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!'"
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."
One day in 1997, having tiptoed yet again into sobriety, Forrest contacted his old friends at the local concert promotion firm Goldenvoice. He was looking for a job -- maybe as a messenger. Or maybe as anything.
Goldenvoice's response: "You're not a messenger; you're a songwriter." Which is ultimately the job they offered Forrest. The company had just started a label. Did he want to demo some songs? "We all huddled up around here and said, 'Why aren't we doing an album with Bob?'" recalls Goldenvoice's Jim Spizzirri. "We were all very aware of Bob's past, but we also knew the kinda good place that Bob's been in for the last few years too. We knew it was a different Bob than before. And we knew that Bob was someone we wanted to hear more music from. It's a shame that he sat and didn't make a record for something like eight years? That's a crime."
"I thought that music was over for me," says Forrest. "I was too old and too this and too that. I'd burned too many bridges and didn't know how to do it anymore. Or just didn't have the heart to do it anymore. But I still wrote songs. I'd call people on their answering machines and play some for 'em. But I'd basically forgotten how much I like to do it due to all this record business scum you have to go through."
So Forrest began piecing together the album that eventually came to be known as You Come and Go Like a Pop Song. In the process, he also began piecing together -- if unknowingly at first -- the band that eventually came to be known as the Bicycle Thief.
First came Josh Klinghoffer, a then-17-year-old musical wunderkind and a friend of Forrest's girlfriend's younger brother. In Klinghoffer's own words: a "little music dork who lived around the corner, dropped out of high school, and was just playing guitar all day long." Klinghoffer's multi-instrumental talents impressed Forrest, as did his innocence. (Well, innocent maybe, but not stupid. Klinghoffer has managed to stay away from the vices that nearly destroyed his musical cohort's life and career. "I pretty much had enough confidence in myself to know that I wasn't gonna be 'the next Bob Forrest,'" he now says.)
Over the next several months, the duo began working on Forrest's songs and then went into the studio together. Even though this was Klinghoffer's first-ever recording experience, he ended up playing most of the instruments -- guitars, keyboards, and several of the drum tracks. The other drum parts on You Come and Go were laid down by former Geraldine Fibbers drummer Kevin Fitzgerald, who then decided to stick around as the Thief's third member. After the recording sessions were finished, Forrest met Andrew Clark, the bassist from L.A.'s long-gone Campfire Girls, in a restaurant, recruiting him as the band's newest member. Suddenly the lineup was complete.
"We're just refugees from some great failed Los Angeles bands," observes Fitzgerald. Except, of course, Klinghoffer. To which Fitzgerald adds: "Hey, this could be your first great failed band, Josh!"
Still, a new band was not something Forrest had planned. He remains scarred by his last one. "It was too emotional, too hard fighting with people," he admits. "The best you can hope for is you'll eventually sue each other and hate each other if you make a lot of money. Or you'll hate each other because you didn't succeed and end up blaming the other person." Plus, he confesses: "I don't think I'm qualified to be in charge."
Nevertheless, Forrest was well in charge of You Come and Go Like a Pop Song. Released in late September, the effort is a welcome, impressive new chapter -- all indie rock/folk/blues on top of some Beck-like beats. The music here ranges from the chunky, rap-inflected opener "Heart" to the slippery, acoustic "L.A. County Hometown Blues." It's Forrest at his most relaxed, and not just because it's less caustic than the runaway-train approach that was Thelonious Monster. In fact, it feels small and folksy, as though it was created more for the living room than for the outside world, much unlike the Monster's final, multiproducer mishap, Beautiful Mess.
And Forrest's vocals sound as good as ever, his scraggly voice tackling both the full-throttle and the somber with the deep emotion he has always possessed. You Come and Go also features what any longtime fan should expect from this songwriter -- unfiltered journallike lyrics taken from the singer's roller-coaster personal life. And yet it's the songs that glimmer with hope that give the album its greatest impact. In the lilting "Rainin' (4AM)," Forrest finds solace in the tones of soul singer Irma Thomas, much as he did with the sounds of Lena Horne several years ago. And on "Max Jill Called," the album's most pop moment, he revisits the slacker scenery of 1987's bleak "Michael Jordan," but this time with a change of outlook that reflects his place in 1999. In '87, he sang: "Well I watched TV today, that's about all I did/ Started with The Odd Couple, Tony Randall and Jack Klugman/ And I made some coffee, I read the paper and I fed the dog." On "Max Jill Called," however, he offers: "I woke up this morning feeling pretty good/ And pretty good is really good for me/ Had a cigarette, some coffee and some CNN/ And the buses run down Sunset just for me."
"I've got some stories," Forrest says, smiling much like the cat-eating canary. "I'm gonna write a book someday when all those people die. I've made it this far. And I plan to be the last one alive."
The Bicycle Thief performs Thursday, Dec. 16, at 8 p.m. with Stellavision and the Push Stars at Slim's, 333 11th St. (at Folsom), S.F. Tickets are $7; call 522-0333.