Did Faith No More Really Torture Björk’s Fish For Their ‘Epic’ Video?

Silvio Tanaka from Sao Paulo, Brazil, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
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“WHAT IS IT!?” That’s the question bellowed throughout Faith No More’s breakthrough hit, “Epic.”

The second single off of their 1989 album The Real Thing, “Epic” served as a harbinger of sorts for much of the rap, funk, and metal crossover that would become a staple of the next decade. Although not without the precedent set by the band’s prior records with Chuck Mosley and the work of pioneers such as Fishbone and Red Hot Chili Peppers (not to mention Run-DMC and Aerosmith’s collaboration on “Walk This Way”), The Real Thing was arguably the first high profile synthesis of traditional heavy metal and rap and the lynchpin for the nü-metal grenade (much to Mike Patton’s well-documented chagrin). 

The success of “Epic” can largely be attributed to its video, a surrealist nightmare helmed by director Ralph Ziman that includes a slime-throwing Hand of Fatima, artificial thunderstorms galore, an exploding piano, and one flopping fish out of water.

It’s a video that garnered Faith No More both widespread acclaim and intense condemnation. Why the condemnation? Well… to anyone who doesn’t know better, it would appear that the aforementioned fish was being tortured and likely killed for the sake of the band’s art. It’s a striking visual that led to a rumor that Faith No More didn’t exactly bother to dispel at the time and possibly even encouraged.

The legend goes like this: The fish was originally a gift from a fan to much beloved Icelandic singer Bjork, which she had affectionately named Linear Soul Child. She was given the fish at a poetry reading right before a party at Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottum’s estate. From there, Linear Soul Child was either given to Bottum or left by accident at his estate.

According to the Associated Press in November of 1999, Bjork confirmed this rumor in an interview with CNN, stating “Yes, it was my fish.” Although upset, she goes on to begrudgingly defend Faith No More, continuing “I know those guys, I know they wouldn’t do anything to harm [him]. But I know, if I had gone home with MY fish, which was given to ME, none of this would have ever happened.”

It’s a good story. Given the reputation of all involved, it’s a plausible story. However, the reality of the situation is far more banal. In a 2010 interview with Movieweb, director Ralph Ziman put the rumor to rest (a rumor that, at least according to him, he’d never heard until then):

“It wasn’t Björk’s goldfish. But yes, I am responsible for that. And it wasn’t even a goldfish, interestingly enough. I was talking with someone about this yesterday. We made that video in 1987. I remember the band had one day off from tour, and they were in London.

The record company had phoned us on very short notice and asked us to do a music video. They made it sound like a really low priority. I think it was being done for Warner Bros. at the time. I just made a list of a bunch of things I thought we could do. Exploding a piano. A fish flopping around. We literally had one day to pre-produce it.

So we handed the fish off to the art department. I can’t remember what it was. If it was a carp? It was a freshwater fish. We shot that in London in some studios next to the tour venue. And we wound up letting that fish go in the river when we were finished. We had a couple of them. We would let them flop around, and then we’d swap it over, and we’d shoot another one. I don’t remember what kind of fish they were, but the animal handler had brought them in because they were so feisty.”

Despite the fact that the video was shot in 1989 (hell, I can’t remember what year it is half of the time right now, so let’s cut the guy some slack), this seems to be the far more likely course of events.

So, what is “it”!? That’s up for you to decide. My money is on the unharmed carp.

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