‘Everyday Sunshine: The Story Of Fishbone’ At Beyond Baroque, Sunday August 6th 2017
‘Everyday Sunshine’ is the story of Fishbone, the punk-funk-rock-soul band, which could have been one of the most successful rock bands ever, but never was. The excellent documentary was shown at Beyond Baroque, a non-profit independent Literary Arts Centers located in Venice and dedicated to poetry, literature and art, and the two founding members of the legendary band, Angelo Moore and John Norwood Fisher, were present at the screening and treated the audience with a very intimate concert.
Narrated by Laurence Fishburne, the 2011 award-winning movie brings you at the center of the Fish family, from the birth of the band in high school to its career highs and downs… they did it all, the big festivals, the endless touring with MTV videos, they even were invited at Saturday Night Live, but the Fishbone road hasn’t been easy, and after losing members one by one and not finding their place in any of the white, black, rock, punk, ska, funk landscapes (or whatever genre you want to associate Fishbone with) Angelo and Norwood found themselves struggling for keeping Fishbone alive. The irony is to watch No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea praising Fishbone as the greatest band ever, and telling how much their own very successful bands have been influenced by them, and realizing Angelo and Norwood’s financial struggles at the same time. At one point, Angelo has to go back to live with his mother because he cannot make both ends meet, while Norwood lives in a very modest apartment in Venice beach. These guys are rock stars, but certainly haven’t the life style.
Fishbone is a band that didn’t fit anywhere, they were not playing so-called black music, as their hybrid and complex sound couldn’t have been further from the poppy soul R&B mix you could hear from black performers in the 80s, however they were black… but not identifying themselves to anything in particular. They were wearing dreadlocks and mohawks, were playing funk and ska while stage diving like punk hardcore kids, they ‘put the funk into the punk’, or vice-versa, in an attempt to unite everything and everyone into an intense sonic communion.
If you have ever attended a Fishbone concert, you know it is an epic and intense experience, a vibrant feast for the senses, with a lot of stage diving and crowd surfing involved, while many genres of music collide as one crazy cacophony of beauty… they can start as the most ferocious punk rock band and transform their 20-minute-long song into a soul-funk Prince-era track. And their show often last a few hours, let’s say 3,.. 4 or more. ‘It takes a long time to tell a story’ told us Norwood last night.
The story of Fishbone is not an easy one to watch, they had ambition but a lot of heart, they were South Central LA kids transported in the white affluent Woodland Hills neighborhood, because of a school program sending black kids in the San Fernando Valley, and their music has been intertwined with politics and social consciousness, from the crack epidemic, to the LA riots, they wrote tales of broken home in the ghetto and stories of police brutality…. ‘The Reality of My Surroundings’
But at a time when they almost reached mainstream, the breakdown of one of their band member, guitarist Kendall Jones, was the beginning of a long train wreck: When Kendall decided to join a cult, Norwood attempted to rescue him but got arrested and charged with attempted kidnapping. He was later acquitted but the years that followed saw the band leaving Columbia Records and their progressive dissolution – although other musicians have now joined. The publicized lawsuit due to a fatal stage diving – not included in the movie which was probably completed before the incident – certainly didn’t help Fishbone: they had to pay $1.4 million when Angelo fell down on a woman and broke her skull and collarbone.
Fishbone are survivors and warriors, they call themselves and their fans Fishbone soldiers after all, they have a strong cult-following, as their sold-out show at the Echoplex last May seems to demonstrate, but they never compromised and never went big for this reason. Angelo Moore is certainly one of the greatest frontmen ever, he is a crazy fighter who continues to stage dive despite the tragic lawsuit, and they have always wanted to keep their unique weird identity intact, ‘We were individuals, we didn’t want to belong to any community, we wanted to be known for playing music,’says one of them in the movie. They are originals and weirdos, outsiders who paid the high price, in a world where people’s desire to precisely belong to something or some community has never been stronger.
After the movie, the forever eclectic and restless Angelo Moore played a few of his own compositions as Dr Madd Vibe and the Missin’ Links, navigating into jazz-punk-soul territories while switching between keyboard, saxophone and theremin, an instrument he apparently likes a lot these days,… at Norwood’s great disarray. Surrounded by musicians coming from all horizons from punk to ska, country, hardcore, traditional R&B, soul and hip hop, and fronted by a tiny ball-of-fire chanteuse, they were mixing genres as Fishbone has always done it, with abrupt accelerations, trombone boosts by Jay Armant, ska bits, and basically a lot of madness and unexpected detours. The place had no stage, it was obviously not close to a Fishbone concert but they nevertheless brought a lot of energy. Of course when a doctor is in the house, you expect to be cured of whatever disease you may have, and Madd Vibe and his infectious Links can cure the blues in less time than you can learn to spell theremin… let’s be honest he didn’t use it a lot, but there was plenty of this savant concoction of ska-punk mind-stirring rhythms. Even behind the keyboard, Angelo Moore is still a crazy circus ringleader, a free spirit, as his conservative mother says in the movie. If the music is often difficult to follow for a logical category-obsessed mind, they were deconstruction genres in front of our eyes and ears and putting them together with screams and noises. There was a very emotional moment when they played the recording of a woman’s voice, victim of police brutality, and followed it by a very explosive funky and soulful number ending in a collective black power salute.
Just after, Norwood Fisher and his band played a sort of free reggae jazzy jam, soon joined by Angelo on sax, and I felt very privileged to see them so close and personal, playing for such a small audience. Fishbone is a LA hallmark, with one of the most fearless creative license ever, they are probably one of the most underestimated bands ever too, ‘It’s very hard to get booked in LA,’ told us Angelo after the show. However they continue to stir up things, as they are part of our collective consciousness one way or another, Didn’t the Roots played a bit of their song ‘Lyin’ Ass Bitch’ when Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann walked on stage during Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night. The best part is that this went way over her head, but it didn’t for all the Fishbone soldiers out there.