Last night I went to a screening of Everyday Sunshine – The Story of Fishbone at The Roxie (yay to surviving and thriving independent theaters!!). Shown as part of the San Francisco Documentary Festival, it’s a film about a band whose raw, race-defying energy and genre-bending style has been capturing musical spirits and confusing critics for over 25 years. During the course of a 4-year labor of love, film makers Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler interviewed former and current members, friends, associates and admirers of the band, traveled across the country and to Europe to shoot live concerts, and sifted through 1,500 hours of archival footage to tell the story of this legendary afro funk punk group.
If you’ve never heard of Fishbone, consider yourself in good company. Cited by a who’s who of rock stars for their profound influence (guest appearances include Flea, Gwen Stefani, Ice-T, Perry Farrell, Branford Marsalis, George Clinton, and many others you will recognize) and revered by a small but faithful following, the central question of the film at first appears to be how this musical juggernaut of raw talent, energy and inspiration could have possibly slipped through the cracks of commercial success and to this day toiled in the trenches of musky clubs while their contemporaries rode the punk and grunge waves of the 80s and 90s to the upper echelons of pop royalty. As Angelo Moore, the ever so radiant singing, sax-playing, dancing and stage-diving front man pointed out during the Q&A after the screening: “We’re in the illustrious category of the ‘famous but not rich.’”
To be sure, this in itself would make for a fairly interesting story, in that Disneyesque battered-underdog-looking-for-redemption sort of way, with the inevitable happy ending of Platinum records and Rolling Stone covers, and this film may yet turn out to be the magical feather to tickle that culturally coveted happy ending out of the music gods. But the longer you watch Angelo, bassist/founder Norwood Fisher and an evolving cast of characters grow from a bunch of irreverent young black kids so full of life and musical testosterone that their mere presence seems to make the windows of their early 80s suburban LA surroundings shatter, into complex adults — scarred, just like the rest of us, by the trials of life — the clearer it becomes that this story is about so much more than black and white, musical genres, or (the lack of) fame and fortune: The Story of Fishbone is about the unbearable largeness of the human soul.
I’ve always thought music to be the universe’s way of giving us earthlings a direct line to the source. No middlemen needed. Somehow though, our brains keep getting in the way, clogging up the line with worldly busy signals. We’ve jammed art into museums, squished spirit into churches, and reduced music to keywords in the iTunes library. Watching the generous concert footage in Everyday Sunshine you just can’t help but realize that the unbridled electricity that is unleashed by the frenzied musical feedback cycles between the players on stage and the pulsing tidal wave that is the audience serves one main purpose: to unclog that direct line to the source and reconnect us to creation, to bliss, to God, to everything there is, whatever you want to call that which is ineffable.
All the confusion and mixed messages — the black kids unfettered by the common notion that punk rock was supposed to be about white kids’ angst, the record company’s inability to market it as punk rock, the undying love and respect for each other in the face of personal conflict and waning worldly fortunes — are but cracks in the shiny armor of conventional wisdom that keeps seducing us with neatly packaged images of success and happiness. At the end of the film, as the aging “almost rock stars” Angelo and Norwood sit in their spartan basement trying to crank out one more album, there is such temptation to give in to our societal impulse and feel sorry for them. Shouldn’t they be in a lavish studio, surrounded by big-time engineers and producers? Shouldn’t there be a “happy end?”
And who better to answer those questions than Angelo, standing right there in front of us after the movie, radiating like a solar-powered cosmic light bulb, advising us to never hide our spirit, to let it be big, bold and roam freely, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. After all, the name of the story is Everyday Sunshine. Even — or perhaps especially — in the darkness.