Still a Beautiful Mess

Once considered just another L.A. rock casualty, former Thelonious Monster leader Bob Forrest returns to the land of the living with the Bicycle Thief

Here's one of life's lessons that may have passed you by: Never smoke crack before singing the national anthem at a major sporting event.

That's exactly what Bob Forrest did in January 1993. As he told the Los Angeles Times back then, Forrest wanted to perform the song "sad and Civil War-ish" -- that is, as an anti-war commentary. The results were devastating: Forrest delivered a jittery, twice-flubbed, forgotten-word mess in front of thousands of Clippers fans at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Fans booed, and then-Clipper Ron Harper -- who only minutes earlier had praised the lead singer of the indie-rocking Thelonious Monster with a slap on the ass for being what the ballplayer assumed to be the first punk rocker to earn the honor of singing the anthem -- shook his head in disgust. Outside, a couple of Marines reportedly later kicked Forrest's ass as his buddy, Eric Benson (Iggy Pop's son), ran away in fear. Later, Clippers coach Larry Brown blamed the loss of the game on Forrest's painful rendition of the anthem. The local TV sports anchors made fun of it all night long, and talk radio spit out Forrest's soundbite for what seemed like an eternity.

The next morning, Forrest rose and headed to the corner liquor store, as he did most mornings. He came upon a neighbor's dog that he frequently petted during his morning travel in order to "try to feel like a human being for five minutes before the day got rolling," he says. "I was petting the dog, and his owner came running out of his house, yelling, 'Get away from my dog! I'm a Vietnam vet, you cocksucker!'"

The Bicycle Thief: Out of the ashes of Thelonious Monster and addiction.
The Bicycle Thief: Out of the ashes of Thelonious Monster and addiction.

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Bob Forrest has millions of stories like this -- often equal parts funny and sad -- from his days as one of the more notorious fuck-ups in one of L.A.'s more promising, near-great bands. Hang around with him long enough -- hell, for five minutes, even -- and such anecdotes start flowing. There's the time he flew to New York for a weeklong drug binge just because he'd seen a United Airlines commercial. Or the time he silently slipped away from a Monster gig because three of his unpaid drug dealers were in the audience.

Others can rattle off Forrest stories just as easily. There's Bob deliberately running red lights in a car that had a cracked, bloodstained windshield, simply to get a rise out of L.A. punk mainstay Brendan Mullen. There's Bob onstage in Holland, hitting a young fan with a tossed beer can and getting sued for it. And then there's Bob (and partner-in-crime Keith Morris) glomming onto the Replacements (no strangers to excess themselves) and their backstage supply of Jack Daniel's to the point that the Replacements had to devise ways to avoid Forrest. And that's just the on-the-record, PG stuff.

But sitting outside a West Hollywood coffeehouse with the other three members of his new band, the Bicycle Thief, Forrest -- now 38, clean and sober, cigarette burning, his nest of hair dyed red -- says the whole recovering-rock-junkie theme is tired, regardless of the stories he can't resist sharing. "I hate that whole 'Musician stops taking drugs' angle," he says. "Because they really don't stop taking them. All the ones you see on the covers of magazines, they never really do stop taking them. Like Chelsea Grammer or whatever his name is [Kelsey Grammer of TV's Frasier]. That guy, every 18 months, he's on the cover of People magazine -- 'His life's completely changed.' I mean, what the fuck is with that?

"And Scott Weiland and Robert Downey," he adds sardonically. "They're both really doing well."

The Bicycle Thief formed completely by accident. Forrest had been out of the local spotlight for years. During that time, he too had been "really doing well," much like Weiland, Downey, and countless other Hollywood residents, both known and unknown. The turbulent, exhilarating, sometimes awesome, sometimes not-so-awesome ride that had been Thelonious Monster had crashed for the last time after nearly a decade, finally done in by its ascension to major-label-failure status with 1992's Beautiful Mess. In the band's wake were four albums of confessional punk/funk/folk/ blues chaos, mounds of critical acclaim, knockout live shows, dozens of official and one-off members (68 different musicians is one estimate), and plenty of self-destruction, personal strife, awful live shows, jail time, and -- in the case of bassist Rob Graves -- one lethal overdose.

This all happened at the same time that Thelonious Monster's peers -- bands like Jane's Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Fishbone -- lived a life no less decadent but still achieved some serious fame. No matter that several of Forrest's compositions -- "Happy #12 & #35," "Lena Horne Still Sings Stormy Weather," "So What If I Did," "Michael Jordan," "Try," and "Ain't Never Been Nuttin' for Me in This World," among them -- offered a depth and classic craftsmanship far beyond most of the songs his MTV rock star pals were recording. "When your friends are suddenly selling out arenas, selling millions of records -- and perhaps you don't think these people are as talented as you are -- it's got to be weird," says Forrest's longtime friend, former Geffen A&R exec/current Grand Royal Records President Mark Kates. "That's a lot of what I think Bob went through."

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