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

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."

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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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."

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