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December 22, 2005

Fishbone, Sadness & Rebellion

In the darkness, I have found my vision
I've seen the Queen that thrives on desolation

-- Fishbone (End the Reign)

This week I burned a CD with Squarepusher and Fishbone. Listening to Fishbone is always bittersweet. They are such an awesome and musically gifted band, and they never got their due commercially. People have debated who was better between them and Living Colour. They have to be compared because they are the 'black rock bands'. Some dig Bad Brains, but I could never get into that. Still, people who know Fishbone, know.

But they are bittersweet to me also because, now that I listen to them a dozen years after the release of 'Give a Monkey a Brain', I recognize some of the differences that age and experience make with regard to one's view of the world. They say that if you're young and conservative you don't have a heart and if you're old and liberal you don't have a brain. But of course it's more than that.

When I listened to 'End the Reign' for the first time, I must have been in exactly the same state of mind as the band members. Los Angeles was in chaos in the wake of the riots. Just 3 years earlier I had shed my buppie skin in order to sensitize and acquaint myself with the flavor and feel of the city I grew to love only to be bitterly disappointed by its increasingly divisive politics. But it wasn't just the politics, it was the real dirt that had gone down and continued to go down. I had gone through the gamut of emotions around Latasha Harlins and Rodney King. I had my own videocamera and was setting up my own private stings. I followed the travails of excommunicated cop Don Jackson aka Kamau Diop. I even attended a couple meetings with Michael Zinzun in hopes that his million dollar settlement might yeild a real watchdog organization (with a BBS I might sysop). You cannot listen to the despondant glamour of the wailing tones of Fishbone without feeling all that come to the surface.

Black Flowers have lost their way
They've lost their way again
Cursed for their will to dream
Raped by mankind again
Like the auction blocks of castrated dreams

Kills the heart of love
Turned into disease
And each day I pray
Please take me away
Please take me away

Black flowers have lost their way
Black flowers have lost their way
Black flowers have lost their way

Why does this hatred linger on
Voices in my mind remind me everyday
And the passing time has healed no wounds
Deep inside my heart the pain it lingers still
And the love
Away the colors
Oh the love
Fade and blur
Has rotted away
Outside my window sill
And I can't bear this feeling anymore

No I won't give into hatred
And I'll never stop dreaming
And I'll love
Oh I'll love
Till my very last breath
Is taken away

"You have to put on your imagination
Heart glasses to see the rest!"

But not only the hopeful despondancy of Fishbone was in evidence but the face off. Which side are you on? It's not even right to put the lyrics to Servitude here. You have to hear the thrash and feel it. It's not whiney moaning about a whole symbolic planet gone to shit, it's about the here, the now and the real. They were willing to both fight the corrupt powers that be and the youth with poisoned minds. That's what set Fishbone apart from bands like U2 and REM in my mind and made them just as great if not greater. Fishbone had intellectual and musical range. I think they suffered for being too good.

But as an old conservative, not simply because I have a brain, I am a critic of the youth with poisoned and empty minds. Furthermore I am a critic of Rock for the sake of Rock. Permanent rebellion, permanent sensitivity to the injustices that plague us is not growth. And one has to ask how long is that dangling cigarette and caustic cynicism useful? Sure Mick Jaggar and Bob Dylan are in their 60s and people still come back for more. I say that there's something wrong with that - something's wrong with the person who remains a bleating sheep for a generation instead of becoming a sheepdog. Rap and Rock both are at their best when they are ragged and renegade. There is something Papa Roach has that outdoes Punk. There was something Marilyn Manson did that unseated all before him. Rock always needs a more jagged little pill. But after a while it gets hard to swallow. What good is all that rebellion?

More importantly what state of mind does it take to preside over an artform that at its best brings forth the raw emotions righteous indignation and contempt for the status quo? This manifest in a social disease of chronic dissatisfaction. There is nothing quite as sad as an old hippie whose revolution never happened. And you cannot listen to 'Give a Monkey a Brain' without feeling the strains of a grand dissolution of society. So many rock bands become the chorus of decay as if they were Nero's own fiddle. For the most part there is no greater calling for Rock and Rap. That's why there was no better rap group ever than Public Enemy and why there was no more trenchant commentary that 'Nation of Millions'. America felt like it was coming apart for those who decided to feel. But in the end it didn't. The prophets of rage were left with recordings of what now sounds almost shrill. And the music industry had to look for something new when the whole of California didn't fall into the sea after the LA Riots. Where is there to go when society itself doesn't collapse? You go to the collapse of the soul, and that's where we are in rebel music.

That is the cautionary tale I am considering in advance of the Fishbone concert I will be attending tomorrow evening. But I know Fishbone had a secret weapon: Nuttmeg. Never above bonin' in the boneyard but always above the pimp narrative, Fishbone had a soulful celebration of skin on skin. Because of that they never debased themselves. They could always sing happy even extatic songs of human hope, always wary of cynicism.

I see you setting up your shot
I'm gonna git out of your range
I'll never sing your sad sorry song
Lemon Meringue
Sour to the taste and sweet to the teeth
Death by saccharination,
And the criminal charge is the same
A chance to tell the crimes of the cruel
A chance to wave the flag of the fool
But the cross on your road is twisted
And reflects an imageless tool

So I know the world is not coming apart so long as builders build. Let the lamenters cry their chorus, let the rebels pierce their toungues, let the old rockers ripen. We cannot stay forever stunned by misfortune and tragedy. The hunger artist must ultimately eat or die. Fishbone's show is now called The Familyhood Nextperience. I predict progress, because.. well those that know Fishbone, just know.

Posted by mbowen at December 22, 2005 03:15 PM

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Tried to send a trackback ping from a post on my blog. No luck.

Anyway, thanks for the great post. Got me to thinking a lot.

Having lived abroad for the past 10 years, I don't get to hear much about Fishbone: I like the idea of the Familyhood Nextperience...


Posted by: James G at December 23, 2005 06:34 AM

I'm speachless. What a lirycs!

Posted by: Hannita at January 9, 2006 12:24 PM