For reasons that are immediately obvious, it’s hard to name the greatest band that never made it, but this 2010 rockumentary makes a strong case that it’s Fishbone.
Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone is narrated by Lawrence Fishburne, in perhaps the best piece of stunt casting since David Morrissey narrated the audiobook version of Morrissey’s autobiography, or Eric Bana played Bruce Banner. Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler’s documentary charts the rise and fall of this influential band, who gatecrashed the 1980s LA punk scene with their insane live shows, “black” social consciousness and uncompromisingly diverse sound, which encompassed funk, punk, metal, ska and whatever the fuck they wanted to play. As musician Mike Watt comments: “I’ve seen them do every style… in the same song!”
The film exposes profound weaknesses in a music industry that literally sees everything in black and white. The music business was formally segregated at the time and never really reformed, with every major music awards still relegating black artists to “urban” categories and reserving all the big awards for Taylor Swift. As a black band playing eclectic rock music for white audiences (with no apparent lead singer), Fishbone proved a challenging proposition for Colombia Records. The band’s original producer David Kahne talks about their being kicked between the label’s black music department and the rock music department. This meant that although Fishbone represented everything exciting about alternative rock, they never had the wide success of their (white) contemporaries, who rose to the top like dead fish… most notably The Red Hot Chili Peppers, an unconscionably mediocre group whose name makes them sound like a team on a cookery show. See also Foo Fighters.
While the documentary avoids the repetitive album-by-album approach, it does hit the usual rock movie beats: substance abuse, band members quitting, guitarist being brainwashed by his father’s religious cult, the band going to rescue him, him taking them to court for attempted kidnapping… the usual stuff. And as frustration grew, more and more members left, giving eccentric (and stylish) de facto frontman Angelo Moore more and more freedom to indulge his own creative whims, which included playing the theremin in every song and creating a persona called Dr. Madd Vibe. At one point in the film, bassist John Norwood Fisher laments without a trace of irony: “I don’t want to be in a band with Dr. Madd Vibe!” It’s a reminder of how absurdly lifelike Spinal Tap is as a parody.
Like Anvil! The Story of Anvil, the film cuts between the band’s invigorating history and their stagnant present, following the two remaining members who now seem less like a band than an unhappy married couple, staying together for the sake of the songs. The film even-handedly charts their clashes and the recently-evicted Moore’s erratic behaviour, but equally their undeterred passion and unbridled talent. Through a combination of talking heads (including Les Claypool, ?uestlove and George Clinton), some of the most insane live footage ever put to film, and animation reminiscent of the artwork for Miles Davis’ ‘On The Corner’, Everyday Sunshine paints an insightful and emotional picture of a fearless band determined to do their own thing, even after years of mistreatment by the music business.
Now (mostly) reassembled, Fishbone are “Still Stuck in Your Throat”, while the industry has turned its back entirely on unorthodox rock music. Perry Farrell from Jane’s Addiction describes the increasingly risk-averse music industry in the 1990s turning away from “freaks”, with their unpredictable behaviour and annoying habit of dying suddenly, and towards safer bets like Britney Spears. And look how that worked out. Meanwhile, Fishbone as an entity kept striving for originality, never compromising their democratic approach to making music. As one member comments: “It was always the band that was trying to accommodate everybody’s vision… and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Their’s was an invaluable voice on the overwhelmingly white alternative rock scene, and this is one of the best rockumentaries out there. So don’t let your life be ‘Boneless. Leave that shit to the industry.