Everday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone
Directed by: Lev Anderson, Chris MetzlerSunday, November 14th, 4:30 p.m.
Thalian Hall Black Box Theater
Rock ‘n’ roll is filled with stories of bands that never quite make it to the promised land. Most are anonymous to everyone outside of their own small town, but some get close, only to fall victim to the trappings of clichés: sex, drugs or an industry that cares more about money than art. Then there’s Fishbone. For the last 25 years, the band has influenced more artists than just about any other band. Yet, they continue to a certain degree to be on the outside looking in. In the documentary, “Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone,” filmmakers Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler explore the chronicle of a band whose journey is as much a lesson in rock music as it is a history of race in modern America.
“We were first intrigued by the eccentric personalities that Fishbone is made up of, and since a band is like a family, you want to see how all of these characters interact together and the craziness that unfolds,” filmmakers Anderson and Metzler say. “And Fishbone, more than most bands, is populated by characters that all have strong personalities and are interesting people, so you know you are going to come up with something interesting.”
When the filmmakers approached the band about telling their story, they made it clear they were interested in each individual’s history. They weren’t going to get “tied up in the trappings of music industry formulations,” according to the filmmakers. “I think they knew that we recognized the freak in them,” Anderson and Metzler say, “and they have always embraced that, so they probably figured this could be fun.”
In many ways, the band’s creation could have only happened in a time and place like Los Angeles in the late-1970s, as the film alludes. As part of the first post-civil rights generation, the school children who would become Fishbone were products of a desegregation effort to bus children from the predominantly black community of South Central to the suburbs of lily-white San Fernando Valley. Bringing with them the black-influenced funk and soul of the ‘70s, and mixing it with the rock and punk the white kids were listening to in the Valley, the music that emerged from the band in the early ‘80s would end up breaking all barriers. In “Everyday Sunshine,” the filmmakers paint the picture within its proper context effectively, showing that art is never created inside a vacuum.
“With Fishbone, you cannot ignore the social history, [through] the Reagan years [and] up through the Rodney King riots, to get to a point where things are not so socially traumatic that there is space for personal reflection and healing,” they note.
Beginning the film with 1992 concert footage, the filmmakers cut back and forth between the glorified past of early Fishbone’s rise and the somewhat-depressing present—a collection of interviews and vignettes of today’s life of the band (which hardly seems dignified knowing their history of work and influence). Interspersed with interviews of other “more successful” artists’ reflections of the band, and with animation narrated by actor Laurence Fishburne, Anderson and Metzler have crafted an engaging and well-rounded depiction of Fishbone from all angles, eras and opinions.
“The use of animation and narration provides another level of perspective that is economic—in terms of conveying large ideas quickly—and entertaining in terms of adding another voice (Laurence Fishburne’s laid back but engaged narration), and additional texture that adds more life than just using old photos or video,” they reveal of their approach. “Both of those techniques help unify a disparate story that unfolds over 30 years and gives it that specific Fishbone flavor, so you are seeing those 30 years through that very unique lens, which animation and narration aids.”
While the story of Fishbone’s history concerns the entire band and their struggles as a black rock band in a white rock world, their presence in “Everyday Sunshine” focuses mainly on the only two remaining original members, Angelo Moore and Norwood Fisher. It’s a fascinating study of how far determination and dedication will take a person, as both keep the spirit of Fishbone alive, but with different approaches and for somewhat different reasons. In what was once a unified front of idealistic youth, Fishbone has become a reality of near-middle-aged men holding fast to the belief that it’s still worth the fight.
“We did not want to manipulate the audience into feeling one way or another about the guys,” Anderson and Metzler reveal, “because they are complex individuals [who] are struggling with their own issues. We just let them be who they are and that is what you see. In a way, the journey Norwood and Angelo are on has taken them past how others view them, and it has become more about their own survival and how they heal their own wounds so that they can continue to move forward as artists. And we think it is that sort of individualistic, optimistic thinking that they embody that then leaps from the screen and people take to heart.”
Such depictions make “Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone” much more than a documentary about rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a documentary about the American spirit and one that shows the life of one of its most influential creative forces.