Perhaps the best argument for school busing is a Los Angeles funk 'n' roll band called Fishbone. As a result of being bused to integrate another school, the band's six teen-aged members (average age 18) have developed an unusual hybrid of ghetto funk and suburban rock that makes their self-titled debut EP one of the freshest records of the year.
The members of Fishbone, who perform tonight at the 9:30 club, all grew up in L.A.'s black neighborhoods. In 1977, they became reluctant participants in an integration plan to bus inner-city kids out to white suburban schools in the San Fernando Valley. They all ended up at Woodland Hills' Hale Junior High School, right in the heart of the valley.
"None of us wanted to go," admits Fishbone guitarist Kendall Rey (Special K) Jones. "I didn't know anyone out there; all my friends went to my old school. The only reason we went is our parents made us go. They said there would be more opportunity out there, which turned out to be true."
It was rough at first. The two young teen cultures clashed in nearly every way: skateboards versus boogie boxes; Led Zeppelin versus Parliament-Funkadelic. There were picketing parents at the front door and fist fights in the hallways. Many white students transferred to private schools, and the new black students largely hung out with each other.
"The guys who eventually formed Fishbone had an advantage," Jones explained, "because we all had hippie parents who listened to Jimi Hendrix and Cream, so we were used to listening to rock. We had all been in integrated neighborhoods or situations before, even though our current neighborhood was mostly black. So we had a head start; most of the kids we grew up with had never seen white people except on TV or in a police car.
"Mostly we adjusted because we were willing to put aside old rules . . . All in all, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
"There was a definite exchange of cultures," he continues. "We made them conscious of punk, and we learned to appreciate Aerosmith. We taught them that everyone can dance -- even if it takes some people longer -- and we learned how to ski and surf.
"We made them aware that there really is poverty in the United States, and we all learned the fine art of dating interracially and not being afraid to do it. We introduced them to black-eyed peas and cornbread, and they taught us how to enjoy bagels and cream cheese."
In ninth grade, about 15 friends formed a loosely-knit band that would get together to sing, shout, bang on things and play what instruments they could. By the summer of 1979 the band got more serious, and the less dedicated members dropped away. The unchanging nucleus of six began to play parties and talent shows under the name Megatron.
The music grew directly out of the cross-cultural pollination at Hale Junior High. They had developed an interest in Jamaican reggae and combined this with P-Funk and Led Zeppelin's guitar noise to come up with an ethnic rock sound they call "Fishbone music."
"One thing we didn't do," Jones points out, "is forget the music we used to like just because we discovered something new. A lot of people dismiss what they used to like as soon as they get turned on to something else, and end up jumping from trend to trend. What we do in Fishbone is keep the foundation and add to it with each thing we discover. You may hear the Specials and the English Beat in our music but P-Funk is always there at the bottom."
They renamed the band after the youngest member, the 17-year-old drummer known only as "Fish." They played their first club date at Madame Wong's, the new-wave showcase in L.A.'s Chinatown. There they were seen by Bryan O'Neal of the Bus Boys, who introduced them to his group's manager, Roger Perry. Under Perry's direction, Fishbone quickly became regulars at L.A. clubs they were often too young to patronize.
This in turn won them a contract with Columbia Records. Their debut six-song EP was produced by new wave fixture David Kahne, who organized the anarchic spontaneity of Fishbone's live shows into focused songs. The high spirits and contagious beat of the songs are often accompanied by scathing attacks on racism, nuclear war, and political apathy.
" 'Another Generation' is about people our age who follow trends and fashions and the mistakes of the past without knowing why," says Jones. "Too many lead their lives like sheep: going to the hippest clubs, pretending to have a good time and not caring about the rest of the world. It's great that musicians have made it trendy to care about hunger in Africa, but it shouldn't take such extremes to wake people up."