Fishbone are and will remain one of my all time favorite bands, despite the sad fact I never got to see them live. I had a number of opportunities in the 27 years I’ve been a fan, but it seemed each time they were “within my vicinity”, I wasn’t able to make it. I go back to a time when Fishbone’s music was not available at my local stores, when wanting Fishbone meant having to special order it, a process that would take two to three weeks, sometimes more. It was better (and faster) for me to drive 200 miles back and forth to get their new album, although back then, I didn’t have my license so I had to rely on my mom to get me there. That also meant how I had to see them in concert, so when you’re still under the rule of mom, she had to prioritize and my music fanaticism was not part of the deal. I had seen Fishbone live on the pay-per-view special 21 years ago, but that was the only way I had come close to seeing the original band lineup (at the time with additional guitarist John Bigham. While I, as a fan, selfishly would love to see the original line-up get to together again for a tour, this new documentary film explains why things turned out the way they did, but more importantly, documents their love of music and one another despite obstacles and circumstances.
Everyday Sunshine: “The Story Of Fishbone (Cinema Guild) is one of the best documentary films I’ve ever seen on a band, and I have seen countless films and docs in my lifetime. With narration from actor Laurence Fishburne, the viewer gets a chance to see for themselves how Fishbone originated, who they were, how they came together, and what lead to them getting signed to Columbia Records, complete with archival footage and photographs. Fishburne’s commentary doesn’t overpower, in fact most of the time you’re hearing words directly from Angelo Moore and Norwood Fisher, the only two members of the original lineup who have remained in the group throughout their duration. You also get to hear from original keyboardist/vocalist Chris Dowd and vocalist/horn man “Dirty” Walter Kibby II, both of whom talk about how it was to live in the ghettos of Los Angeles, having to deal with rough surroundsing but not having any concerns about where they lived because that was was home. They had to be bussed to white schools, and by being the oddballs of their own neighborhoods, the schools also allowed them to discover a wide range of sounds, including punk. All of that is discussed, and how their individual spirits in life and on stage would become the Fishbone sound and vibe on stage.
They do touch on why original guitarist Kendall Jones left the band during a moment when they felt he was going crazy, with Norwood speaking on the indicent where he was accused of kidnapping his friend from “the compound”. In the second half of the film, Kendall meets up with Moore and Norwood for the first time in 15 years, in what becomes one of the movie’s finest moments. The other moment is when Dowd also returns and meets up with them. They no longer look like the L.A. kids who wore clothes that were a mix of new wave, punk, and cholo uniforms, but it was great to see a hint of the spark of magic that once was, as everyone touches on why they fell apart from one another. Dirty Walt, often the most honest and blunt one in the band, also states clearly what went wrong: egos. People started to feel that Moore not only became the sole focus, but that perhaps he felt he was the sole focus in a band that were built on a “one for all, all for one” premise. Yet a lot of fans (including myself) loved the fact that there wasn’t a main focus. Original drummer “Fish” Fisher was always cool, calm, and collected, maintaining the funk. Norwood was always laying cool while playing incredibly well. Dowd acted like a loon but would instantly switch over into the cool, calm, and collected one, and having a voice that was one of the best in the band. Kendall was the band’s electricity and could do everything from traditional ska scratching to brilliant guitar solos. Dirty Walt was an anchor, the uncle of the family. Then you had Angelo, who may have been the most flamboyant but there was always the real man behind the curtain and one merely had to watch and listen to the spectacle in order to enjoy not only his wisdom, but the collective wisdom of the band. That is what made Fishbone work: the odd chemistry of seeing a bunch of looniewacks acting spastic as if they were six guys with individual cases of itchy ass, but all digging into one another rhythmically.
Everyday Sunshine also touches on the band’s fall from a major label, the struggles they had with labels and one another, and with themselves. They keep on going because they know it pays the bills, but also aren’t afraid to say that they were the ones who influenced so many, but they’re at the bottom of the totem pole. Through interviews with Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Les Claypool of Primus, Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction/Porno For Pyros, and Gwen Stefani and Tony Kanal of No DoubtFaith No More had switched vocalists, found someone (Mike Patton) who had incredible skills on the microphone, and they blew up. Then Primus were getting a buzz, and after two indie albums, they found themselves on a major and people were going nuts. Meanwhile, Fishbone had the power and yet fans were doing everything in their power to let them know they were loved.
Another interesting moment is when producer David Kahne, who brought Fishbone to Columbia Records and helped them get signed, discussed the process of how to market them to the heads at the label. Fishbone are a black band. It was perceived that they did not play “black music”, or at least popular black music in a mid-80′s context. In fact, one reason why some were attracted to them was because they were often pushed as a black band playing ska, and ska for years was considered “white man’s reggae”, at least in the United States. Bands like The Specials and Madness were simply reviving what they had grew up on, reggae was still boho island music. Most Americans had no idea of ska’s true origins or that ska was one of the styles that would eventually lead to reggae. While the issue of “Fishbone playing white man’s reggae” was not discussed, that’ is one reason why they were favored by some white audiences. They were new wave and punk, but they were the freaks of new wave and punk simply because they were black. Yet their soul and funk influences were also there, listen to “V.T.T.L.O.T.F.D.G.F.” Kahne talked about how he helped design the Fishbone logo, and when he handed it to the black music division of Columbia, they treated the cassette and artwork like a piece of shit, and basically told him “you can release it”, as in “you’re a white producer, you handle white music, you can sign him for your division”. From the beginning of their time at Columbia Records, they were immediate outcasts. Yet those who loved the music could hear much more than just them playing “white man’s reggae”. In fact, Black Entertainment Television (BET) would regularly put them in rotation when one watched shows like Video Soul and Video Vibrations. The only times one might see Fishbone during primetime was when you might see Moore make a cameo in videos by Jane’s Addiction (“Mountain Song”) and Red Hot Chili Peppers (“Knock Me Down”) for you see, these bands knew that if they were getting a bit of attention, give Fishbone that push. No one made the connection. Yet if you turned to BET, you might see Moore and Norwood in George Clinton‘s “Do Fries Go With That Shake”, or Moore dancing in 99.9‘s “All Of Me For All Of You”. It seemed they were street teaming themselves before anyone ever came up with the word, but they were always there, doing a bit of Hollywood-style marketing to benefit themselves whenever possible.
One thing that this documentary does not to is take a deep exploration into their recordings. Their 1985 EP is cited as being both their EP and “first album”, even though their true first album was 1986′s In Your Face, an album of which isn’t discussed but referred to only by a computer graphic. While some elements of their recordings are briefly touched upon, don’t expect a Classic Albums analysis. I would love to do something like that for them, or if someone else is able to do it, please do. I would love to hear Legacy editions of everything they did for Columbia, and just raid the multi-tracks to hear every song from every angle. So if you’re that type of music junkie and hope to see and hear that in Everyday Sunshine, you’ll be disappointed. But in terms of a movie that covers their bond as friends and musicians, and brings up the debate on whether not it was the industry and “the powers that be” that didn’t allow them to be one of the greatest bands of the late 20′s century, this film is the place to go. There’s a sense of honesty in this that a lot of bands are afraid to discuss or reveal, especially when one sees (as shown in the trailer) Norwood complaining to Moore about how he would prefer to be in a band with Moore, not his “Dr. Madd Vibe” character. They eventually find a balance, but maintaining that balance is a part of the struggle. They are getting older, and while both of them touch on leaving the band, they never really discuss the idea of breaking up. However, Norwood does refer to the reality that Fishbone will eventually reach “the finish line” and his hope is that they (the original lineup) will be able to do it together, if and when that happens.
Another part I also loved is when Norwood talks about his love of surfing, which wasn’t expected but as someone who grew up near and in the ocean, this was of interest to me. He speaks on how he was brought up to believe that surfing was not for “someone like him”, but that after he stopped drinking, he realized he had to break out from some of the self-made barriers he had, some of which was passed on to him from cultural and social influences, and simply explore. In a way, watching him surf is a metaphor for what Fishbone has represented for years. When someone walks into a room, people begin to make assumptions and accusations of what they are like, how they speak, and what they may do for a living. Fishbone went beyond what anyone would ever expect, and they explored music and one another for fun and sonic harmony, finding a way to create movement in the light and fucking up the brightness in the process with a ghetto soundwave.