Humor, Outrage, Vulgarity, and Intense Rhythm: Fishbone’s Still Stuck in Your Throat

By Daniel Garrett

Fishbone
Still Stuck in Your Throat
Sound in Color, 2007

I remember having a conversation with a friend of a business associate fifteen years ago about the band Fishbone: that man claimed Fishbone was a funk band, and I said they were punk-influenced rock, and closer to hard rock than to funk music. I added, “I have their records”—Truth and Soul (1988), and In Your Face (1986). It was a ridiculous conversation, I thought, though I have since seen some remarks about the band that do put the name Fishbone and the word funk in the same sentence. Listening to Fishbone’s Still Stuck in Your Throat, I hear punk rock, jazz, Caribbean rap, rhythm and blues, and even something I might call a ballad, but I hear little that I can recognize, even generously, as funk: which to me signifies not only a heavy, thick musical groove but the most expansive sensuality. Fishbone is a lot of things, including sexual, but sensual? I don’t think so.

Fishbone is a raucous group, full of energy and mockery. It has been reported that the current Fishbone personnel includes longtime members singer and saxophonist Angelo Moore and bass guitarist and singer John Norwood Fisher, with Curtis Storey on trumpet, Rocky George on guitar, John McKnight on keyboards, trombone, and guitar, Dre Gipson on keyboards, and John Steward on drums, with Storey and Fisher adding their voices to songs. (The original band included Moore and Fisher with Walter Kirby II on trumpet, Kendall Jones on guitar, Chris Dowd on keyboards and trombone, and Phil Fisher on drums, with most of the band known to sing.) Fishbone’sStill Stuck in Your Throat starts with what I can well believe is the baying of an ass: the introduction to “Jack Ass Brigade,” a humorous and profane piece, followed by the free-floating vulgarities of “Let Them Ho’s Fight,” which uses some common, unpleasant terms for women and blacks, and has a mocking, outrageous tone. The first song was written by Angelo Moore and John Norwood Fisher, and the second by Moore, Fisher, and John Steward, with contributions from the band. There is a quickly spoken beginning to John Norwood Fisher’s “Skank ‘n Go Nuttz” (the spelling is Fisher’s), with a comment in a West Indian accent, and a cacophony of guitars; and this seems a music for public entertainment rather than private contemplation.

I am willing to accept Dre Gipson’s “Party with Saddam” as a funk-rock fusion: the song opens with what sounds like an accordion (an off-center groove) and a pleasant singing voice and has lines such as “peace don’t cost a dime” and “party till our colors blend” and the narrator speaks of partying with Pinochet, Mobuto, Condoleezza Rice, Tony Blair, and Castro. Some party. About pressures and capitulation, John Norwood Fisher’s “We Just Lose Our Minds” is a bit of old fashion jazz-influenced rhythm and blues, with a somewhat rambling commentary that advises someone not to fall on his face but rather to fall on his ass (a dancer once suggested something similar to me: how to give in to a fall, just dropping down, bending the knees, so that one does not break anything). A song about frayed nerve endings is simply more craziness. John Fisher’s “The Devil Made Me Do It,” which features the line, “It just had to be the will of god, but the devil made me do it,” is—with “Party with Saddam” and “Behind Closed Doors”—one of the more interesting songs on Still Stuck in Your Throat. Featuring a sane and pleasing voice, fast drumming, loud guitars, horns, rowdy choruses, and little piquant arrangements of punctuating sound (ringing, squeaks, swirls), “The Devil Made Me Do It” is a fascinating piece of music with content—about values, and interpretation—that is worth thinking about it. “Forever Moore,” by Fisher and Angelo Moore, is an account of a traveling tour, an account given by a voice that is either off-key or nearly off-key, and the song’s narrator talks about the rare girl he wants to be around (the musician’s daughter), and the song has an appealingly sparse arrangement. “Behind Closed Doors,” by John Fisher and Dre Gipson, is about being powerless—vulnerable to social circumstance and weather and poverty—and, consequently, feeling subject to the weakness of compensating and desperate impulses.

A dressing down of an egocentric person is given in the weirdly named “Premadawnutt,” while the Moore and Fisher song entitled “Faceplant Scorpion Backpinch” could be running athletic commentary, or a metaphor for experience that utilizes sport (snowboarding), but, whatever it is, it comes fast and funny. (It is possible that the pleasure of the humor in the band’s work is what some people have identified with funk: as funk masters George Clinton and Parliament were full of imaginative amusement and mockery.) In the concluding piece of Fishbone’s Still Stuck in Your Throat, the song “Date Rape,” written by Brad Nowell and Sublime, is about a woman who meets a man in a bar, and he buys her many drinks, and they leave together and he pressures her into sex: he says, “If it wasn’t for rape, I would never get laid.” She takes him to court, and he is convicted—and he is raped in prison. That is neither a new subject nor an original treatment, but it works.

Daniel Garrett has written about music for AllAboutJazz.com, Hyphen, IdentityTheory.com, Option, and PopMatters.com, including commentary on Sade, the Afghan Whigs, Tupac Shakur, Kitchens of Distinction, Matthew Sweet, and Annie Lennox; and his reviews—of the work of Patti Austin, Yoko Ono, U2, The Dears, Bright Eyes, Bob Mould, the Rolling Stones, Howlin’ Wolf, Terence Trent D’Arby, Lizz Wright, Leela James, Skye, Morrissey, and Sinead O’Connor—have appeared on the web pages ofThe Compulsive Reader. Garrett’s work, as well, has appeared in The African, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Cinetext.Philo, Film International, The Humanist, NatCreole.com, Offscreen, Rain Taxi, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and World Literature Today. Author contact: dgarrett31@hotmail.com or d.garrett.writer@gmail.com

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