Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone (2010)

Everyday Sunshine (2010) movie poster

directors: Lev Anderson, Chris Metzler
viewed: 03/24/2012

“Everyday Sunshine”, the bittersweet story of the band Fishbone, is perhaps somewhat ironically titled.  Named from a single from their 1991 album The Reality of My Surroundings, the album that the band and many of their admirers hoped would be their breakthrough into the commercial success that was happening all over the place at the time to friends’ bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Living Colour, and Primus (among many others), it instead signaled the beginning of the end of the run for the original six person line-up that had formed in Los Angeles among a number of middle and high school friends.  For shortly thereafter, members began to break away for various reasons, and as the present state of the band features only two original members, bassist Norwood Fisher and singer/saxophone player, Angelo Moore, whom the film primarily focuses on.

The story of Fishbone really is the story of how kids from the black neighborhoods in Los Angeles were bused into “the Valley”, bonding a core group of creative, innovative, very cool guys and forming into what was at one time probably one of the greatest bands of the 1980’s.  The eclectic style mixed more styles and genres than is easily detailed, from ska to punk to funk and soul, in a mixture that was far more than the sum of its parts.  Their first EP, which they recorded when they were 18 and fresh out of high school is sublimely cool.  And I vividly remember seeing them on IRS’s The Cutting Edge on MTV around 1985 and thought that they looked super cool.

Why the band never made it as big as their friends and contemporaries perhaps is one of those sad but not a-typical stories, being a bit too ahead of their time.  Noted for being “too black” for a white audience and “too white” for a black audience is something that comes up in the film, but was far from a hindrance to me and my friends and many others who were into the band in their heyday.  I’ve always thought that their music went from this truly bizarre, manic ska-heavy chaos of their first record into progressively a more homogenized sound, blending rock and funk more deeply, becoming more serious.  I always felt that as they grew, they actually lost some of that insanely unique thing that they were.  In fact, by the time of 1991, I was less happy with their music myself as a fan.

But six individuals with strong personalities made the band what it was and sadly also unmade it.  Nowadays, playing much smaller gigs with a team of musicians filling in their departed spots, Angelo and Norwood work hard to keep this thing alive.  The film sheds some light on Angelo’s upbringing in the Jehovah’s Witnesses (he was the lone member who lived in the Valley) and his present day struggles with unnamed addictions and his relationship with his near teenage daughter.

With talking heads like Flea, Les Claypool, Ice-T, Gwen Stefani, Mike Watt, Keith Morris, and Branford Marsalis, you get a sense of the range of influences that Fishbone reached, jammed with, influenced and entertained.

In 1987, I met Norwood, keyboardist Chris Dowd, and guitarist Kendall Jones when Fishbone was touring with their “In Your Face” album, opening for the Beastie Boys on their “Licensed to Ill” tour when it came through Fresno.  Even then, the future was perhaps tipping its hand.  Originally planned as a co-headline tour, the Beastie Boys suddenly broke bigtime and Fishbone went from a lead to an understudy on the tour.  They were extremely nice to us then and at a later time, I got to follow up the interview with Norwood a year or so later, when they toured with their “It’s a Wonderful Life” single, sadly without Kendall, whose mother had just passed away (a triggering factor eventually in his departure from the band, as detailed in the film).

The film itself is a very earnest effort, tries to employ various techniques from animation and other informational imagery along side the interviews and concert footage.  Some things struck me odd, like the omission of covering the first album, skipping ahead to 1989’s “Truth and Soul”.  The story is somewhat bittersweet.  This amazing, unique, incredible band that was so vibrant, now touring on hopes and dreams as two members try to keep it together, some semblance of the original vision.

Norwood Fisher is an immensely talented bass player.  He’s recorded with innumerable others and played with lots of the bands and friends that are detailed within.  He and his brother Philip “Fish” Fisher, the original drummer, who formed the band in their bedroom were the core of the thing from the start.  Norwood and the others were such oddball cool people, miles ahead of everyone, fusing the multitude of influences of their world into something utterly unlike anything else.  Like so many bands that never had their moment of glory in broad popularity, that aspect of their story is not so unique.  Like so many ahead of their time (I really think that their influence gave way to a lot of popular music of the 1990’s), they get credit but no money or big accolades for their efforts.

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