Gone Fishing, by Matt Warren
First things first: if the first four talking heads in your documentary are Keith Morris, Mike Watt, Ice-T, and Tim Robbins, there’s a 95 percent chance I’m going to like your movie. Which is why I won over early and often by Everyday Sunshine, the lively new film about seminal L.A. ska/punk/whatever band Fishbone. An all-encompassing overview of one of rock’s most underrated and underappreciated bands, Sunshine is also an effecting snapshot of what it’s like to be a working, touring, yeoman rock band in the early 21st century. To paraphrase frontman Angelo Moore, summing up the film’s thesis, “I’m a rock, ‘cause I’ve weathered the ages. But it’s the ‘star’ part of ‘rock star’ that’s a little more like wishful thinking.”
Prior to watching this flick, I had heard of Fishbone, but had not heard them. At least not knowingly. I’m not sure if I knew “Party at Ground Zero” was them or not. I might have thought it was the Specials. One time, in high school, my friends and I mounted a half-hearted attempt to go see them at the now-defunct Club DV8 in Salt Lake, but just ended up ordering pizza and playing GoldenEye instead. Pathetic. But at least I’m not alone in my ignorance. Fishbone seems to be one of those bands (see also: Television, Kyuss, etc.) whose primary contribution to pop culture has been as an influence to more popular artists. There would likely be no No Doubt or Sublime without Fishbone. They may not have gotten rich, but Sunshine’s steady stream of laudatory testimonials from figures as diverse as Branford Marsalis and Les Claypool reaffirm that the band at least has gobs and gobs of artistic credibility and authenticism—a finite rockist resource more valuable than gold-plated unobtainium.
Full disclosure: as a general fan of the weird-and-funky underground 1980s L.A. rock scene, I was perhaps predisposed to be fascinated by this debut from co-directors Lev Anderson & Chris Metzler. I had Faith No More’s “We Care A Lot” stuck in my head for almost the entire day yesterday, and I still buy Red Hot Chili Peppers albums whenever they come out. Want to argue who’s the better RHCP guitarist, Hillel Slovak or John Frusciante? I have strong opinions. But Fishbone, somehow, escaped my purview. But I don’t think you have to be a fan of the band or the music to enjoy this documentary. The story is strong enough on its own to sustain interest, full of odd anecdotes like the time the entire band almost went to prison for kidnapping after attempting to forcibly rescue their guitarist from a religious cult, or the time the band nearly came to blows over Moore’s irritating obsession with the theremin.
Everyday Sunshine doesn’t re-invent the rock doc wheel, and the filmmaking on display here isn’t the draw. The pacing feels a bit scattershot, clumsily cutting back and forth between a Behind the Music –esque overview of the band’s career and an Anvil: The Story of Anvil -style portrait of the band as weathered present-day road dogs trying to eke out a living in front of dwindling audiences (an early scene at a sparsely attended outdoor music festival in Romania plays like a remake of Spinal Tap’s “Jazz Odyssey” nadir.)
And as is de rigueur for band biopics, Everyday Sunshine is essentially a bromance between Fishbone’s two principal members, singer/saxophonist Moore and bassist/songwriter Norwood Fisher. It’s a blast watching these two old friends, artistic collaborators, and business partners deal with each other. The exasperated, practical Fisher and the eccentric, childlike Moore are a great pair. I would watch a CW sitcom starring these two any day, especially if it was called ‘Bone Up or Fishin’ for Compliments.
So did Everyday Sunshine send me running to Fingerprints to buy up Fishbone’s entire back catalog? Not necessarily, but I did stop to see if they had any of their CDs on hand at the Long Beach public library (they did not.) But if Fishbone ever comes through town again, I won’t make the same mistake I did in high school. I’m throwing my N64 down the garbage chute and getting concert tickets.