Film Review: Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone

Terrific, deeply affecting rock documentary that captures the unlikely assemblage of a bunch of L.A. black guys playing the kind of music no one had ever really heard before.

As more than one of its legion of admirers attests in Everyday Sunshine, the band Fishbone was an unclassifiable mix of punk, heavy metal, soul, funk and ska which influenced a generation—and more—of musicians. Such fierce individuality had its price, however, as for all its cult success, the band never managed to score a single truly big-selling hit, their label dropped them and myriad personal (lotsa ego) and creative problems tore the band apart.

Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler's film is a particularly well-done rock doc, which captures the band members from their high-school start in the ’hood of Los Angeles, jamming in the home of brilliant bass guitarist Norwood Fisher. These early days are presented in amusing animated segments in which the look and movement of the Fishbone guys nostalgically recall “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.” Charismatic horn-playing front man Angelo Moore—who Gwen Stefani cites as her major style influence of all time—is remembered as a sunnily alien presence with his geeky perpetual smile that made him a thug target.

As nearly everyone interviewed attests, no recording could fully capture the excitement of seeing the band perform live—and the wonderfully plentiful concert footage reveals a blithely chaotic mash-up of sound and fury that drove audiences wild, just as their nearest, admiring compatriots, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, did. (I just wish a full song—or two—was presented in its uncut entirety.) But those were in the band’s 1980s heyday.

Today, only Fisher and Moore remain from the original group, and the film’s exploration of its splintering apart is fascinating. Weird but true is the tale of conflicted guitarist Kendall Jones, who dropped out and became a religious fanatic; a subsequent intervention attempt on the part of Fisher landed him in court, on trial for kidnapping. (A later reunion between the men is included here, providing one of the film’s many really moving moments.)

“Living the lifestyle of the famous but not rich” is how Moore describes his present situation, evicted from his apartment and forced to live with his wryly supportive mother, while he tries to be a good father to his little girl. This is challenging, as even with their continual, intense artistic differences, he and Fisher (“Angelo is definitely crazy, but he’s brilliant”), himself getting by in a small Santa Monica apartment, continue to perform together, as uncompromising in their unique musical vision as ever. A particular sad/funny moment occurs when they perform for a handful of indifferent onlookers in a town square somewhere in Hungary.

The filmmakers are fortunate that all the band members, as well as the various other musical eminences they interviewed—Flea, Perry Farrell, Eugene Hutz, Questlove, etc.—are both highly articulate and bitterly funny. One of them notes that, with all the talented but troublesome rockers who created such memorable music in the 1980s but also a lot of headaches, it’s sad but small wonder that the record companies chose to go with the safer prospects of all those blandly warbling white pop girls so prevalent today. Most importantly, everyone in the film comes across as utterly real, and it’s indeed a shame that the limited mindsets of both most music “lovers” and the business itself have not afforded these authentic innovators the true rewards they so richly deserve.