Music writer Dave Bry, so blatantly riding off SorryWatch’s international fame (they love us in Italy, they love us in Brazil, they’ve heard of us in France), has written a book called Public Apology: In Which a Man Grapples with a Lifetime of Regret, One Incident at a Time.
Fair enough, Mr. Bry. It’s not like we copyrighted apology. And if we did own the copyright, we would give it away, so that MORE PEOPLE COULD TRY IT.
(Or what if we sold the copyright, and used the money to do summer camps for surly teens to learn how to say they’re sorry, plus wilderness skills, taking only a wee percentie off the top for our expenses, salaries, and second homes…? No, no, no. Though I do think parents would pay big money to send their monsters off and get back youths who can raft whitewater and think of the feelings of others. Oh, I’ve got a million ideas.)
Few of Bry’s apologies are real apologies. Mostly they’re excuses to tell stories about himself. He strings 50 stories together to make a memoir, heavy on musical references.
Each story starts with an apology. “Dear Judy Gailhouse, Sorry for letting your children watch The Amityville Horror.” “Dear Bon Jovi, Sorry for throwing empty beer cans on your lawn.” “Dear Drivers of Cars Driving onto the Gooseneck Bridge in Oceanport, New Jersey, That Day at the End of the Summer of 1990, Sorry my father and I almost killed you with a runaway boat.”
Then the story is told, usually with no further mention of remorse.
The Amityville Horror anecdote is about being a teenager surly after having been grounded for holding a forbidden party during which alcohol was drunk, things like doors were broken, an explosion took place in a microwave (deliberate, metal fork), and the drapes got covered with peanut butter. A “Dude, we were so wasted” boast.
The Bon Jovi one is about Bry’s mixed feelings about Bon Jovi and such things as the lyrics to “Wanted Dead or Alive.” (Ridiculous/silly/lovable/part of New Jersey.) So: “Dude, we were so out-of-control.”
A few of the apologies are real, not just pretexts. The runaway boat story is about Bry being with his father who was ill with terminal cancer. It ends with a note of deep sorrow – for not having helped his father more. It’s not really about the other drivers. Bry’s relationship with his father is a continuing theme.
There are funny bits. I enjoyed his apology to a sixth-grade classmate for trying to make him bow to Bry’s Jim Morrison poster – “You were right to throw those socks.” It comes with bonus anecdote about being grounded (2 weeks) by his father for not doing his English class final paper on Morrison on the grounds that “Jim wouldn’t do homework.”
I liked “Dear Visiting Music Professor Who Taught History of Jazz at Connecticut College, Spring Semester 1990, I’m sorry for comparing Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue to Bob Seger’s ‘Turn the Page.’” Even though the confessions of missing most classes due to oversleeping and never bothering to drop the course end with the assertion that “I became perhaps the first person in the history of college to actually fail History of Jazz.” (Not so, I will bet cash money.)
This format is good for storytelling, not so good if you want people to like you. He makes many apologies for being a jerk, and what sticks in the mind is, “Okay, that was jerky,” “Jerk!” “What a jerk!” Overall, the book makes one of the classic apology mistakes: Too much about the feelings of the person apologizing.
So he sets himself up as an unlikable narrator. But there wasn’t much chance for me to like Bry after the episode headed, “Dear T., Sorry for telling you what I was thinking about when you asked me what I was thinking about.”
Time: junior year of college. Scene: T’s bed, after sex. Bry and T had been fooling around for a few weeks, sleeping together intermittently, having “good, healthy, casual fun.” T asked, “What are you thinking about?” After a pause, Bry said “I was thinking I was worried about your feelings being hurt. Because I don’t know that I see this relationship lasting very long.” (No indication that T did, either.)
Bry addresses the towering jerkiness of this reply. “I thought I was being good and noble and respecting you more as a person by telling the whole, honest, undiluted truth. I was not. I was being an asshole.”
Correct. The problem is that this apology is not to T in person, it is in a book. And my experience of life suggests that when a person confesses mournfully that they have been a rat/a cad/an asshole to a nice person WHOM they’ve slept with – they are boasting. Which is the act of a cad. Or jerk.