Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone
(Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler, US, 2011, 107 mins.)

Jamming at Mama Fishs place
  • Cinema Guild
  • Jamming at Mama Fish's place

High-profile fan Laurence Fishburne, who worked as a bouncer during their early days, narrates this revealing profile of LA ska-punk-funk-metal outfit Fishbone.

Enthuses Mike Watt, "I've seen 'em do every style in the same song." Adds Ice-T, "It wasn't rock, it wasn't metal, it wasn't hip-hop, it wasn't funk." Throughout, other admirers, like Flea and Gwen Stefani, testify to their talent and influence.

Since 1986, the sextet has recorded for a major label, worked with Branford Marsalis and Spike Lee, and played around the world, so co-directors Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler try to figure out why they never quite found success.

Founding members Norwood Fisher (bass) and Angelo Moore (vocals), aka Dr. Madd Vibe, cite the group's hyper-democratic nature for their unique sound and difficult existence, while the filmmakers use a variety of animation styles to depict their background, beginning in high school when the black South Central students were bused to San Fernando Valley, except for Moore who grew up in the 'burbs.

If Mama Fish encouraged the boys, including drummer Fish (Norwood's brother), Dazireen Moore wanted her son to go to college (Cosby Kids-style cartoons depict this era). Once they were ready to play out, they plunged into the So-Cal punk scene, which led to a deal with Columbia Records, but minor hits never became major, and then guitarist Kendall Jones developed extreme religious views and turned against his friends—literally. After they drove to the Bay Area to wrest him away from his polygamous father, Jones had them charged with kidnapping.

By the '90s, the central duo had lost their deal and their band, so they found new players, but now they live "a hand-to-mouth existence," according to Fisher. When Moore, a divorced dad, can't pay the rent, he moves back in with Dazireen, a devout Jehovah's Witness, but it's clear that he'll never stop playing, which makes his love-hate relationship with Norwood look like a dysfunctional marriage in which the parents stay together for the sake of the kids or, in this case: the music.

Questlove, one of many musicians to benefit from their trailblazing ways—and to learn from their mistakes—sums up the scenario best when he says, "I've never seen a group so set in its way on being non-compromising," which may surprise those who think of Fishbone as the ultimate major-label casualty act, i.e. that they sold their artistic souls to the highest bidder, except they rarely did what their Sony overlords asked, and when they did, they usually regretted it.

If I went into this documentary with a degree of skepticism, largely because I didn't know the band was still around, I found it more riveting than expected.

Whether you like Fishbone or not, their strangely uplifting story is more than a little compelling, offering some of the same appeal as Anvil! The Story of Anvil. (There's enough performance footage in the film for neophytes to get a taste of the group's multi-dimensional M.O.) And as long as they keep going, the narrative has hardly ended, even if their days as the Next Big Thing are long gone.

Everyday Sunshine is available on DVD with extended interviews, deleted scenes (featuring members of Alice N' Chains, Bad Brains, and Spearhead), featurettes, and two commentary tracks; Anderson and Metzler on one and Fisher and Moore on the other. You can skip the first, but the second is pretty essential.