The documentary Bob and the Monster is blessed with great archival footage of its subject, rock-star-turned-addiction-counselor Bob Forrest. In one scene shot early in his career as he rocketed to stardom on the Los Angeles post-punk scene of the 1980s, a triumphant twentysomething Forrest introduces the viewer to his wonderful life. Showing everyone around his pad with a view of the Hollywood hills, he explains that he can spend all day drinking and getting high because he only works at night.
Maybe it’s simply the money and the schedule that turn successful rock musicians into hopeless junkies. Or maybe it’s something deeper. Forrest explains how he turned to alcohol as a teenager after the collapse of his secure bourgeois childhood in Palm Springs destroyed his sense of self, and briefly examines how he always glamorized heroin and anyone who took it. Worshipping the likes of Jack Kerouac and Jim Morrison, he came to L.A. to surround himself with those whom Kerouac called “the mad ones, mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn …” Forrest wanted to be the centre of something and he was: the lead singer of the influential underground band Thelonious Monster emerges here, in footage and in old interviews, as a charismatic trickster whose risk-taking, manifest in his nakedly honest lyrics and his on-stage antics, won him a following of both fans and peers.
Director Keirda Bahruth never really gets to the bottom of the mystery of addiction, but she does make Forrest’s transformation from star to addict to sage completely compelling. She dwells at length on the 1980s L.A. scene that produced, more famously, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction: she is as convinced as the participants were that this was the centre of the cultural universe.
Her insistence on that makes Forrest’s failure more dramatic, of course, and regular samples of his lyrics do suggest this was a brilliantly tortured soul. There’s rousing footage of early appearances and shocking scenes of his later behaviour: he curls up in a ball on-stage during a concert in the Netherlands, wrapping himself in the microphone cord.
Interviews with his old bandmates show they are still bitter at the way he cheated them of fame and fortune; interviews with such prominent musicians as Bob Frusciante, Anthony Kiedis and Courtney Love speak to both his talent and the inspiring power of his rehabilitation. The material is strong enough that little claymation scenes, showing Bob visiting a dealer to get his very first dose of heroin or sharing a needle with an HIV-infected user, seem twee and unnecessary.
The real Forrest, who has become a fixture on the Celebrity Rehab TV show and now runs his own rehab centre in Hollywood, comes across as a sympathetic straight talker, humble, grounded and wise, and clearly no longer one of the mad ones. Whether his brilliance was a product of the drugs or a victim of them is another mystery Bahruth leaves unplumbed.