“‘So what if I did?’ she said / ‘So what if I did? / I don’t want to account to you– / I don’t wanna account to no one!'” That’s the opening line of the Thelonious Monster album Stormy Weather (coupled on a great two-fer CD with its predecessor Next Saturday Afternoon, linked above), which I hungrily revisited yesterday. There’s something about Bob Forrest’s gutter-snipe whine that’s always struck me as tough, and oddly soulful, and something about his best lyrics that reflect a preoccupation with being held accountable. Sure: in many of his early songs (I’d prefer to forget “Why Don’t You Blow Me and the Rest of the Band?”), his sentiments are punk-callow or worse. But a broad and deep listen, which this CD facilitates, reveals a singer and writer who doesn’t want anything that comes easy, who likes honest admissions and the problems they set up. The response he puts in the mouth of the persona of “So What If I Did”? “I guess you don’t remember what we had / Maybe–maybe–you forgot.” Later on down the records, there are problems not just anyone wrote about: a wayward son fathered in a moment’s passion and ready to square off; a relationship gone very bad but not over yet (“We’ll both feel so relieved / When I walk out the door!”); a parent blithely writing off uprooting a family to “property values”; the fact that Lena Horne is still having to sing “Stormy Weather”; the realization that maybe Paul Westerberg didn’t walk on water. Those are just a few of the conundrums Forrest posed for himself to grapple with. Even when he wasn’t coming up with his own, he didn’t mind covering Tracy Chapman (not the cool move for a Cali punk rocker in the mid-Eighties–not the easy move!), who provided for him a conundrum of her own: two weeks in a Virginia jail for her lover. Even when confronting the emptiness of rock (and maybe of America’s promise to underclass kids), like Forrest does behind the seemingly easy humor of “Sammy Hagar Weekend,” he’s not only cold-eyed, but ultimately compassionate. I’d argue there’s an empathetic ache behind that chorus of “We’re gonna drink some beer / Smoke some pot / Snort some coke / And drive / Drive over 55!” That’s all there is? Maybe–and maybe we thought so, too.
In retrospect, it’s pretty easy to understand how Forrest gravitated toward counseling others as they strove for sobriety: no chance of it happening any easy way.
I love Bob Forrest’s writing and singing. They just don’t age, to my ear, and they never fail to…inspire me. I mean, I’m not sure many folks would place these albums (especially Stormy Weather) next to Sly and the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits on the shelf you reserve for your never-fail restoratives, but I’ve drunk deep and keep coming back.
I am dedicating this blog post to my friend Eric Johnson, who is the only person I know who is as much a fan of Bob as I am, and without knowing it has encouraged loyalty to the man.
Short-shrift Division (Bandcamp “Let The Music Do the Talkin'” Edition):
Winner of my award for the 2017 Album That Just Won’t Quit. I can’t say enough how terrific it is. Guest starring Spider Stacey, Dickie Landry, and some strange and beautiful textures.
I am sure there’s bad music that’s been (and is being) made in Brazil, but there’s a whole lot more that’s irresistibly quirky, attractively off, and eminently danceable. One more in that seemingly inexhaustible tradition.