Words by Jesse Serwer
The first time I heard of ska or Fishbone was in 1987, at the hulking Commack Multiplex movie theater next to the Long Island Expressway. My parents, who’d grown up on the beach party movies of the early ’60s and could never resist an opportunity to introduce me to the culture of their youth, took me to see Back to the Beach, in which now-middle aged ’60s teen idols Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello revisited their heyday. How appropriate that the movie happened to be about a kid who gets stuck hanging out with parents everyone else thinks are cool but him. My parents earned no cool points from me that day but years later it reminds me of how much I now appreciate their efforts to imbue me with a cultural awareness beyond my years—even about something as corny as the beach party movie genre.
Oddly—if you consider their punk roots and underground status at the time—Fishbone make an awkward cameo in Back to the Beach, performing their song “Jamaica Ska” with Ms. Funicello. The hokey scene certainly didn’t make me want to listen to Fishbone or find out more about ska but within a few short years I’d become acquainted with both. New York in the early ’90s was awash in goofy, third- wave ska bands, all of which seemed to have names riffing on the word ska (Mephiskapheles, et. al) I came to detest this cheeky, suburban-ized version of ska but its popularity helped expose me to the original wave of artists from Jamaica that Angelo Moore and Fishbone had celebrated (or made a mockery of, depending on how you look at it) in Back to the Beach. Fishbone, meanwhile, had become something much broader than a ska band, if that’s what they ever were. They were like the black Faith No More or Primus but way funkier, meshing punk, funk, metal and Caribbean vibes like the whole lineup of the Afropunk Festival wrapped into one band. Slamdancing was at its peak of popularity at this time, and Fishbone shows, one of which I caught around 1993, were basically one giant mosh pit, full of 14-year-old kids working out their aggression. The video for “Fight the Youth” captures the scene pretty well. Watch out for that trampoline:
I hadn’t thought of or listened to Fishbone in 15 years when I recently learned of the new documentary, Everyday Sunshine, named for the band’s most commercially successful single. The movie, narrated by Lawrence Fishburne (The result of some inside joke—Fishburne, Fishbone—perhaps), contains the usual talking head-style interviews with peers and other music folk attesting to the band’s relevance. Much more intriguing is the attention it appears to pay to a bizarre 1994 incident, which I’d never known about, in which bassist John Norwood Fisher was arrested for kidnapping guitarist Kendall Jones, after the latter, suffering from mental illness, went missing. The movie—and Angelo himself— are at Brooklyn’s ReRun Theater this weekend, before heading off onto the film festival circuit and theaters in other major cities. Watch the preview below: