Comic Larry The Cable Guy utters the words "Lord, I apologize" during his standup act. These words usually follow some offensive, tasteless joke he has told to the audience. Of course Larry is not really remorseful for what he has said and the crowd realizes his lack of sincerity and applauds (me included). For what Larry has stumbled upon is the hollowness of the modern day public apology. The whole Tiger Woods debacle has brought the spectacle of public apologies into clear focus. As I tuned into my morning news programs on February 19th to get my usual dose of murder, mayhem, and madness I noticed something was missing. It seemed the world had stopped. Had some great cataclysmic event happened? No. Professional golfer Woods would read a prepared statement carefully crafted by PR people, vetted by advisors, amenable to nervous sponsors that would contain an apology for all of his infidelities and transgressions. Afterwards polls would be taken to gauge the public's belief in his sincerity. The public apology has rapidly become part of the American fabric and I do not like it one bit.
On the heels of the Tiger Woods' mess, of course was the David Letterman sex with staffer's imbroglio. A confused and stunned audience didn't know whether to laugh or gasp at Letterman's October 1 on air "confession". An extortion attempt forced Letterman's hand. By going public, he was able to limit any potential damage inflicted by the scandal. That is understandable. However, absent from that confession was any sort of public apology for his actions. Shame on you, someone close to him must have said. Common decency and proper decorum require it. We must extract our pound of flesh. So on October 9th, Letterman wanting badly to put the whole sordid affair behind him felt compelled to issue a public apology to his wife who herself was a former Late Night staffer.
Through all of this scandalous behavior, I've only heard one relevant question being asked. Tom Rinaldi of ESPN was able to ask Tiger Woods on March 21st in an "impromptu" interview the question. "If it's a private matter, why issue a public apology"? That question was one Woods wasn't totally prepared to answer. Oh he tried. The reply was about being a role model…blah…blah…hurting friends and colleagues…blah…blah… All of this leads one to wonder why any sports figure is held up to a higher standard of morality than the general public. They fornicate, prevaricate, and obfuscate just like the rest of us. The public just wants Tiger back on the golf course, sincere apologist or not. Golf sucks without him.
Then there was the very sad public outing of Jesse James's (also known as Mr. Sandra Bullock) affair with a woman who looks like a circus freak (no offense to circus freaks). James felt the need to issue a public apology to People magazine. And why not…people who need people. Sing it Babs.
Then there was… Are you noticing a pattern here? However, the behavior that leads one to issue a public apology is not limited to infidelity or gender. Some may remember tennis star Serena William's profanity laced threat directed at a line judge at last years U.S. Open. Another public apology followed and an offer of a hug to the aggrieved line judge. Williams was fined 10,000 dollars but as one astute commentator pointed out, so what? She has handbags that cost more than that. Other public apologies stem from doping/cheating sports scandals, public drunkenness, illicit drugs, poor job performance, and racially insensitive remarks. Now public apologies are certainly in order for the latter. For when one demeans one race, we're all demeaned.
While revisiting the televangelism scandals of the 80's (and yes I did it so you don't have to) I became fixated on the larger than life figure called Jimmy Lee Swaggert. After being linked to a prostitute at a rundown motel, Swaggert was forced to painfully apologize to not only his congregation but to his family and the Almighty as well. When Swaggert was caught with another prostitute a few years later, his response took a different direction. There would be no apologies, no tears, just a curt statement to his congregation. "The Lord told me it's flat none of your business". Swaggert had finally gotten it right.
If there is anyone who epitomizes my no apologies credo, who would it be? Who would be my poster boy? Probably none other than Swaggert's equally larger than life cousin and perennial hell raiser Jerry Lee Lewis. At 74, Lewis is not raising as much hell as he used to, but he's still performing and raising the roof. His life is a southern gothic tale of fame, fortune, tragedy, decline, resurgence, ultimate survival and tenacity. Lewis didn't invent rock 'n' roll, but he along with Sun records stable mate Elvis Presley helped shape it and take it in a direction where there would be no turning back. He played the piano with abandon and lived his life the same way. His career was derailed in 1957 when Lewis married his then 13 year old cousin Myra Brown which created uproar here and abroad. He was able to jumpstart his career in the 60's by switching to country music. He also recorded what is perceived by influential music critics to be one of the best live albums ever. 1964's Live At The Star Club, Hamburg. detailed in Joe Bonomo's book Jerry Lee Lewis Lost And Found.
Along the way Lewis has tragically lost three wives and two sons and had a near death experience. He has been a womanizer, a boozer, a trouble maker. At times he has made poor song choices. In a bizarre incident in 1976, Lewis crashed into the gate at Graceland – drunk with a loaded .38 pistol. And while watching countless interviews Lewis has done, I've yet to hear one public apology. And I in no way endorse or condone Lewis' behavior over the years. But I do find it refreshing that someone like Lewis doesn't find the need to issue a public confession for every perceived or actual transgression. In a 2007 interview with Don Imus(a man himself who has said things he has had to apologize for) The Killer insisted it's been a good thing to be Jerry Lee Lewis. When pressed by Imus if there was anything he could go back and change, Lewis hesitated for a quick second and responded with a defiant no. For better or worse, he has lived with the choices he's made. I will leave you to your public apologies if you so desire. Leave me to my usual dose of murder, mayhem, and madness. And maybe I'll view it all from the atop of Jerry Lee's piano stool.