By Heidi Simmons
Running With Monsters
By Bob Forrest
With long orange curls that tuft from under a fedora and thick, black horn-rimmed glasses, Bob Forrest is certainly someone you notice right away. He has an aura about him and it’s not just his colorful hair. You don’t have to know who he is, to know this man has a story to tell. In his new memoir, Running With Monsters (Crown Publishing Group, 240 pages) he chronicles his colorful yet dark past. Speaking at the UCR Palm Desert Arts and Letters Series last week, Forrest candidly shared his experience in a conversation with Program Director Tod Goldberg.
Beyond his eccentric look, it is hard to believe this charismatic and charming man is the notorious drug addict and former front man to the band Thelonious Monster — a counter-culture, punk band from the 80s and 90s. He continues to write and play music, but his fame now is as a certified drug counselor working with Dr. Drew Pinsky. Forrest is passionate about helping those with addiction and improving addiction treatment.
What’s important to understand about Forrest is he is lucky to be alive – and know it. He’ll soon be 53. He has been through rehab 24 times. He talks about dying by overdose more than once. When he came back from the dead after his last OD, he realized for the first time it was because of the drugs! In March, Forrest will be sober 18 years.
“Huck Finn at 120 degrees” is how Forrest describes his early years living in the Coachella Valley. As a kid, when he got bored, he was free to roam the wide-open desert on his ATC. “Memories of the desert in the 60s and 70s are always with me. Wherever you come from, where you grow up, childhood memories just keep coming back. The desert is important to me.”
His family partied here in the desert. Neighbors and friends would come to the house. They had a big rumpus room and music filled the home vibrating the wall of Forrest’s bedroom. His three older sisters listened to the Beatles, David Bowie and the rock ‘n roll of the era. Music became part of his life.
But Forrest’s parents drank and life was up and down. “Our parents fought and it usually centered around alcohol,” said Forrest. “All the crazy stuff around our house was due to alcohol. I loved my dad. Parent relationships, you can see them with a critical eye and you can love them unconditionally and you can see them as larger than life.” His father died in 1976. Forrest has two sons, 27 and three.
“Writing a book is a painful way to look back,” said Forrest. “Thinking about your life and telling the stories. It’s like why didn’t I see that then.” Musicians with a reputation as terrible drug addicts and alcoholics like Shane MacGowan of the Pogues and Paul Westerberg of the Replacements, didn’t want to work with Forrest because of his problems with addiction. They feared he was going to die. “I was puzzled by the confusion over what the real problem was. They were the ones with the big problem. It never dawned on me,” said Forrest. “Denial is a perfect combination of thoughts in your head. It’s hopeful optimism.”
Forrest suggests asking a user about his or her game plan rather than arguing if they are an addict or not. He attacks their hopeful optimism. “That will usually bring a clear idea of the craziness of their lifestyle,” said Forrest. That worked on him. He was asked about a job and he said he was a musician. When they asked when he played last or made an album, he was challenged to remember, since it had been several years back. “To me, in my fantasy denial world, it was just three weeks ago.”
Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers was instrumental in Forrest — and others in their circle of friends — getting sober. “He was so far out ahead of us as a drug addict that we used him as a comparison. We’d say, ‘If I ever get as bad as Anthony then I’ll stop,’” said Forrest. “Then he [Kiedis] stopped and got sober.” Kiedis arranged for Forrest’s first treatment program.
“Most addicts can get sober. It’s a question of when,” said Forrest. “My own witness with thousands of addicts and the hundreds of friends I have. They can get sober.” Forrest cautions family members about the “for profit” business of recovery. He warns families who are willing to pay any amount of money to help their loved one. “Just because it’s expensive, doesn’t mean it’s more effective,” he said. “Not only don’t you get the best, you don’t even get mediocre. It’s a strange phenomenon in our economy that we’re not used to. You can trust a nonprofit.”
Kiedis went on to change 50 to 60 people’s lives in a few years at the Salvation Army in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Forrest believes one-to-one personal treatment is most effective in recovery.
When Forrest finished talking with Goldberg, he picked up his guitar and played “Cereal” — a song from Bicycle Thief –- about how drugs destroyed his health and life. Singing was a gift he wanted to share with the UCR audience.
Forrest is animated and glad to be alive. Signing books after the program, a woman asked that he inscribe his memoir to a young man in his fourth round of rehab. Forrest signed ‘I,’ drew a heart followed by the word ‘life’, then, ‘I hope you do too’ and put down his personal phone number so the young man could call and talk with him anytime.
For Forrest, overcoming addiction was a monster achievement and it is now his mission to help as many as he can to recover their lives.