Director Keirda Bahruth and the subject of her documentary, Bob Forrest. Photo courtesy of Hot Docs.
The tragic rock star arc—from struggle to success to some manner of addiction to spiritual tailspin—is more than just Behind the Music boilerplate. It’s the stuff of myth; like Aesop’s fables for generations fuelled by celebrity and self-immolation. And as frontman and songwriter for critically acclaimed LA post-punkers Thelonius Monster, Bob Forrest was precisely the kind of person that this culture can reward with a weird form of self-destructive stardom.
Cavorting with members of Jane’s Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and notorious for his heroin and cocaine addictions (he’d often try to score from audience members while on stage), Forrest gained attention as much for the cleverness of his lyrics as his caustic antics. But then he got sober—and started helping other people get sober. And now he’s the subject of Keirda Bahruth’s Bob and the Monster, a documentary that comes to Toronto as part of (you guessed it) this year’s Hot Docs festival. And while the rock-star rise-and-fall narrative may be well worn, Bahruth’s film is enlivened by Forrest’s candour and forthrightness, especially with regards to his struggles with addiction. “I got into drugs like most people in the music scene in the ’80s, and ended up on heroin and coke,” Forrest recalls over the phone. “I did that for years until I ruined everything in my life. And if you don’t die you end up coming to grips with it and stopping. It’s literally black and white.”
Now Forrest is the head counsellor at the Pasadena Recovery Centre in California (a position that often sees him showcased on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew) and the Chemical Dependency Program director at Las Encinas Hospital. “Once I got sober and turned my life around,” he says, “I started working with people. I liked it. And I liked helping people do the same thing.”
Seeing Forrest come around in Bob and the Monster is interesting. But what lingers more pointedly is, strangely, how Forrest’s antics represent the old guard of rock ‘n’ roll. In a way, there’s a throwback quality about Bob Forrest’s brand of drug-addled rock decadence, especially in an indie-rock, sweater-wearing epoch that’s more about kitschy feather necklaces than belts strapped around your arm, and more about abusing African polyrhythms and handclaps than opiates and LSD.
“There was a whole generation of people who were really affected by the whole mythology of rock ‘n’ roll, drugs, sex, and decadence. And I was one of them,” says Forrest. “It started with Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix and all those ’60s icons who died from drugs. Then it got picked up by the punk movement, and Sid Vicious, and then we—the Chili Peppers and all those people—we carried the torch from the punk-rockers to what became alternative music. And then Kurt Cobain carried it into the world. There’s a whole lineage. It’s rock ‘n’ roll mythology. Young people don’t seem that much interested in it. That’s peculiar, to me. There’s no generation picking it up where Kurt Cobain left it off.”
Maybe it’s because of people like Bob Forrest, who are open and bald-faced about the dangers of addiction, that kids today stay off the horse. (That and MDMA making a comeback as the drug du jour.) But even still, there’s something about that mythology that Forrest seems nostalgic about as he makes plans to come to Toronto for the Hot Docs screenings of Bob and the Monster (he’s also performing at the Horseshoe). “I used to go through there with the band all the time,” Forrest says of the city. “Toronto to me is where Keith Richards got busted.”
Bob and the Monster screens at Hot Docs beginning May 4, at 9 p.m., TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 (350 King Street West). For showtimes and our review, click here. Bob Forrest will be performing at the Horseshoe Tavern (370 Queen Street West) at 11 p.m. on May 4. Tickets are $5, or free with your Bob and the Monster ticket stub.
For complete coverage, including capsule reviews of most feature films, head over to our handy Hot Docs hub.