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Listening Through all of Fishbone’s Albums. Album 1 of 7: “In Your Face”

Album 1 of 7: IN YOUR FACE

Released: November, 1986

Recorded at: Sunset Sound & Ocean Way Recording (Los Angeles)

Produced by: David Kahne (who also designed the iconic Fishbone Logo)

Stand out tracks: “When Problems Arise”, “In the Air”, “Knock it”


Fishbone did not emerge from the aquarium fully formed. The African-American sextet with a hybrid of members from black and brown South Central Los Angeles and the way whiter San Fernando Valley, had been signed to a major label barely out of high school. Yet their debut album, as riotous, fun and groovy as it is, feels like promise and not peak. This might have been a band who had been playing together since about the 9th grade. But while their sound rests completely in each other’s pockets, that sound hadn’t become what we know as Fishbone’s. At least not quite yet.

That sounds like a grievance but it’s not. Fishbone had come up in the Los Angeles punk scene of the day, befriending and later influencing both their contemporaries (The Red Hot Chili Peppers) and a younger generation (No Doubt) with a sound that essentially tossed funk, ska, punk and R&B into a steaming cauldron and got a rich gumbo instead of thin gruel. “LA Punk” usually calls to mind Darby Crash and his older siblings–short, tragic bursts of chaos meant to run you over while soundtracking your pain. But it was never only that. The Chili Peppers borrowed from east coast funk and their hometown’s Latino lowrider and skateboarding culture. X were as interested in country music and Americana (as their later albums would show) as they were in two minutes of fury and guitar distortion. And Los Lobos, a bit older and from the city’s eastern districts formed because they were the few Mexican kids at Garfield High School who liked punk’s elder influences (rockabilly, blues, brill building pop) as much as cumbia and mariachi music.

So LA Punk could be lean and fierce like a yellow line on a highway or wondering through many musical neighborhoods like a boulevard. The overlap between the two was in spirit if not feeling: LA Punk no matter its colors, flavor or highway exit was usually youthful, free and funny. And Fishbone, immediately a boulevard if not a fully paved one (it’s telling that Fishbone has always been a large band of at least 6 members usually dressed identically in jumpsuits,  but only 3 are on the album cover) were always these things: A funky/jumpytwo-tone/ragey/improvised/hilarious thing in your ears that made it pure punk in its soul.

The opening four tracks–“When Problems Arise”, “A Selection”, “Cholly”, and “I Wish That I Had a Date”– are a mad dash through 50s teenage angst with a smartass twinkle in their eye–think Buddy Holly as run with by Biz Markie. The record then slows down (not a wise move for a band like Fishbone, whose strengths lie in their antic energy) but blows through the finish line and past it with “In the Air” at position 7, a bass-forward new wavy midnight jam and a high stepping tribute to casual sex “Knock it.”

It’s these two late tracks that give us an idea of what Fishbone will grow into–satirical, multi-hyphenates who do not see dancing, getting high, getting aware and laughing your ass off as mutually exclusive. That wonder of a mixture around the next bend. Here, in all our faces, is a debut, that works largely as a first chapter of many but is a bang(er) of a start nonetheless.


Movie Review: “Zodiac” (2007)

Zodiac movie poster.

4.5/5 Stars

Relentless, frustrating but never boring police procedural about the San Francisco Bay’s most famous unsolved mystery. I was positive there wasn’t anything left to say about Zodiac and therefore nothing for a 2 1/2 hour movie yet this one is steely in its resolve, perfect in its pacing and absolutely true to its conviction–that not knowing is a pain of the soul but one we all but bear.

David Fincher, our most tactile filmmaker, can fall too deeply in love with the beauty of his own shots and can stop asking whether we care about the story in the meantime (Exhibit A: GONE GIRL). He never loses our attention here. And the sequence of the Trans America pyramid being built is as good as every says it is.


Book Review: “Monday Night Mayhem: The Inside Story of ABC’s Monday Night Football” (1994)

Monday Night Mayhem: The Inside Story of ABC's Monday Night FootballMonday Night Mayhem: The Inside Story of ABC’s Monday Night Football by Marc Gunter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bill Carter will go on to write better books about late night television, one of which would become the mini-series THE LATE SHIFT. But he cut his teeth, along with co-author Marc Gunter, on this thorough yet swift look at a television and sports phenom that’s really the larger story of capitalism: innovation leads to sameness which results in the innovation left behind in the file room of history. The drama is Shakespeare meets high school lunchroom, with everyone wearing their egos and insecurities on the outside of their clothes. But MONDAY NIGHT MAYHEM leads us, gently, yes, to a difficult question: Are those the kind of people who make great things? Not jerks, per se but people with half formed ideas but full tanks of ambition, people with rough edges who make stupid mistakes, which seem stupid but the risk is higher? There isn’t an answer at the end of this book but its a question and a conundrum that hasn’t aged a bit since this book came out in 1994.

Postscript: Can you enjoy this book if you don’t care about football? Yes. If you care about business, media, entertainment and human drama. But MONDAY NIGHT MAYHEM has a natural limitation: Announcing and broadcasting is all about smoothing over errors. And at a national television network level, errors are small and rarely noticed by the viewer. Which means its pretty much impossible for the authors to describe the “fiascos” the characters in this book commit while announcing football games, mistakes that were so pivotal to their fates. Why? Because they seem like petty nothings to us, the reader, even though they seem career-ending to the characters.


Book Review: “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton

Ball FourBall Four by Jim Bouton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jim Bouton isn’t nearly as clever or funny as he thinks. Maybe he read that way in 1970 when BALL FOUR came out, but here in the present, it’s 500 pages of chit-chat with a conversation partner way too pleased with his own half of the occasion. As he grew though, so did his writing. Read the epilogues and you get a great sense of baseball, the book and its history and the man who wrote it. That’s really all you need.


Book Review: “Common Ground” (1985) by J. Anthony Lukas

Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American FamiliesCommon Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families by J. Anthony Lukas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Common Ground” is nearly 700 pages of original reporting about three families living through the integration of Boston’s public school in the mid 1970s (look up “Boston Busing Riots” if you don’t yet know what a shameful chapter of recent American history this is). Let’s get that on the table right away. It’s dense, epic, terribly important and has aged not a second in its importance: We are at each other’s throats as a nation over precisely who America belongs to and what it means. The kids throwing rocks at a bus full of black students newly attending their high school and shouting about how it is their freedom in danger are the Proud Boys of yesteryear.

What “Common Ground” is not is a great reading experience. It has moments when you stop and simply cannot believe the depth of work Mr. Lukas has done and the kindness and soul he brings to it. There are way too many more when you say two pages would have worked just as well and he gave us two chapters.

Though I am positive Mr. Lukas got the best editing publishing could buy for this project, there still feels like no interview was left out, no lede unfollowed no matters how little in the end it actually mattered. My firend whom I read it with compared it to accelerating one mile per hour at a time. You’re still driving/ But you’re missing many of the pleasures of driving.

If dense, chewy, epic, important and sad are your bag, none of those complaints will matter to you. Myself, I’m sad that while I am so fortunate to have read “Common Ground” I cannot recommend it with a full heart. Somewhere in all of the magnificent things it is doing, it sacrificed the common ground an author must also have not just with their subject and the demands of the story but their reader too.