If you were involved in the underground music scene from the mid-eighties on then the band Fishbone is a known entity to you. Formed in 1979 Fishbone are not just a band but also a musical movement. They encompassed funk, punk, pop, dance and any other musical element they could cram into their sound. Completely original, totally experimental and featuring musicianship that is above reproach, Fishbone were destined to never get as big as they should have. The world needs to be entertained, not challenged, and with Fishbone you got both. Hearing Fishbone expanded my own understanding of music. They were a band that made me realize that more could always be done. Though it didn’t surprise anyone that Fishbone’s unique brew of music kept them from exploding like their peers did, few really know the entire story.
Cue Everyday Sunshine (named after the Fishbone song) a comprehensive documentary about the band that is one of the best docs I’ve seen in a long time. Directed by relative newcomers Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler (Metzler has one other doc to his credit); Everyday Sunshine works on several levels. It’s entertaining, informative but most importantly it shows Fishbone warts and all. I’ve grown really tired of band documentaries that boil down to nothing more than other musicians rambling about a group’s genius and then clips of the band bitching as to why the man held them down or how hard it is to be a rock star. Fishbone are brutally honest about themselves, their shortcomings and their own mistakes. Even the famous musicians that talk about the band give insights as to why the chemistry was as destructive as it was brilliant. Anderson and Metzler deliver an evenhanded look at a band that is strife with shoulda, coulda, and woulda.
Narrated by Laurence Fishburne, Everyday Sunshine starts at the earliest origins of the band, with bassist and mastermind John Norwood Fisher playing in his room with brother and Fishbone founding member Philip “Fish” Fisher. This was my first inkling that Everyday Sunshine was going to be a unique voyage. Anderson and Metzler use a clever mix of animation and interviews to expand the back-story of Fishbone. Unlike the rather egregious use of animation in the recent Bill Hicks documentary, here it’s used as a visually exciting way to tell the early story without animation becoming a crutch. Just when the animation seems to be too much the directors bring in live footage, montages or straight interviews, giving the movie a real life connection.
As the story progresses Anderson and Metzler do something so few directors are willing to do, they step back. There is nothing of the directors in this film, not even their opinion of the band comes through. Both men are consummate professionals; allowing the story to unfold naturally and just letting the band shine through. I compare it to the recent Tribe Called Quest documentary. While I enjoyed the Tribe doc very much, there was way too much of the director in the film. It constantly felt as if you were getting the Tribe Called Quest story as filtered through the director’s love of the band. Anderson and Metzler rise above that and allow Fishbone to be human instead of just icons. That connection is what makes the entire, and largely fucked up story, so engrossing. Through the course of Everyday Sunshine you like the band, hate the band, love some members, hate others then love them again. It’s a constantly changing landscape, which is what life is and how documentaries should be.
The heart of the film is the relationship between the members and how the democracy of Fishbone allowed for maximum creativity and maximum strife. The core of the band is Norwood Fisher and frontman/horn player/general freak Angelo Moore. Watching these two polar opposites deal with each other and the world is so entertaining. Moore is self-involved emotional car wreck, a man who must always be the center of attention. Norwood is the strong backbone, the man who will let his own bones crumble to try and hold Fishbone up. He’s also a martyr and tends to play the victim. The two are constantly pushing and pulling, fighting and making up but they never lose sight of the art, the thing that has kept them going for so long.
Everyday Sunshine’s texture and depth comes from all of the ups and downs the band endured. From getting signed so early to the multiple times they thought their efforts would be rewarded only to be let down, it’s heartbreaking to watch. I was completely unaware of the real tale behind the loss of original guitarist Kendall Jones. Jones’s fall from magical guitarist to cult follower is devastating to watch. Anderson and Metzler’s early efforts of stepping back from opinions do the film real justice here. You feel as if you’re watching Jones’s disintegration into madness in real time, which is very powerful. Over the years the original lineup has been reduced to just Norwood Fisher and Angelo Moore. The arc of that fall is examined from all sides and gives you a better understanding of who Fishbone are as people.
The honesty of the band is the glue that holds Everyday Sunshine together. Seeing a frontman as important as Angelo Moore having to live with his mother because he can’t pay rent is a prime example of how hard the industry can be. The constant look back of Fishbone playing to huge crowds in the past to their tiny shows now is presented as sad but very matter-of-fact. This is their reality now and they have to deal with it. The toll the band has taken on friendships, relationships, family, and the physical and mental makeup of the members is powerful. Fishbone’s total transparency in this movie allows it to rise above being a standard look at the history of (insert group name here).
I was also impressed with the variety of famous people who lined up to talk about Fishbone. Branford Marsalis, Flea, Vernon Reid (Living Color), Les Claypool (Primus), Ice T, Perry Farrell, George Clinton, Questlove (The Roots), the range of people who love and are also influenced by Fishbone is just as eclectic as the band itself. It’s awesome to see so many innovators point to Fishbone and go “Yeah, that band is the fucking one!” I was particularly glad to see No Doubt step up and give respect to Fishbone. In my opinion No Doubt is Fishbone after the creativity, musical chops and eye towards experimentation is filtered out. I’ve always thought No Doubt owed Fishbone not just respect but also a portion of their profits. At least here Gwen and the boys are reverent and humble towards Fishbone. They seem to know No Doubt wouldn’t exist without the trails blazed by Fishbone.
The final feather in the cap of Everyday Sunshine is that it’s a documentary for everybody. You don’t need to be initiated into this film; you’ll just get it. Fans of the band will love the deeper look into Fishbone’s world as well as the endless live footage (Fishbone live, especially in their heyday, was nothing short of phenomenal), occasional listeners and those who don’t know or care will be completely involved with the humanity of it. Anderson and Metzler have shaped a human story with the backdrop of a killer band so anybody can step in and relate to what’s going on. I hope the power of Everyday Sunshine allows the film to be seen by a gigantic audience. There are four main African-American bands that are truly important to the underground music movement. Bad Brains, Fishbone, 24-7 Spy and Living Color. I would love to see Everyday Sunshine become the first in a four-film look at these bands and their impact.
CRAVEONLINE RATING 10/10
Photo credit – Ann Suma