alternate universe, this band isn’t as big, as fondly remembered, as any of those other bands in your collection. And then, one horrible day in September of 1995, they’re driving back home from a show at CBGB’s in New York, when their van blows a tire, flips over on I-95, and kills Jack, bassist Bill White, and Tim Bender, their tour manager.
Let’s get overtly metaphorical here, because we can: their last show is at CBGB’s in New York – traditionally, the place where bands play just before they break big. Their album is about to be released by Sony. The band is driving home to Gainesville, Florida. Their van flipped just south of Savannah, Georgia.
It takes seventeen hours to drive from New York, NY to Gainesvile, FL. For Squirrels were about three hours from home when their van flipped. They almost made it.
When you listen to Example now, you can’t help but notice that Jack sings a lot about death. “By the grace of God go I, into the great unknown”, thus goes the chorus of “Mighty KC”. “Stark Pretty”, which is probably the album’s best song, has “every single action/I am death defied… death defied.” “Gone, and not forgotten/Gone, and not forgotten/Do I hear the sound of a plane crash/Do I hear the sound of a copter/is it real or am I dreaming?” – that’s the second verse of “8.02”.
When the album was released – a month after the accident – Entertainment Weekly panned it for that exact reason, saying that it was creepy hearing a young man, gone before his time, singing so much about death. Also, they said the band was generic.
Bullhockey. For Squirrels will have their renaissance, mark my words. The whole album is bloody amazing and you should pick it up the next time you find it in the $1 CD bin. Me, I bought the record in November of 1995, just before Thanksgiving, junior year of High School. I know this because I bought it the same day I got Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, the epic 2 disc Smashing Pumpkins album that tried really, really hard to define a generation.
Being totally honest with myself – and you – between the two albums, I’ve listened to For Squirrels’ Example a lot more often.
If we gather, if we fall over the great unknown
things are gonna change in our favor.
So – the video. It’s cut together with Super 8 footage shot by the band and their families, projected onto an actor who’s supposed to be Kurt (in the afterlife?) watching the story of a young band who deserved better. And now you know what “For Jack, Bill, and Tim” means.