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Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone

A solid documentary gets inside Fishbone’s extraordinary career

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Fishbone faces the reality of its surroundings.

Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone

Directed by Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler

Opens Dec. 16 at the Charles Theatre

When young musicians start out, they probably dream of headlining a show at an enormous theater with a packed house going coconuts and chanting their names. They probably don’t ponder rounding the turn into middle age while sound-checking to a handful of senior citizens sitting placidly in white plastic chairs in a desolate square in a tiny town in Hungary. Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler’s solid new documentary Everyday Sunshine opens by showing that Fishbone has seen both extremes, alternating footage from a frenzied performance at San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre in the early ’90s and footage from one of Fishbone’s recent European tours. The film is, in large part, an intimate history of the band, but it works best as an exploration of what it can mean, as young musicians are so often heard to wish fervently, to play music for the rest of your life.

Fishbone may seem like an atypical subject for such a story, but Fishbone is atypical of almost everything. As Anderson and Metzler relate with the help of narration from Laurence Fishburne and some snazzy animation, the band got its start in the late ’70s after African-American students from South Central Los Angeles were bused to schools in the predominantly white, suburban San Fernando Valley. There hulking Norwood Fisher, his brother “Fish” Fisher, and some of their South Central friends met Angelo Moore, a black kid from a strict religious household in the Valley. Their fledgling band devoted itself to playing music, regardless of what type it was or the skin color of the folks who usually made it, and burst onto the early ’80s L.A. punk scene as a bunch of black kids with mohawks playing hyper-tight, spazzed-out, genre-hopping party-out-of-bounds music. They were signed to Columbia Records before any of them turned 20.

A parade of graying old-school L.A. scenesters (Mike Watt, Flea) and next-gen SoCal superstars (members of No Doubt) appear to attest to Fishbone’s brilliance and influence. Tunes like “Ma and Pa” and “Everyday Sunshine” and lavish footage of live performances reinforce their uncanny knack for soulful catchiness and the band’s explosive energy. But a story from early mentor/producer David Kahne is revealing as well: Ordered to turn the band over to Columbia’s “black music” division, Kahne recounts that the tape was returned to him by someone “holding it like it was a turd” who told him it had no place there. Marketed to white rock fans, the band made little more headway. Fishbone kept recording and touring, even as chances for a platinum-selling breakout receded and founding members began to fall away, disillusioned or otherwise done in by being in the band.

Fishbone’s story is as unique as its music, but Everyday Sunshine is at its most fascinating when it comes to detailing the band members’ lives and relationships over their long history together. Moore is not only the band’s biggest personality onstage, but offstage and onscreen as well. He radiates star power, but also irrepressible eccentricity (often via his motor-mouthed alter-ego Dr. Madd Vibe) and here and there some bitterness (as at a nearly deserted album-signing at a record store). Over the course of filming, he was evicted from his home and moved back in with his mother; Anderson and Metzler’s cameras find him bonding with his preteen daughter, but also trying to parent over a transcontinental phone connection. Stalwart bassist Norwood Fisher boasts a surfer’s equanimity about most things, but he makes plain his frustration at the band’s recent subsistence-level career.

Long-departed members such as guitarist Kendall Jones and keyboardist Chris Dowd gave interviews for the film and bury the hatchet with their old cohorts briefly on camera, but they nonetheless seem almost relieved not to be in the band anymore. Maybe that’s because they’re not faced, as Moore and Norwood Fisher are, with the prospect of carrying Fishbone forward somehow as age 50 approaches—either mustering the energy and creativity to make a stab at a serious comeback and the big success it has always merited or riding it out on whatever’s left in the tank. Be careful what you wish for.

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