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[whitespace] Eric Fanali
Photograph by Christopher Gardner

Tankless Job: Eric Fanali was fired by the city of Sunnyvale after two and a half years running the teen shows at the Fishbowl, described in a city report as "extremely successful in giving teens a safe, positive environment to hang out and socialize."

Something Fishy

Things were going swimmingly at the Fishbowl, until the city of Sunnyvale made changes

By Sarah Quelland

SOMETHING STRANGE was in the air April 21, before a regularly scheduled Saturday night concert at the Fishbowl in Sunnyvale. Bands had started arriving one by one, and teens gathered restlessly anticipating the event.

As usual, no drugs and no alcohol were in sight. The city of Sunnyvale-sponsored venue was famous for its music-loving scene and nonclub atmosphere for teens.

But something was not right.

For one thing, concert promoter Eric Fanali was not in attendance as he had been nearly every Saturday night for the past two and a half years. Guests learned that the previous day Fanali, the long-time organizer of these and many other highly successful all-ages shows, had been fired by the city of Sunnyvale for unspecified reasons.

To make matters worse, one of the bands scheduled to perform, xBxRx, was told after it arrived that it wouldn't be able to play because of "concerns about its live show."

The air in the normally tame, well-behaved, award-winning teen hangout was charged with an uncharacteristic air of rebellion. Something was going to happen, but no one knew what it was.

And before the end of the night, members of the Sissies had taken matters into their own hands.

One by one, the girls reached into their shirts and pointed at the audience something every police officer, city and school official has come to dread.

Their bare breasts.

Four days later, the city of Sunnyvale announced that the Fishbowl was closed until the end of the school year and for the summer. They canceled all the shows Fanali had booked through June 23.

Although the city of Sunnyvale posted a press release on its website stating that the Fishbowl program plans to start up again in September, the premature ending of a favorite program and the secrecy surrounding that decision has created a a sense of distrust among the young crowd it serves.

IN A MEMO POSTED on the Fishbowl's website (www.fbowl.com), the young Fishbowl staff writes, "We never saw this coming; no one ever approached us with any problems. Perhaps this never would have happened; but it has and there is nothing we can do about it--there is nothing they will let us do about it. After all, we're just a bunch of kids who put countless hours and infinite dedication into this program, our second home. Why should we have any say in things?"

Henry Bishop, a 16-year-old member of the Sunnyvale Teen Council, adds, "I think that we were lied to by the city. I think they were very dishonest, and I think we could have prevented this."

Sunnyvale public information officer Dan Rich says the Fishbowl--named for its glass outer walls--was closed because "there were concerns about the operations [and] procedures." When asked if there were any particular issues, he says, "No, there wasn't any one incident or issue," though he mentions "behaviors and actions that were not felt to be appropriate." He declines to go into detail about what those behaviors and actions were. As far as complaints against the Fishbowl, Rich vaguely responds, "I'm not aware of a complaint or not a complaint."

In its more than two-and-a-half-year run, bands from all over the Bay Area came to play at the Mathilda Avenue venue inside Le Boulanger bakery, including high school bands like Anti-45 and Corrosive Eight; popular regional bands like Monkey, Slow Gherkin, Hot Town Jubilee and Stunt Monkey; DreamWorks Records bands Creeper Lagoon and the KGB; and underground favorites like Deathray (which features former members of Cake) and Oranger.

Last year, the California Parks and Recreation Society bestowed its Merit Award to Sunnyvale's Department of Parks and Recreation's Arts and Youth Services for the program. The city itself gave Le Boulanger the Award of Excellence for partnering with the city.

Sunnyvale resident Kristina Irwin's daughter Tatiana is a Fishbowl "guppie," a regular volunteer. A vocal supporter of the program, Irwin says that the Fishbowl has "been a wonderful opportunity for us to give her a feeling of independence while still feeling comfortable ourselves."

To her there's a "sense that Sunnyvale is ripping the rug out from these kids' feet" and she adds, "The Fishbowl was something special. The city should have understood that they were in a unique position."

Ultimately, she says, "I think this has been handled very well by the kids and very poorly by the city."

ARAM SARKISSIAN, vocalist and guitarist for the popular pop-punk band Stunt Monkey, feels outraged that the city has closed the site. Compared to other clubs he's played, he says the kids are "the best behaved at the Fishbowl; they're the most respectful; they're not there to get drunk ... they're really there for the music and the scene."

Sarkissian expresses dismay that Fanali has been removed from the program. "He understood the entire teen scene, he knew bands, knew kids and knew how to put on shows. He turned it into a legitimate establishment and kids were proud of it." Sarkissian also voices what many seem to be thinking, saying, "It's pretty ironic too that he'd just finished booking out the year when they fired him."

For his part, Fanali sounds much more concerned about the program than himself. He says, "The Fishbowl was everything to me and those kids, and if I wasn't allowed to be there anymore, I still wanted everyone to go out and support the shows--whether I had anything to do with it or not." He added, "I thought it would be awesome if the kids volunteering under me finished the season without me and I'm very upset that they didn't get the chance."

Fanali has already found a home for some of the displaced Fishbowl shows. The show scheduled for June 2 with Oranger and Sunnyvale's own Orange Peels has been moved to the Los Gatos Outhouse in a new program coordinated by the Southwest YMCA. According to Fanali, weekly all-ages shows have been cleared there through December and could continue indefinitely if they're successful.

Still, that's little consolation for members of the Fishbowl staff who still don't understand what went wrong with their program.

"I never expected it to end this way," says Fishbowl teen Jenny Ji. "I'm all cried out. I have no more tears."

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From the May 3-9, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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