Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone
Open Nov. 11, Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor St., Hartford; Q&A with filmmakers opening weekend; and one night only at these cinemas: 7 p.m. Nov. 13, Mystic Independent Theater, 107 Wilcox Road, Stonington; post-screening Q&A; Nov. 15, The Bijou Theatre, 275 Fairfield Ave., Bridgeport; post-screening Q&A.
Rock fame is fickle. Fishbone was an L.A. band that emerged in the 1980s to claim a unique niche on the local music scene. Their vital, inspiring music defied easy characterization and their live shows were legendary. A band of six black guys, they couldn't get a record contract as "black music" because they were too punk and rock for that; then again, the soul and ska elements they brought to their music kept them out of the "punk purist" bin. Brazenly sui generis, Fishbone rode the tide of hip word-of-mouth for a good little while, including an early contract with Columbia, as everyone into the band — including fans like Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers — were certain Fishbone would rise to rock ubiquity.
It never happened, and Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler have created a complex documentary that wants to do several things at once: introduce the band, celebrate the band, explain how Fishbone got together, understand what went wrong, and cover the "whatever happened to" and "where are they now" questions fans might have.
Citing the enforced busing of South Central kids to white schools in the Valley in the 1970s as the basis for the odd blend of music that inspired the Bone, the opening narration (voiced by Laurence Fishburne, a fan) sounds a bit like a report in sociology class. The cartoons that accompany this segment are fun, but if you don't already know the band's music, the explanation for something that hasn't yet been demonstrated seems out of kilter. And there are a few too many This is Spinal Tap moments of the present-day efforts by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Angelo Moore and bassist Norwood Fisher, the only original members left, trying to keep Fishbone going — as if a mockumentary best suits the latter years. We see a plateau of waning fortunes ahead of the story of how far the band got before it began to break apart.
The story of dissent in the ranks is where the drama lives. We learn of the defection of guitarist Kendall Jones, when the band was (maybe) poised to break into the big time on Lollapalooza, because of personal issues. He sorta joined a cult his dad brainwashed him into. The tale of the attempt to rescue him could make for a very scary or funny segment — as it is, we get courtroom drawings of Jones charging his former friends with kidnapping. All of which is disheartening, as is the departure of Walter Kibby, the band member seemingly most capable of writing hits, due to disagreements with Moore about musical direction and the latter's beloved Theremin.
The footage from concerts suggests that Fishbone might simply be one of those bands that jells live but not so much on recordings. In their heyday, they didn't really care about the music industry, and who can blame them — footage of lame MTV videos of the 1980s make it seem nobler to fail. We're shown a band that had an original and exciting chemistry they were unable to maintain.
All the guys in the band are likeable, even Moore who is the most zany (his Dr. Madd Vibe persona creates a lot of friction with others, understandably) and the one who seems to need the band as a personal validation. Fisher seems simply to be a musician who believes in the value of the music.
Mainstream acclaim and the money that comes with it eluded the band, probably due to personalities and bad luck, and that's unfortunate. The best thing about the film, if you missed out on Fishbone, is that it makes you want to find some of their amazing music.