Pop music and film have a long history. The right music has enhanced many screen stories, whether through a literal connection to the script or with a mood conveyed by the music. Many of the films in the Tucson Film & Music Festival are about explaining the music, rather than the other way around.
“Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone” is such a quirky story that it doesn’t matter whether you like the band’s music or not. (Though it’s so varied it’s hard to believe anyone couldn’t find something of Fishbone’s to love, and afterwards you may find yourself buying your first recording by an African-American ska-punk-metal-gospel band.)
The Los Angeles band’s members are such compelling characters, and so able to express themselves (the weak spot in many documentaries) that actors couldn’t have done a better job of telling this long, complicated story. And a fictional script about a band this strange certainly wouldn’t be believable.
This is a band that indirectly grew out of the social pressures and racial tension that followed the migration of thousands of Southern African-Americans to Los Angeles after World War II, as narrator Laurence Fishburne explains. Black people were unofficially corralled in Compton and other LA neighborhoods.
But then the original six members of Fishbone attended a mostly white suburban junior high school, where LA inner city African-American students were bused in the late 1970s after a court ruling.
One of the great facets of this film is that nobody has to cry racism, it’s obvious at so many different levels. One need only ask the questions – “Why haven’t I heard of these guys” or “Why aren’t they famous?” Something went wrong for Fishbone that didn’t go wrong for less-talented acts that came out of the LA punk scene about the same time.
Although the group was playing punk rock and ska for overwhelmingly white audiences, David Kahne, who eventually signed Fishbone to Columbia Records, says his boss told them he’d have sign the group through what was then known as the label’s “black music” department.
Band members talk about how they couldn’t get airplay on black radio stations and that there were few African Americans in the audience.
But racism isn’t the dominant theme of the film. It’s mostly about the talented people who made up this unlikely band. How some persevered, eventually gave up and left, and some came back. In the end, it’s inspirational, in that their motivation is ultimately about the music, not stardom.
The documentary, directed by Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler, is making the film festival rounds, as is the latest version of Fishbone. Yes, Fishbone lives!
“Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone,” shows at 9 p.m. Saturday at the Rialto, followed by a performance by Fishbone at 11.