Of all the nonexistent books, perhaps the most valuable is the indispensable reference Great Fishbone Quotations. Never published (though if it had been, it would have been by some hot-shot New York hardback house whose offices are in a building so tall you have to take the elevator down just to reach the sky), this 1000-page volume collects the thoughts of mankind's most famous thinkers on America's best band. How about a brief sampling, as if this were a late-night commercial? Have your credit cards ready.
* German philosopher Immanuel Kant: "Fishbone is not properly the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness."
* Poet Robert Frost: "One could do worse than be a lover of Fishbone."
* Orator and statesman Fredrick Douglass: "No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck. And one more thing: Fishbone forever!"
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Fishbone, in case you've spent your entire musical life trying to peel that SuperSaver sticker off Eagles Greatest Hits 1971-1975, is an L.A.-based six-piece outfit whose heedless meltdown of rock, punk, ska, soul, and funk has been lighting up the sky since 1985, when Columbia records released the Fishbone EP. Three years later, after a debut LP, In Your Face, and a special Christmas EP, Fishbone kicked history's ass with Truth and Soul, a dozen tracks of pure funk ecstasy. Buzz-saw guitars cut songs in half; brilliant harmonies and riverbed grooves put them back together again. For every moment on the album that merely displays a total mastery of ordinary pop forms, the band uncorks something completely new, and often the dextrous and cataclysmic are side-by-side in the same song. "One Day" mushrooms from stark speechifying into a multi-colored guitar vamp; the dense, energetic prologue of "Bonin' In the Boneyard" speeds into a kinetic and JB-fluent ode to graveyard sex. And with stop-on-a-dime political work like "Subliminal Fascism" and "Slow Bus Movin' (Howard Beach Party)," Fishbone was thinking faster than any band ever had, except maybe the Clash, with whom they shared a certain ability to make every song sound like theme music to some infinitely powerful movie (for Fishbone, the film might have been
Funk/Punk/Ska/Rock Gods Visit the Planet of Initiative and Political Vision). In the dark days of the mid-to-late Eighties, when Rick Astley actually charted, the 'Bone was the only band that mattered.
To the public's credit, Truth and Soul also produced one chart hit, a slam-bam-pusherman remake of Curtis Mayfield's "Freddy's Dead." Fishbone was poised for greater acceptance, maybe even for (gasp!) stardom. But true to their school, they reared back on their heels and delivered their most hard-core product yet. The Reality of My Surroundings, released earlier this year by Columbia/Sony, has the usual Fishbonian suspects (Angelo Moore, Chris Dowd, Walter Kibby II, Norwood Fisher, Kendall Jones, and Fish, if you're scoring at home) tearing into eighteen new tunes that are harder, louder, and altogether more disconcerting than anything the 'Bone has previously broken out. "Deathmarch"? "Behavior Control Technician"? This is a very different sort of party record. And the Sly-o-rama "Everyday Sunshine" proves yet again that there's no funk band working with better control of their horn section. Not Earth, Wind & Fire. Not P-Funk. No one.
Wallowing in the albums, however pleasant, doesn't begin to describe the unique pleasures of on-stage Fishbone. This is an outfit that rips a six-piece-band-shape hole in the ceiling of your favorite local venue, and then dances as the universe flows in through the opening. Some bands who are renowned for their sonic wax-whacking, such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, have a hard time untracking for live shows. But Fishbone does much more than stand on the verge of getting it on. When they play the hot-wired "Question of Life" or the skipping "Ma and Pa" or "Naz-Tee May'en" or "Slick Nick, You Devil You" or "Junkies Prayer," prepare to be changed forever. Prepare to be shoved to the ground by the noise and then choked by the beauty. Don't resist. Don't rebel. After all, why be a Fishbone if you're not going to stick in people's throats?