People who believe their knowledge of American popular music is up to snuff are in the habit of stating, when the opportunity presents itself, that Fishbone should have been bigger than Red Hot Chili Peppers. Both bands were born in Los Angeles around the same time (the early '80s), regularly toured together, and approached music in roughly the same way—blending genres. Fishbone blended punk and ska; RHCP blended punk and funk. Fishbone was a black band that didn't make R&B, and RHCP was a white band that didn't make rock. Almost everyone knows RHCP, and only critics know Fishbone. What the hell happened? Why didn't Fishbone become huge? Was it a race thing? No, I don't think this was the case. We know RHCP not because they're white but because the music they made was far more accessible to the common ear than Fishbone's. Being good at music is one thing, being popular is another. The two must never be confused as one and the same thing.
Fishbone fell apart in the early '90s. They had been together for a decade, had toured with bands such as Jane's Addiction and Beastie Boys, received nothing but praise from the press, but, despite being signed to a major label, did not have a big hit attached to their name. Every effort they made to be more commercial and obtain radio appeal failed because they didn't have it in them to make a tune as bad as "Under the Bridge"—Red Hot Chili Peppers' biggest hit and a load of crap. The Sony corporation eventually dropped Fishbone. Its members started going nuts and leaving. By the late '90s, they were completely forgotten. During the '00s, the remaining members sank into poverty. Yet the band kept going, hoping and dreaming in the face of dwindling audiences in smaller and smaller venues.
The informative documentary Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone presents several theories for Fishbone's failure, the best of which is this: They were too democratic. Despite having a recognizable lead singer (the charismatic Angelo Moore), Fishbone never really had a center, a person whose value or worth was greater than the band's. Everyone was more or less on the same level. Democracy might be great for society, but it's not so great for a band. People want a star—they want someone in the light and the rest in the shadows. The Wailers had Bob Marley, the Police had Sting, No Doubt had Gwen Stefani, A Tribe Called Quest had Q-Tip. A star always has a solo career. Fishbone never produced a solo career, and though Moore has certainly always thought highly of himself, he never loved himself enough to be a star. Whoever left the band, left music. Fishbone begins and ends with Fishbone.