Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone
One of the films I most regretted missing at STIFF this year was the documentary Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone. So I was pretty happy to see it was going to be coming to the Grand Illusion theater for a week starting on Friday. The film embraces the fact that there are a subset of bands whose live show is so strong that it will forever diminish the feel of their recorded sessions.
Personally, the top of that list of bands will always be The Ramones. Much as I enjoy their albums, it always feels like a weak memory of their performances. More germane to this discussion is the manic but tightly orchestrated harmonic chaos of Fishbone playing live. We're taken on a ride through their origin story, the band's rise and fall, and into the present day as the diehard members deal with frayed but enduring friendships and compulsive need to keep playing for audiences.
Everyday Sunshine starts with the thesis that Fishbone is a band apart - due to their broad mix of styles, influence on others, and of course the strength of their live performances. It also provides a more in-depth view of how a band can fall apart over the years. Something we hear about all the time - though few films deconstruct as well how it happens.
The film begins with a series of talking heads espousing the skill and importance of Fishbone. It's hard to imagine a more diverse set of supporters on display. Ranging from front-men of the Circle Jerks and the Minutemen and Ice-T, straight through to Branford Marsalis. For a band that can be lazily categorized into a punk-ska bucket the influences of Fishbone pretty diverse. One admirer describes it as "I've seen them do every style...in the same song." Or in the more direct words of Ice-T, "It wasn't rock, it wasn't metal, it wasn't hip hop, it wasn't funk, it was just some different shit."
Everyday Sunshine visually mimics that polyglot of techniques telling the story of Fishbone through a blend including talking heads, cartoon animation, moving photo recreations, voiceover and several other styles I've likely forgotten. It's a well matched approach and fills on gaps that may exist in archival video materials. There's not a lot to dislike with the exception of Laurence Fishburne's voice over. That just felt incredibly stilted. If you don't like music documentaries Everyday Sunshine may not entirely change your mind - it's deeper than many but will feel familiar in many ways. It's not my favorite genre truth be told. But Everyday Sunshine held my attention. My only lasting complaint is that for the life of me I can't get their song Party at Ground Zero out of my head now.
This is a warts and all look at the history of the band. The story of Fishbone is a story of junior high friendships. Forged within the racial politics of the early 80's in Los Angeles and the nascent local punk scene. The group met as friends in a junior high they were bussed to and practiced their music together constantly. What emerged was a sound that didn't quite fit in anywhere. An issue spoken to by their record company producer who shares tales of Columbia's confusion as to whether they were a "black act" or not. From a music industry perspective the tale of Fishbone isn't entirely unfamiliar. Pioneers before their time they came right up to the cusp of breakout stardom and then fell short. This took its toll on the band who because of its all are equals nature was perhaps less able to commit to a specific musical theme than some might have wanted. To quote their early manager - "Had Fishbone been less of a democracy they might have been a more successful band. But had they been less of a democracy they wouldn't have been Fishbone." Over time members fall out leaving just original members Norwood Fisher and Angelo Moore playing gigs into the present day, writing new music and touring as much as possible. Maybe they truly believe there's a big break coming. Or maybe they just have to play for the love of the music. The film doesn't tell you how to view it. But just lets the story of these childhood to adult relationships unfold. It's sometimes painful to watch but it certainly feels real.
There's ample concert footage that give a sense of their incredibly complex improvised feeling but tight live gigs. And multiple demonstrations of the energy they brought to it. Including one of their first gigs described by a a fan whose mind it rattled who summarized it as;
"There's no real lead singer. It barely looked like they were paying attention to their instruments. Jumping around like crazy to the point that all the mike stands were knocked over in the first two songs. It was amazing. And then it was all over in 22 minutes..."
I loved seeing footage of them (literally) climbing the walls of what I'm pretty sure was The Ritz in NYC. If memory serves I saw them there a year or two earlier than the included footage. But watching them stage dive off the balcony seemed super familiar and thrust me back in time like it was yesterday.
If you've ever wondered how a band with great chemistry can disintegrate then this film will help make it clearer. Via watching the actual members of Fishbone and listening to some surprisingly insightful reflections from their fans (especially Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers). While its not altogether a happy experience one comes away feeling you've gotten more insight into these original guys than in many rock docs. And the strength of their friendships over a 25 year span is impressive and often touching. Bottom line - the title of Everyday Sunshine promises to tell to tell the story of Fishbone. And that's what it did. If you're a fan I can't see why you'd want to skip. If you've never heard of them then you can treat it as a history lesson into a band that influenced many, many acts that achieved more fame than they did. If you can't stand punkish ska sounds and hate music documentaries this probably isn't for you. But then again if that's how you feel sort of doubt you'd have read this far.