directed by Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler
Pale Griot Films
You might have trouble finding a more archetypical band than Fishbone. A bunch of kids grow up on the tough streets of South Central L.A. in the 1970’s. One of them (Norwood Fisher) has a home with a guitar and a tolerant mother. Kids congregate; they play obsessively, while up in Hollywood the disaffected white youth are discovering punk. The band opens at Madame Wong’s, tears up the scene, hits it big on MTV, then begins to fragment but keeps touring, fighting the record company, and morphing into what are politely called living legends. Lead singer Angelo Moore ends up living with his strict mother, Norwood Fisher has a small house in a “transitional” neighborhood and to this day Fishbone is alive and well and touring for a small but loyal fan base. It’s better than a day job.
While this documentary is never brilliant it’s always engaging. A static narration by Laurence Fishburne fills in what the band fails to say, and animation lets us see what film forgot to capture — bussing for racial balance, self-taught music lessons, idealized L.A. backdrops. The usual stable of contemporary stars offers commentary — Ice T, Gwen Stefani, Perry Farrell, Flea, and Branford Marsalis all offer perspectives on the band and the scene. I caught a live Fishbone show about a year ago, and I agree with the stars — these guys are still an amazing show band, and remarkable as the only successful black punk band out of the old southern California days.
The film is more than the band’s story, it’s a street level look at the troubled race relations of Los Angeles and big city America. We all grow and evolve and today Norwood has taken up surfing and snowboarding, two of the whitest sports ever invented. Angelo tries to rationalize the sex and drugs of touring to his mother, and one of the other original band members goes over the edge mentally. Angelo and Norwood stage what they called an “intervention”, but the police call it kidnapping and the band barely escapes jail time. It’s all real, it’s all gritty, and it’s all rock and roll with a glorious mix of nostalgia, joy and pain — all the good things a documentary needs to offer.