Nowadays, most people know Bob Forrest as the counselor with the hat on numerous Dr. Drew Pinsky reality series (“Celebrity Rehab”). However, lesser known these days is that Forrest was also the leader of Thelonious Monster, one of the most highly-regarded alternative LA bands of the 1980s / 1990s. Along with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, and Fishbone, Thelonious Monster was part of a vibrant and exciting Los Angeles music scene that didn’t involve hairspray and makeup.
Forrest and his band had several shots at the brass ring, including record deals with RCA and Capitol Records, but never broke through the way the Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction did, mainly due to Forrest’s excessive substance abuse. Forrest’s low points were extremely low, including washing a syringe in dish soap that an HIV-positive drug shooting buddy had just used because he did not have one at the time. Even Dr. Drew, who knew Forrest as a frequent guest on his nationally syndicated KROQ-FM talk show “Loveline” assumed Forrest was dead at one point.
But Forrest did manage to clean up. And after several humble years working as a dishwasher, started work in drug counseling, where he has had tremendous success helping addicts stay sober.
Forrest’s story is told in an excellent documentary called “Bob and the Monster.” The movie has been on the festival circuit since 2011, but is now reaching video with an added coda discussing events since 2011. “Monster” is not just a terrific time capsule of a great era in recent music history, but a compelling story about how anyone, no matter how low they’ve sunk, can turn their life around and make a tremendous difference in the lives of others. Featuring interviews with Anthony Kiedis, Flea, Courtney Love, Gibby Haynes, Keith Morris, and Steven Adler among many others.
Also highly recommended is Forrest’s autobiography “Running with Monsters” which has just been released as well.
Before director Penelope Spheeris entered the Hollywood mainstream with “Wayne’s World” and “The Beverly Hillbillies,” she directed the seminal punk and metal documentaries “The Decline of Western Civilization Parts 1 and 2” and also directed “Suburbia,” a punk melodrama for legendary exploitation producer Roger Corman in 1983. Corman has always had a knack for recognizing filmmaking talent and gave Spheeris a lot of leeway in making “Suburbia” as long as she delivered plenty of action, violence, and nudity (including a church riot homage to Corman’s biker classic from the 1960s, “The Wild Angels”).
“Suburbia” delivers plenty of action, violence and nudity, but with a couple of exceptions, most of the people appearing in the film were actual punks she ran into and cast in the film (including a pre-Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea, billed as Mike B. the Flea in the credits, in a pivotal supporting role). This isn’t the slickest film in the world by any means, but while the kids engage in a lot of anti-social behavior, the film is obviously and overwhelmingly on their side, sympathizes tremendously with their troubled backgrounds, and is easily one of the best and heartfelt punk films ever made.
One of the best moviegoing memories from my youth was seeing “Suburbia’ in a packed midnight screening (with an audience full of mohawks and trenchcoats) with a good friend of mine and my friend’s Dad, who attended the screening with us since me and my friend were not legally able to drive. The audience went completely nuts at the beginning of the film, when the wild dog attacks a toddler (one of the worst mannequin substitutes I’ve ever seen in any idiom), which isn’t funny, but kind of is in the context of the film and the audience. My friend’s Dad (who, at the time, was roughly about my age now) took the film in stride, enjoyed himself, and later compared the film to “Rebel Without a Cause” on the ride home, which he highly recommended to us. While I later saw “Rebel” and thought it a much superior film, I have a really soft spot in my heart for “Suburbia.” It’s too bad Spheeris hasn’t made too many films recently. A vastly underrated filmmaking talent.