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November 14, 2010

Starz Denver Film Festival 2010 - Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone


Lev Anderson & Chris Metzler - 2010
Pale Griot Films

I've been thinking about Everyday Sunshine since I saw it yesterday. For myself, the film raises more questions. Yes, the film is a documentary that rushes through the twenty plus years of the history of the band, Fishbone. But I think the real story is that the band is emblematic of bigger and broader ideas regarding popular music and black culture and identity in the United States. The person I would love to see analyzing this film and all of its possible meanings would be Nick Tosches as the writer who would be able to put it all together.

The documentary is an assemblage of concert footage, interviews with past and current members, and others with varying connections to the band. Most of the films is devoted to the sometimes rancorous relationship of founding members John Norwood Fisher and Angelo Moore. The original founding of the group is played in cartoons of the band members when they met in high school, Fisher being the too cool kid, and Moore coming off as the smiling nerd from the suburbs. That part of the film provides a brief history of public school students bussed from South Central Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley. It may also be key in establishing that Fishbone, whether intended or not, was always a group of black musicians who functioned in primarily white milieus.

At the beginning of the film, narrator Laurence Fishburne (was he chosen for the Fish in his name?), mentions that one of the strengths and weaknesses of Fishbone was that the tried to operate as a democracy. This brought to mind something I had read about Buffalo Springfield, possibly on the liner notes of their first album, which if recall was, "Steve (Stills) is the leader, but we all are". It could well be that the nature of a rock band is to be combustible, or to be capable of setting the ego aside for long term benefits. The history of rock music is a history of variations of this particular story.

The music that Fishbone plays can't be called rock music in the traditional sense, but the combination of ska, free jazz, and a stage show that might be described as the punk rock equivalent to Spike Jones, couldn't fit any where else in a musical landscape that demands categorization. There were a couple other bands that briefly appeared, The Bus Boys and Living Color come to mind. Interestingly, Kevin O'Neal of The Bus Boys, and Vernon Reid, of Living Colour, both are members of the Black Rock Coalition. Reid also is one of the people discussing the influence of Fishbone on his music. Why this is important is because the film fleetingly discusses what might not be racism per se within the music business, but the difficulty of dealing with music that doesn't belong to easy to explain categories. Also, quite tellingly, the musicians that were inspired by Fishbone, that achieved the greatest financial success, are white.

There is a brief excerpt of Fishbone performing with Annette Funicello in Back to the Beach. I haven't seen the film since the year it came out, in 1987, but it provides some idea of Fishbone's manic energy in concert. Angelo Moore is the one with the mohawk, while John Fisher is the guy wearing lederhosen. That scene was the high point of that film, and always made me wonder about the reaction of those people who came in simply to see the onscreen reunion of Frankie Avalon with Annette. I suspect that Fishbone getting dropped by Sony had something to do with the music industry moving in a direction similar to the film industry, of being only interested in formula product that would result in big sales. Everyday Sunshine is primarily worth seeing as documentary about musical artists who doggedly maintain their sense of artistic integrity without regards to the more obvious rewards of fame and fortune.

Posted by peter at November 14, 2010 02:44 PM