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"Half Man, Half Ghost." Travis Tooke's music after For Squirrels.
Travis with Lettuce Olive.
From the ashes of grunge rose a band that will forever be remembered for its tragic end rather than its brilliant songs.
Seventeen years ago the mainstream success of alternative rock was still riding on the coat tails of the grunge movement. The Seattle sound dominated our stereos, influenced the way we dressed, and sprinkled a little humility and humanity into the rock and roll ethos. Nirvana had brought the concept of the underground to the masses. I know that Kurt Cobain didn’t single handedly alter the course of popular music history, but the hammering of the death nail into the coffin of nineteen eighties excess sounded an awful lot like “Smells like Teen Spirit.” That was the song that broke the good news to a population of rock star weary and hair metal critical age group soon to be dubbed “Generation X.” It likewise broke the bad news to the eighties radio gods that their time in the sun was over.
It’s strange. That doesn’t seem that long ago. Nowadays nineteen nineties nostalgia is en vogue. People reminisce about the particularities of the early to mid- nineties from a vast array of angles. Be it the raw angst of Nirvana, the seminal wails and stripped down garage band guitar riffs of Alice in Chains, the insightful imagery of The Posies, or knee holed jeans and long sleeved flannels, the nineties resonated deeply with the psyche of wayward youths. The time left its imprint on history. It painted a colorful portrait of despair, frustration, and ironically, the optimism that at least mainstream music was getting better. It seems incomplete, though. Untimely deaths left us with nearly as many scars as hit records. One in particular is For Squirrels. You don’t remember For Squirrels? Not many people do. Aside from the amassed cult following they have posthumously garnered, For Squirrels lies hidden in the lore of the nineties.
The alternative rock quartet For Squirrels made news headlines when they were tragically killed in a tour van accident. Actually, two of the band members died. The third victim of this horrific van accident that resulted from a tire blow out was the band’s manager. One of the most promising acts to ever hit stage and speaker was snuffed out at the cusp of success. They would have made it. There is hardly a lingering doubt that had that tour van not overturned, killing vocalist Jack Vigliatura, bass guitarist Bill White, and tour manager Tim Bender, For Squirrels would have been big. They would have headlined music festivals and played the best international venues. They would have joined Tom Petty as America’s most notable musicians to emerge from the swamp turned college town of Gainesville Florida. This is speculator, of course. But if you listen to the band’s major label debut, “Example” you’d be hard pressed to disagree. If you listen to their independently released album “Baypath Road” and their major label debut “Example,” you’d share my opinion wholeheartedly. Songwriting talent like that doesn’t come along often. The charming vocal harmonies of Jack Vigliatura flowed with such unbroken enthusiasm that they could only be disrupted by his anguished, yet still so refined and poetic, howls. There was a blend of ferocity and mellow observance to their songs. The music contained a rare coupling that could soothe and excite at the same time. The sky was the limit on how far they’d make it, but we’ll never know. And that is haunting, especially considering the ages of the band. All, with the exception of Griego, were in their early twenties. Griego was a bit closer to thirty.
At the time, in the fall of 1995, the news of the deaths of two band members overshadowed the fact that two others had survived the wreck. Guitarist Travis Tooke and Drummer Jack Griego were spared by the hands of fate. The two regrouped amidst tragedy and pressed on under the For Squirrels moniker for a little while. Tooke assumed vocal duties and guitar work, Griego continued on drums, and Andy Lord was introduced to the line- up as the new bass guitarist. They toured to support “Example” as For Squirrels, but eventually changed their name to Subrosa. They cut one album titled, “Never Bet The Devil Your Head” in 1998. Boy was that album dark. The youthful exuberance that epitomized For Squirrels departed and something more depressed, down to earth, and even lyrically cynical emerged with Subrosa. From the ashes of the untimely passing of the members of For Squirrels it became apparent that Travis Tooke had within him, along with seemingly endless pain and sadness, the makings of a remarkable songwriter. His content was different, but one could almost hear the unmistakable influence and passion of Vigliatura in Tooke’s voice. Subrosa gave the rejuvenated fans something to cling to and hope for. Then they were gone. Subrosa vanished like a ghost in the wind, and we were left with only the echoes of greatness.
For years fans were only left with the hope that somehow new music from Travis Tooke would find their ears. Then out of nowhere in 2007 For Squirrels fan pages were buzzing with the information that Travis had crafted a solo project due for imminent release. 2007’s “Artichoke” was brilliant, simply put. The pain, the undeniable driving pain was still there. Yet there was something new in this mostly acoustic sound, the sound of slow rejuvenation and healing. A departure from Subrosa, Travis Tooke’s “Artichoke” coupled memories and nostalgia with the fascinating human desire to push onward. No matter the emotion, there is something so honest in his voice that the listener is compelled to believe him. His remorse is real. His happiness is well deserved. His sadness is so legitimate that it could bring anyone to tears. It sounds so natural. Nothing on that album is forced or fabricated. It was as though the songs sprang from his heart to the final recording instantaneously. The last track, entitled “Wrongsong” is unequivocally masterful. It’s a true test of emotional endurance.
Recently a few new tracks have popped up. Travis Tooke has begun to use the name Helixglow as a pseudonym for his work with For Squirrels up through the present and into the future. The new song “Recyclesaurus” seems to be about a man who is finding his place in the world. “I’m moving on”, he sings, and we are still compelled and excited to believe him. Rock on, Travis.
The title of this hub is a lyric from the Helixglow song “Recyclesaurus.”