Before he was the sage of Celebrity Rehab, Bob Forrest was a notoriously drugged-out singer on the LA punk-rock scene. Now he's clean and devoted to helping save others. Meet addiction's unlikely idol.
Bob Forrest probably spends as much time talking to, thinking about, and helping addicts as I spend breathing. And I am an excellent breather; I’m doing it right now, while typing. Meanwhile, Forrest is probably out there somewhere coaxing an addict from the brink of death in a sloppy bathroom along a sketchy strip of California highway, simultaneously texting another addict in Beverly Hills with a stay-in-sober-living-you-idiot message, and all the while mentally rewriting his personal addiction epistemology. We each have our talents is all I’m saying.
Still, most people under 30 might be surprised to learn that the funky be-hatted, bespectacled Brahmin sitting next to Dr. Drew Pinsky on most episodes of VH1’s Celebrity Rehab—now simply Rehab—has a past. In fact, the famed addiction counselor is the star of a feature documentary that shows a new side of Dr. Drew’s favorite wingman: the drug addict rock star. You see, prior to his current incarnation as addiction oracle, Bob Forrest was an active addict himself. And active addicts, as you know, behave rather differently than sober ones.
So meet the other Bob Forrest: Before the new millennium, he was the lead singer and songwriter for the punk band Thelonious Monster, which was perched on the brink of Big Fame for more years than most bands even exist. Forrest was (and still is) best friends with the guys in the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction and Fishbone and just about every other LA punk band that initially made it big in the 1980s. And yet, time and again, Forrest was bedeviled by addictions that make Keith Richards’ battle appear tame (yes, really).
There’s no way of separating out the lifestyle from the art when your heroes are Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson.
In Bob and the Monster, Keirda Bahruth lays out an extraordinary portrait of Forrest in a documentary that is part rock doc, part recovery doc. By using incredibly vivid footage, the audience meets a young, charming Forrest on his way up—making records with his friends (Flea produced Thelonious Monster’s demo) and living out his rock fantasy (girls, beer, art, road trips, the usual). But that image is all too fleeting: Soon Forrest is climbing the scaffolding around the stage at a stadium show in what can only be viewed as a disquieting and very public attempt to kill himself. And so the film morphs into a chronicle of one really, really determined drug fiend. But perhaps that is the through line between the active addict Bob and the sober addict Bob: dedication. As the film continues, Forrest emerges as an advocate, activist, and counselor.
These days, he only rages against the rehab machine. Now that’s punk rock.
While watching the film, I was struck by your desire to become a junkie, as though that’s what being cool meant.
For me, it was art—what art represented and what an interesting life represented. There’s no way of separating out the lifestyle from the art when your heroes are Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson. How are you going to screen that out when you’re 15 or 16? It becomes this package, and you just enter into that world because you want that interesting life. Everyone I know was like that.
But now it’s a generation later and no one wants to be a junkie.
Yes, no one. I have a theory of why kids aren’t like that anymore: Because art is so awful. When I was a kid and you went to the movie theater, Chinatown was playing and Lenny and The Parallax View, and you could see really creative movies at a regular movie theater down the street. Now it’s awful. My pet peeve of life? I sit at fundraisers and art openings where grown adults are talking about cartoons as if it’s a serious thing. “Have you seen Transformers? Have you seen Iron Man?” I’m like, “No, I don’t go see child movies.” Now that’s all they make. It’s the lowest common denominator in this country.
But I will say this: If you look at me, John [Frusciante], Anthony [Kiedis], Perry [Farrell], we’re all kind of spoiled brat, late baby boomers who were spoiled by our parents and grew up in some sort of affluence or upper middle class. That’s part of why I’m so good at dealing with these rich snotty kids—because I am a rich snotty kid.
When did you figure out that the drugs and the art were not necessarily inextricably bound? That you could have the art without the drugs?
It really took me a long time. When John Frusciante [former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist] and I were living together up on Hollywood Boulevard—which is the house where Johnny Depp made the 12-minute Stuff movie—I realized in a moment of clarity that we weren’t making records. We weren’t creating any more. We weren’t doing anything and we hadn’t been doing anything for years. Then, I had other friends who were still doing things, like Johnny Depp. I realized, he doesn’t do drugs like we do. He’s not like us.
The realization that we weren’t doing anything and we hadn’t for a long time—it came full circle: “Oh my God. We’re supposed to be making records and playing music.” Whatever you do in your private life is your own business, but when that just takes over and becomes everything, which is what happened to me and a bunch of my friends, that is the destructive nature of addiction. It’ll kill you.
I also realized later, when I read Keith Richards’ book, Keith Richards was a skin popper! [That is, he injected drugs under the skin, not into a vein.] If I would’ve known, that would’ve been tremendously valuable to me! Here I am thinking I’m Keith Richards and he’s just maintaining his habit and making records and touring. I’m shooting a speedball every 20 minutes for five years thinking I’m Keith Richards. We were under the assumption that we were doing things the way our heroes did things. But we were a new hybrid of drug addicts. It was a street drug addict in the art world.
When Charlie Sheen was having his crazy kind of wackiness, he said something that was pretty funny, which was, “I make Mick Jagger and Keith Richards look like school girls.” It’s probably true!