Sometimes, persistence doesn’t pay off.
As a means to an end, persistence is useful but not always enough, as the band Fishbone can attest. In the new documentary from directors Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler, you can see a few of Fishbone’s Spinal Tap moments such as the badly attended autograph signing in L.A. and the sparse crowd at their street concert in eastern Europe.
But after more than twenty years, Fishbone is still out there playing. For them, persistence is valuable in itself as it keeps them pursuing their passion.
DFF 33 (2010)
DFF 33 (2010)
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If you’re like me, Fishbone needs no introduction. You know their high-energy, socially conscious, danceable music from high school and college. For the rest, Laurence Fishburne (ha!) narrates the back story....
Six musicians met at a white and prosperous San Fernando Valley high school in Los Angeles. Angelo Moore lived there; the others were bused in from Compton. Even then, Norwood Fisher was the anchor, forming a fan club to himself. Angelo was, as they recall, an ever-smiling clown who insisted on joining the band.
Influenced by punk music and mosh pits, the all-black band felt at home in the white rebellious culture of the Reaganite ’80s. That’s not to say that they didn’t get their funk on; George Clinton and Parliament were also early inspirations, along with the multiracial British invasion of ska bands like The Specials.
Fishbone had such an energetic stage show that they caught the attention of other bands and record labels. Within a year of graduating high school, Fishbone had a recording contract.
Success struck again and again, and they were expected to burst out a few years later with Everyday Sunshine. When that didn’t happen, their downfall began.
One band member, Kendall Jones, left to join a cult. That inspired Norwood and the others to stage an intervention. But one man’s intervention is another man’s kidnapping, and Fishbone made the news with a trial on criminal charges.
The cracks weakened the band and other members left. Angelo Moore, always marching to the beat of his own drum, began adopting the stage name Dr. Madd Vibe and took up the Theremin, which drove another member of the band away.
During the film, Angelo moves back in with his mom and spends time with his middle-school-aged daughter. Meanwhile, Norwood can’t afford much downtime. He needs the income from Fishbone. Money is just one of the big differences between Norwood and Angelo.
Through it all, Norwood is a rock. He’s confident, steady, and persistent. He and Angelo frequently disagree on creative matters, yet even today, they continue working together to make music.
There are interviews with all of the bandmates, but Everyday Sunshine is really about Angelo and Norwood. Anderson and Metzler get great access, especially to Angelo, who often sees the camera as his personal confessional. He brings us on the road with him, into his home, and when he moves back in with mom, into his room.
There’s also a wealth of footage from early shows. The band is very energetic — mosh-spastic — on stage. Angelo performs death-defying stage dives, including one from a balcony into the partiers below.
All this access comes with a price. Some of the footage is pretty low quality. The worst are scenes shot in low light, but Anderson and Metzler forge ahead.
When footage isn’t available — such as when the boys are in high school, or at the kidnapping trial — the filmmakers find some interesting visuals to help tell the story. As the band members reminisce about how they met, a cartoon in the style of Fat Albert illustrates the story. And over the kidnapping story, grim oil paintings express the loss and fear in Fishbone.
Big in Japan?
After 2008’s Anvil! reaffirmed the Spinal Tap rockumentary story line, I found myself rooting for — practically expecting — some sort of triumphant ending for Fishbone. And although I am a fan of the band and of director Metzler, when the final 30 minutes didn’t start moving in that direction, I found myself frustrated at the slow pace of progress. By the end, I realized that Fishbone’s story is not the same as Spinal Tap’s, (nor even Anvil!’s).
Where those films were able end on a big, smashing, chord resolution, Everyday Sunshine fades out, the music playing on into infinity. Persistence for Fishbone hasn’t (yet) resulted in something you’d call a happy ending. Yet maybe that’s preferable. It means they’re still playing, still writing, and they aren’t ready to quit.
Our festival advice: Give it a chance.