Ice-T defines originality succinctly: “Before that, there was none.” Few could argue that the music of Fishbone was anything but new when the long-suffering (in all aspects of the word) band came to exuberant, angry life thanks in large part to forced bussing in Los Angeles bringing the principals (bass player extraordinaire Norwood Fisher and irascible lead singer Angelo Moore) together. More than twenty-five years later, their music still lives on and the prolific group is about to launch a new album (Crazy Glue, DC Jam Records will be released next month).
Filmmakers Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler have prepared the way for this milestone CD by putting together a “punk rockumentary” that artfully employs archival footage (both of the musicians and various historical events, not least of which is the Rodney King beating and subsequent “to serve and protect me”–inspired riots), marvellously inventive 3-D photo animation and a covey of graphics, commentaries from colleagues and admirers (notably No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani with her unequivocal expression of love and Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea, who not only greatly admires Norwood’s skill but also understands how troubled members of any band have to “walk through your own pain” before the collective healing and then magical, musical chemistry can be begin or resume as the case may be). Jeff Springer’s savvy cinematography and near-miraculous editing give the production as much lift and pace as the musical samples themselves. Laurence Fishburne handles the narration duties with just the right mix of understanding and respect.
As with any ground-breaking enterprise, tensions, egos and jealousies slip in and out of the artistic mix with every passing gig, tour or recording session. As the film unflinchingly demonstrates, the results of inner turmoil range from drug and alcohol abuse to trouble in the studio through one of the members (guitarist Kendall Jones) suing his concerned brothers, ex-girlfriend and Norwood for attempted kidnapping and assault when his own miserable existence got so bad he found solace in the heady experience of polygamous commune life. Trumpeter “Dirty” Walt Kibby took his leave in 2003, no longer willing to work with the increasingly bitter Angelo (and now self-anointed as Dr. Mad Vibe due to an instant love affair with the pitch pathetic, one-trick pony Theremin which immediately made the way-over-the-top showman insanely happy).
Before long, only Norwood and Angelo remained from the original lineup (even Norwood’s brother—drummer Phillip “Fish” Fisher—had enough and bailed in 1998). Also leaving the group high and dry was record label Sony. In 1994 with so many extreme acts leaving the planet prematurely (e.g., Kurt Cobain) the profit-driven label changed course: “no more freaks” became the executive mantra that paved the way for far tamer “pop” artists.
Fishbone stuck to their “raw” underground approach and continued to be “known but never rich.” The power of music over personality is perhaps never more strongly demonstrated than when Kendall and Walter return to the fold and are welcomed like long lost sons rather than litigious angry exes. Here’s hoping that this apparent feeling of camaraderie will find its way into the new tracks, giving this rock-and-ready institution a new lease on audiences and collective self-esteem. JWR