Press Release (ePRNews.com) - BIRMINGHAM, England - Jun 14, 2017 - From litcrit2024.wordpress.com
Conventional apologies are hard to forgive. Why? Because the essence of a good apology is the taking of responsibility for what one has done wrong, but something in the human mind is drawn to rationalizations, and this often turns our apologies into justifications. Perhaps worse, apologies are supposed to heal the person that got hurt, but they often end up as acts of self-healing, of appeasing our own conscience rather than the person we apologize to. Take Willie Nelson’s cover of Always on My Mind (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDGiSoLIG8I) and Hoobastank’s The Reason (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGs8vtjDxxY).
I think the first song is an apology done right, the second an apology done conventionally, and actually wrong, on a moral and artistic level. The first is genuine and the second whiny, but I don’t think this is simply a function of the singer – in part, I think the first set of lyrics is a more honest apology. The second is our usual mode of apologizing, which is perhaps the reason songs like “It’s too Late to Apologize” exist in the first place.
Consider the Reason:
I’m not a perfect person
There’s many things I wish I didn’t do
But I continue learning
I never meant to do those things to you
Please, don’t ever apologize like that to anyone. Before any expression of remorse, there is a sense that our singer really feels justified by his flawed human condition. Then, regret itself takes the rather vague circumlocutionary form of “many things I wish I didn’t do”. Of course, as this song is more about Hoobastank than about his so-called “Reason”, it moves directly to the rather boastful statement of “I continue learning,” a sense that really he has become a better person by hurting our poor addressee. Sadly, when he does not blame his misdeeds on the human condition, he treats them as mere unmeant accidents. When we come to an explicit apology, things don’t get much better:
I’m sorry that I hurt you
It’s something I must live with every day
No, really, this is too much – you hurt someone, apparently badly enough to write a song about it, and then you bemoan what you have to live with?? Consider how much better the song would have been if the lyrics read:
I’m sorry that I hurt you
It’s something you must live with every day.
But Hoobastank doesn’t have that grand a spirit. Even when he seems to take responsibility, with “all the pain I put you through”, there is a Stockholm-like self-indulgence in the image of him catching all the tears he has caused. Indeed, I think what made this song so popular is that the chorus is so surprising: “and the reason is you”, coming from someone so self-entertained, is quite the plot-twist. Please, Willie, come and redeem the genre.
Maybe I didn’t love you
Quite as often as I could have
Maybe I didn’t treat you
Quite as good as I should have
If I made you feel second best
Girl I’m sorry I was blind
You were always on my mind
It may seem like Willie is hedging his bets with his “maybe”‘s, but you hear his broken voice and you know he has nothing but regret, and that the “maybe’s” are not meant to excuse him, but rather the opposite – to ensure that the apology covers every scope of offense. Notice how these lyrics, rather than justifying the singer, condemn him: “I should have’s” being much stronger statements of remorse than “I’m not a perfect person.” It may seem that “I was blind” is not that far from “I never meant to do those things to you,” but Willie’s statement sounds more self-incriminating, and so less comfortable than Hoobastank. People rarely mean to hurt other people, but to notice that you were blind, that you really could have known that you would hurt a person – this is a much more profound state of reconciliation. In fact, I fell in love with this song because it took a generic line of excuse and turned it on its head. Normally, we say to each other: ” I just didn’t have the time – sorry!” but Willie is too regal for such a line, and his version does not allow for even the semblance of justification:
Little things I should have said and done
I just never took the time.
To admit wrong-doing wholeheartedly is noble, but to pass up an opportunity for an excuse that has been so widely accepted it has become a social truism – this is the stuff of kings, and kingly songs.
Now, the main line of the song is the title, inevitably. Structurally, it is identical to Hoobastank’s “but I continue learning”, it is a form of distancing the singer from the space of hurt by claiming he is good in other respects. But what a difference a “but” makes! If Hoobastank didn’t have it, life would have been easier for his song. Let’s do some bad editing, and add the word to Willie’s line:
Girl I’m sorry I was blind
But you were always on my mind.
With that “but,” you swallow up the regret in an air of self-contentment. How much richer, to have the two coincide! The reason this song is so incredible is that the justification is never allowed a place of prominence over the remorse. You are not allowed to hear, the singer does not allow himself to say, “you were always on my mind,” without simultaneously thinking “I’m sorry I was blind.” That is art, and also the best way to be human.
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Musings on Music