An outfit that seemed bound for glory but derailed well short of that destination, Los Angeles’ “drunk-rock” band Thelonious Monster ultimately earned less appreciation for its music than notoriety for its lead singer’s self-destructive antics. That long freefall and surprising, almost messianic turnabout are charted in “Bob and the Monster,” Keirda Bahruth’s documentary about music-scene casualty-turned-rehab activist Bob Forrest. This engaging portrait, peppered with plenty of music and archival footage, is slated for a January theatrical launch by Rocket Releasing.
“A real collective of oddballs” almost completely without musical chops when it started, Thelonious Monster emerged in a close-knit mid-to-late 1980s music scene very different from the concurrent hair-metal one, alongside post-punk acts like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction. Offering “bluesy, blistering garage rock,” they were notable mostly for live chaos, until recordings revealed actual songs and a distinctive voice in Forrest, whose lyrics were naked, confessional and stream-of-consciousness. Snarky near-hit “Sammy Hagar Weekend” made the band briefly seem destined for the top.
But success (or just the possibility of it) blew Forrest’s ego, tantrums, stage rants and drug use to stratospheric proportions. He and his bandmates now agree he became “one of the biggest (fill in your own blanks) who ever lived.” Stop if you’ve heard this before: A major-label deal exacerbated tension with other members, as the suits impressed upon the star that he didn’t really need the others in the group; they broke up after just one 1992 album on Capitol. Forrest then squandered a fortune in advance money for a dead-end solo project, winding up homeless, as well as a repeat rehab failure. It was a jail sentence that finally got him sober, and discovering a small community of fellow cleaned-up musicians (many humbly reduced to working in the same diner) kept him that way.
Occasionally dipping back into music (including Monster reunions), he found his mission working with late jazzman Buddy Arnold’s Musicians Assistance Program before co-founding his own counseling organization, Hollywood Recovery Services, last year. Still an over-the-top character, he’s particularly fervent these days in opposing the use of pharmaceuticals — themselves often highly addictive — to treat substance abuse.
Among longtime friends, Courtney Love has a surprisingly poignant moment, tearing up as she relates what a positive influence Forrest has been for her.
Lively package features several different styles of animation (a claymation interlude illustrates Forrest’s first heroin experience), as well as a wealth of performance-based, promotional and other clips from the band’s heyday.