NO DIRECTION HOME : The Second Time Around Held Little Charm for a Rock Band in Hassle Mode

Ron and John used to play in the Fibonaccis, a mid-'80s art-rock band that was among the first to dabble with world-music grooves. For six months or so, the Fibs were the closest the L.A. underground scene had to a Next Big Thing. The band opened a couple of dates for Oingo Boingo at the Santa Monica Civic, drew big crowds at outdoor festivals and put out an album on the same label that signed Wall of Voodoo. A prominent gossip columnist became infatuated with drummer Joe.

Ron and John had an unusual concept for the time: literate rock ‘n’ roll. Lyrics were drawn from Wallace Stevens and Emily Dickinson; musical ideas from Samuel Barber and Bernard Herrmann and mariachis and traditional Korean harvest songs; singer Magie’s vocal style from early Lotte Lenya. Future Simpsons mogul Matt Groening, back when he was still an underpaid rock critic, wrote that the Fibonaccis were the only band that could make you smarter just by listening to them; many of the core fans tended to have attended schools like Caltech.

Literate rock ‘n’ roll may be an oxymoron: The rock ‘n’ roll impulse is the 18-year-old’s belief that he or she is the very first person with the desire to bang his or her head against a wall until it bleeds, and tends not to be something that benefits from maturity and experience. Musically literate rock ‘n’ rollers--David Byrne, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Sting--seem a little embarrassed about their past work, retreating into Sufi trance music or Ghanaian polyrhythms. But the Fibs were unlike any other band you’ve ever seen: organic, danceable, multicultural--truly Los Angelean.

The band’s music was more than once compared favorably to that of Fellini soundtrack guy Nino Rota, and the Fibonaccis--named after the mystic Italian mathematician--played on a soundtrack or two themselves.


But although Ron and John had been best friends for more than a decade, their relationship within the band eventually soured. Overexposed in Los Angeles and unwilling to tour, the Fibonaccis gradually lost much of their heat, then their label, then their self-esteem. An infinitesimal local record company put out the group’s next album, “Civilization and Its Discotheques,” but failed to distribute it properly. The Fibonaccis were second-billed to the kitschy novelty act the Del Rubio Triplets at their own record-release party. Entropy proved to be too much; the Fibonaccis gradually fell apart.

In certain Hollywood circles, almost everybody you are likely to run into is in a band, or used to be in a band, or used to hang out with a band, and the first thing everyone asks you is if you still play the guitar.

As musicians approach middle age, minds start to wander, ectomorphs to become endomorphic, substance-riddled bodies to lose the resiliency they had when they were young. Rebelliousness reveals itself as the crankiness it probably was all along. But the urge never dies.

A few months ago, the Fibonaccis were offered a chance to release a compilation CD on a respectable label, an entry for the enormous new-wave collectors’ market, and for a while it was as if the band was alive again. John, who’d been trying to survive by writing film scores, and Ron, now an editor for an alternative news weekly, got together several times a week to decide what songs should go on the CD. It seemed the two spent more time arguing what the title should be than they had recording any of their previous albums. The record came out. The band even rehearsed for a reunion show.


But old spats held in check during the band’s abeyance suddenly revealed themselves to have been yawning rifts, like those once-hidden Balkan feuds left unsettled since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire. Sublimation into the group id, never easy at the best of times, became impossible. Ron tacked Gregorian-chant introductions onto at least some of the songs; Magie and John squabbled during an interview spot on “Morning Becomes Eclectic”; John and Joe “forgot” to pick Magie up on the way to a mastering session.

Tension is bad for relationships but good for performances; it throws the subtleties of the music into a rich and powerful light. The valedictory show at Fuzzyland was bittersweet and lovely, not least because everybody in the crowded room knew that they would never hear the Fibonaccis play this way again.