The documentary about Bob Forrest of Thelonious Monk and his battle against addiction. Forrest is now a controversial addiction counselor, as explained in the film.
A documentary chronicling the life of charismatic singer/songwriter Bob Forrest, from his days as front man of the indie rock band Thelonious Monster, through his life-threatening struggle with addiction, to his triumph and transformation into one of the most influential addiction counselors in the US today.
BOB AND THE MONSTER crafts contemporary footage, animation and compelling interviews with rare archival performances and exclusive personal videos from Bobʼs past to reveal the complex layers of this troubled, but optimistic soul. Testimony from his peers, including Courtney Love, Anthony Kiedis, Flea, John Frusciante, members of Janeʼs Addiction, Fishbone and Guns nʼ Roses add texture, but itʼs the depth of Bobʼs music, interwoven throughout the film, that illuminates this unforgettable and truly inspirational story.
Director Keirda Bahruth has spent six years filming Bob Forrest and depicts a fascinating portrait of an intrepid soul whose passion for living and self-discovery is evident in both his failures and successes. The film traces his extraordinary life, from a traumatic childhood event through decades of poverty and drug addiction; numerous menial jobs and an unlikely rise to stardom with his band Thelonious Monster; then back again through homelessness, 22 drug rehabs and jail; to his unexpected transformation into an acclaimed drug and alcohol counselor who now dedicates his life to helping fellow musicians recover from addiction.
BOB AND THE MONSTER transcends the stereotype of heroin addicted rock star and reveals a more personal message. Bobʼs story is a living testament to the heights of human courage and the ability to shape your own destiny.
In the midst of one of the biggest music festivals in the world, Bob Forrest wanted the music to be shut off. “Look at this fucking thing that’s going on,” he asks me, gazing back in the direction of Austin’s infamous 6th Street. He laughs, “Do you want to be over there in that fucking thing?”
Though Forrest is still an active musician, there was a time when he was right in the middle of the fray. As the frontman of Thelonious Monster, he came up with a group of Los Angeles bands including the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Fishbone (also the subject of an excellent documentary at SXSW called “Everyday Sunshine”) that ruled the L.A. scene in the early ’80s with a sound that found the rhythm in chaos described as “drunk rock” by one critic. And Forrest was drunk, and high for most of it, alienating bandmates, missing in action for his immediate family and failing upward as Thelonious Monster became coveted by major labels, even though the band would never hold together long enough with a tempermental lead singer to ever see mainstream success. However, where “Bob and the Monster” differs from most documentaries about burnt out musicians is that Forrest ultimately traded one art for another, becoming a drug counselor with an unusually compassionate touch. Some may know this already from “Celebrity Rehab,” the VH1 show where he’s often been a shoulder to cry on and without a doubt the calmest person in the house. (Outside is another matter since as he told the audience at the film’s premiere, “lf you’re a fan of that show, I appreciate it, but I’m not.”)
Still, what director Keirda Bahruth captures in “Bob and the Monster” is the wild streak that fueled Forrest’s early days as singer/songwriter who found eloquence in the mundane to his crusade against the accepted treatment of addiction, which trades out injections and inhalations for prescription pills in favor of a more human, compassionate approach. As the film demonstrates, none of this came easy to Forrest, who had to endure some unusual discoveries in his family tree, a post-rock life flipping burgers in the L.A. coffee shop Millie’s, and a particularly ill-conceived cover of Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” on his way t becoming a confidant to the likes of Courtney Love and opening his own shop, Hollywood Recovery Services, to practice the treatment that helped him recover from his own demons. A day after the film’s premiere at SXSW, Forrest and Bahruth sat down to discuss his remarkable story, as well as some of what wasn’t in the film, the ways the music industry and the drug industry are quite similar, and why there really are second acts.
THIS INTERVIEW COMES FROM THE FILM COMPANY. COUNTRY FRIED ROCK DID NOT CONDUCT THIS INTERVIEW.
How did this documentary come together?
Keirda Bahruth: I have been aware of Bob since I was a teenager through his band Thelonious Monster. I was a fan of his band and through that, I came across a record that he put out called “The Bicycle Thief” in 2000. When I heard that record, I was really moved. I knew Bob had a drug problem back in those days and “The Bicycle Thief” is a very autobiographical record, so you could hear a lot of his story. And I became very intrigued with wanting to make a film about him. I knew that there was a really compelling, interesting story, and Bob is very likeable, so I approached him.
Bob Forrest: The Bicycle Thief record really is a document of what happened after the crash – it has a song about the first time I picked up a guitar sober, like really sober after years of trying. And I always feared getting back into music because I thought it would lead back into drugs. A lot of that is on there – that hesitancy. It’s a pretty honest document of what it’s like to survive drug addiction and what it’s like to try to create a second happier life. Then [Keirda] came and asked about the story and the story hadn’t been written yet. That’s why the film kind of ends like what is he doing? [laughs] I like that feeling because I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve got a company. I know that. I’m barely breaking even, I know that. I’ve got a philosophy that’s not very popular, I know that. [laughs]
KB: But you know what, Bob? One of the things that he said to me when I said I want to make a documentary about you, and he said, “that’s great. There’s been a few people that have tried already.” So what had happened there?
BF: There was more of a kind of biopic version of it and then people were compiling things, but why I think the film is so compelling is that there is a developing second act of my life. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “There’s no second acts in American life” – that’s because he’s an alcoholic who died of alcoholism and never had a second chance at life. So my getting sober then is in the process of becoming. And I think that’s documented well in the movie. I’m not an expert about anything. Anybody who says they’re an expert about addiction – how can you be an expert about something so vague? You can generally educate and say this is generally what happens, but I’ve just seen too much [to standardize] what is the thread that goes through this process that people – drug addicts and alcoholics – transform themselves — it’s indefinable. So how can you be an expert about something that’s indefinable? You can be an expert about describing it and describing generally what happens, but there is no cookie cut formula and that’s my problem with the industry itself that says there is a cookie cut formula.This film also isn’t a cookie cutter documentary, using claymation to depict some of Bob’s drug use and since it was filmed over many years, the film’s interviews look to be conducted on several different types of cameras, which give it an interesting texture. Was that something you embraced or was it frustrating over time?
KB: I started to embrace that. I think as time went on, I really had a desire for the film to want to look better, but I really embraced the formats of the ’80s too. I really love the way VHS cam looks. I really love the way Super 16 looks. And it really was just a collective of all these different formats, so the Panasonic camera, the SD camera that we used to shoot Anthony [Kiedis] and a couple of those interviews on, that was the popular camera in 2006. Cut to 2010 when we interview Courtney Love and we’re shooting on an HD cam, then you up-res it all to HD, which is the format now, it’s the great sum of the SD cam that used to look really good. So it was a process that could’ve been disheartening, but I learned to embrace it. And so you know what? This is a story that was told over 30 years and at the end, it gets super clean because we’re in present day and in the ’80s, it was really gritty.
BF: Just as a viewer, I think it’s like the memories of things. Some are cloudy, some are distinct – that’s how I see it. I don’t mind that it shifts all around. It seems to bother film people more than just fans of film. [Pointing to Keirda] She saw some blurriness and I’m like the whole thing is memories and ideas and trying to recapture and trying to show [what happened]. [laughs]
Was it a challenge to balance Bob’s music career with his new career as a drug counselor?
KB: I went on feeling for me because I could’ve gone on for three hours about Bob’s history and then gone on for a lot longer. When I felt like I had told enough of his history and felt like the audience would be able to see how bad Bob’s addiction had been, it was time to get rid of the rest of the footage I had hung onto because all of it was so great and just cut to the chase and get to 1996 where Bob started working in Millie’s [Coffee Shop] and finally got clean.One of the things that is brought up, but feels curiously absent as the film goes on is about Bob’s relationship to his immediate family and his son in particular. Is there a reason why that is?
BF: Some people had comments about that. My family…the idea that…how you can tell what my relationship with my son is comes off in just…I was a bad parent, right? Obviously. So what I tried to do is heal it in the only way it seemed it could organically happen, which is more of a brothership and a camaraderie with him and it comes across, but she [pointing at Keirda] did something that I didn’t like, which is when I laugh with him in the record store [a scene at Amoeba Records in Los Angeles], it’s more focused on me and it doesn’t show our body language and how relaxed we are with each other. [Looks at Keirda] You zeroed in on my face too much where the old shot used to be of us.
KB: Oh, I’ve got you. And let me say as the filmmaker, I had a concern that Bob is a very open soul and a very complicated soul at the same time. So whenever I felt like I would not be able to do justice to a relationship of his because of its complicated nature, I felt like if it was going to be portrayed with too much question and too much broadness or have the ability to be misinterpreted, I tried to stay away from it.
Keirda, you had full editorial control, but when you make this kind of biographical documentary, how much do you see it as a partnership?
KB: I tried to bring Bob in way more than I’ve heard people have. I trust Bob and I care about Bob and I wanted Bob to be comfortable. So when Bob asked to see cuts, I let him see what he wanted to see and when he was uncomfortable with something or something was untrue, we discussed it and we changed it.
BF: Let’s talk about human relationships in general. [My son] Elijah, typical of what we all believe happens when a father is a drug addict and absent from a child’s life then becomes sober to save the day, there’s two narratives that people believe that are both lies. One is that the child hates the father, then rebels against the father. He never did that. One is we live happily ever after. That hasn’t happened either, and rarely does. But everybody wants you to believe these lies and the truth is he’s unresolved about it, I’m unresolved about it and we love one another.
I wrote a song about how one day he’s going to hate me – he doesn’t hate me, but he has every reason to and all the lies of our society tell you he’s going to. It’s very peculiar. He was proud to become a musician. I was like what are you trying to do, kill me? I remember saying that. Like that’s the last thing I want for my child is to go through this fucking hell that me and most of my friends have gone through, whether you succeed or fail. It’s a horrible way of life being a musician in this country.
KB: In terms of Bob’s family, I thought one of the things Bob probably would’ve avoided with me, and he was gracious enough to allow me to film was him and Nancy [his mother, who he was told from an early age was his sister] together. So I felt like that was very uncomfortable and I pushed to make that happen, but I think when he signed on, he signed on for what his life really was.
BF: Yeah, I don’t mind it.
KB: It was just…it was tense.
BF: [laughs] I think that comes across in the film.At the premiere, Bob said he hadn’t seen the last 45 minutes of it and for both of you, was that a nerveracking experience?
BF: That last part because it’s almost impossible to document recovery. Nobody does it well. We have a TV show about it, it’s kind of like all fluff and happy endings. If you go back and you’re a fan of the show, you go back and look at Mike Starr’s narrative at the end of that season. [He appeared as if he kicked his habit.] He died last week on drugs. There’s no happy endings. Just a constant evolution and selfactualization that happens when you recover and it doesn’t fit to the formatted belief system of the American psyche that we all live happily ever after. If we’re all living happily ever after, God help us.
KB: But there’s also a lot of things that are wrong with the recovery industry. According to Bob and according to the research that I’ve done, it’s a movie in itself.
BF: That’s what she discovered and that’s the cut I saw and it was like 45 minutes of trying to explain Suboxone [the drug that’s prescribed to curb addiction instead of therapy]. [laughs] But now she did a great job with this. It’s the story of me through the journey of the record business and the recovery business and I’ll tell you an interesting thing. When the Chili Peppers were taking off way ahead of us, right around “Mother’s Milk” – nobody sold many records – but the Chili Peppers were always ahead of us and when they went from the Palladium to the Greek Theater, that’s a big jump and we were still playing the Palace and the Roxy and playing the same things, most of the music business bases your success or failure on a thing called “butts in the seats.” Well, the recovery industry has another saying, it’s called “heads on beds.” Isn’t that frightening?
KB: That should be the name of the next movie.