It’s a story of optimistic youth, addiction and implosion that VH-1 has patented for the rockudrama generation, yet somehow when filmmakers Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson turn the camera on California punk/ska legends Fishbone, the plot points are surprisingly fresh. Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone (playing at the ReRun Theater in Dumbo, Brooklyn for a limited run that ends tomorrow Thursday, October 13) forges a thorough, honest picture of one of the most outrageous bands to ever hit the music scene. Through use of animation and frank interviews from the original band members, as well as commentary from No Doubt, Ice T, George Clinton, Dallas Austin, Perry Farrell and others, the film offers a glimpse of what it takes to survive the music industry–and why such an influential band stands in the shadow of its chart-topping followers.
There’s a moment toward the end of the film that shows frontman Angelo Moore and band founder Norwood Fisher walking down a boardwalk. Moore is rocking one of his eccentric fashion combos with a bowler hat atop his head. Fisher casually rolls alongside him on his skateboard in a crumpled khaki bucket hat. The two are studies in opposites, yet they stroll together united by the music, like an old married couple too used to the routine to separate. Their friendship and mutual admiration for each other have allowed Fishbone and its outsider art to survive 25 years in the underground despite their epic differences.
The same contrast drew them together in 1979 at Hale Junior High in California. What would become Fishbone was already the brainchild of bassist Fisher and his drummer brother, Philip, as they constantly looked for like-minded comrades at school. The new kid, Moore, with his freak flag poking out from under his religious upbringing and smiley disposition, didn’t quite fit the mold, but he wedged himself into their world. Along with keyboardist/trombonist Chris Dowd, trumpeter “Dirty” Walt Kibby and guitarist Kendall Jones, Fishbone started playing their first gigs before they were out of high school and were signed to Columbia Records not long after graduation.
Their 1985 self-titled EP garnered them tour gigs around the world and an unparalleled reputation as live performers (which New Yorkers can see firsthand when they play Brooklyn Bowl with original member Dirty Walt back in the fold on November 13). But theirs is a story of false starts and diminished returns on high expectations as it became harder to package a raucous group of mohawked, and wildly-dressed negroes thrashing around stage throwing their instruments into the air. Meanwhile, the bands they influenced (Jane’s Addiction, No Doubt, Red Hot Chili Peppers to name a few) reached levels of fame and prosperity that have eluded the originators throughout their long careers. As the band hit its lean years in the ’90s, losing members to infighting, egos and at least one cult, Fisher and Moore persevered to keep Fishbone alive.
Anderson and Metzler weave in another crucial component to the fabric of the band – Los Angeles itself. The notorious LAPD, the Rodney King verdict and the expressways that segregate the poor neighborhoods from the affluent, all play a part in Fishbone’s subversively meaningful recordings. Suddenly, the distance between the black guys doing that “stringy-haired white boy music”, as Moore recalls the black audience’s reaction to their sound early on, isn’t so far from Ice T, NWA and the gangster rap movement.
More than anything, it’s the band members, past and present, that drive this documentary. Some rock docs prefer to fill the screen with live performances, but in Everyday Sunshine, the draw is the men behind the music. The uninitiated will come away with just enough of a taste of this boldly original music to want to know more, while longtime followers will see the psychoses at work in these colorful characters and develop a new appreciation for the band they thought they knew.
Fishbone’s latest EP, Crazy Glue came out yesterday, Tuesday, October 11.