Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

A fan of No Doubt? Early Red Hot Chili Peppers? Jane's Addiction? You need to check out a band from that SoCal milieu you maybe haven't really explored yet. They're called Fishbone, and they took the region's early new wave big band gonzoness of say Oingo Boingo into funkier, artier, more urban territory, before blessing the world with new genres through the next three decades.

My first viewing of Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone, a documentary made by Lev Anderson and Chris Metlzer, satisfied me as an expertly made and extremely dynamic experience. But it was also a bit of a bum trip. So much drama between deep band brothers lead vocalist Angelo Moore and bassist Norwood Fisher seemed to be the most memorable thing about the movie, and I hungered for more live footage and details about the records. Then on a second viewing I realized that there's plenty of great concert performances and commentary on the original releases; it's just that that punk-archetypal tale of dynamic tension between a bulldozer musician who won't let his band fall, and the chaos-inducing jester who gives it meaning, is so absorbing.

Everyday Sunshine is about a band of Black kids in Los Angeles in the 80s, founded around drummer Fish with John Norwood Fisher, Kendall Jones, Chris Dowd and others, who all went over to Mama Fish's house to play (where they made a lot of noise but sometimes sounded good and anyways at least she knew where the kids were and loved having 'em around). What did they play? Well. Everything, pretty much, all at once, right from the beginning. Parliament-Funkadelic was the cornerstone for an aesthetic that would add mod-ska rhythms and fashion, new wave eclecticism, post-punk politics, reggae dub, and jazz improvisation (or as Mike Watt says, they would play all these and more in the same song). The youngsters freaked out the other kids in the 'hood by not being wanna-be gangsters, a singular peculiar tribe that were still ghetto in how they handled the approach from others (when David Kahne approached them about being signed to Columbia, they wondered why the hell he was talking to them). 

The stearing of the band by its atomic rudder Angelo Moore, a weird little nerd who approached Fisher in high school and started a deep shared love affair for the boundaries of funk, is one of the subtexts to everything creative and destructive about Fishbone in the film. Raised as a Jehovah's Witness, sacrificing his marriage to the band, drinking hard, and having to move in with his mother, all of this is the alternate history of Dr. Mad Vibe, his creative persona which takes over when he's in performance mode. When Mad Vibe gleefully discovers the theramin, "he has to play it on every goddamned song," a band member says. Still, the bond between he and Fisher seems extraordinarily stoic after a couple of viewings of the movie, no matter how many band members fall away (as cult members, such as Jones, or out of artistic envy, as with Dowd).

The usual rock doc reunion between most original members happens at the end, but the trajectory leading up to it — from the band's debut EP with "Party At Ground Zero" as a minor hit, and the ongoing struggles between being expressive and meaningful in lyrics and image while being a little too musically cacophonous for the marketplace — has plenty of twists and turns. And some really cool music I still need to check out. I loved Fishbone's first three releases, but actually had ditched the band personally by the time of their near-hit "Everyday Sunshine" during the post-Lollapalooza alt-boom. Listening to later performances, I repent for not being faithful and will be checking up on their later indie records.

{Ed. note: Imaginary Rich also reviewed this doc when it played at The Grand Illusion last November, but we decided to post Estey's review as well now that it's available on DVD. Hopefully we know some Fishbone fans who are happy with both points of view!}