As a 17-year-old high school student in Little Silver, New Jersey, Dave Bry drove to nearby resident Jon Bon Jovi’s house and spent the night chugging beers and throwing empties on his lawn. “You know how sometimes you tell the day by the bottle that you drink, and then other times when you’re alone all you do is think?” Bry writes in his hilarious and heartbreaking new memoir, Public Apology. “Well, sometimes when you’re seventeen, and a world-famous rock star who is famously from the state where you live but whose music you strongly dislike buys a fancy house on a cul-de-sac in the next town over from yours, you find out where that house is and drive there with a bunch of friends and sit outside in your car and drink beer and throw empty cans over the fence into the rock star’s lawn. Like three times.”
It’s just one highlight of Public Apology: In Which a Man Grapples with a Lifetime of Regret, One Incident at a Time, released last month by Grand Central. Bry, who has worked as a writer and editor for Vibe, Spin and The Awl, confronts the questionable behavior of his debauched, boozy youth – from slipping a beer cap into his high school principal’s hand to losing his virginity with a friend’s girlfriend – with an adult perspective. “You’re forty-eight, I’m almost forty,” Bry reasons in his letter to Bon Jovi. “Everything is more complex than we think it is when we’re kids, right?”
Bry’s began documenting his regrets after losing his job as an editor at XXL. “2009 and much of 2010 were pretty dark years,” he tells Rolling Stone. “It sort of seemed pretty clear that a lot of journalism jobs were going on to the Internet. I sort of thought, ‘Gosh, maybe I should start looking in to this, you know?” Shortly thereafter, he began writing a column for The Awl. “I was thinking about what I’d tell my friends over beers – self-deprecating stories about stupid stuff that I’ve done, [using] the form of an apology as an entry-way into writing stories.” But as time passed, he adds, “Some of them started to get poignant.”
The book is a window into growing up in the late Eighties, when John Hughes films and Def Leppard ruled the world. Bry recalls making out with five girls on senior skip day at the Asbury Park Boardwalk as Joan Jett and the Blackhearts played a daytime show with George Thorogood. “That day glows in my memory like no other,” he says. Bry apologizes to everyone, from his school secretary for having a female friend poorly pose as his mother so he could cut school to see Sting at Madison Square Garden in 1988, to a jazz history professor at Connecticut College, who graded Bry’s paper comparing Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue to Bob Seger‘s “Turn the Page.” The music of Bry’s youth runs through the memoir, from his childhood worshipping The Doors to the moment Bob Mould gave him the finger after Bry belligerently shouted during a solo-acoustic set.
But the book digs deeper: As Bry partied through his senior year of high school, his father was diagnosed with cancer, which spread throughout his body. Bry details his trouble coping, from dabbling with cocaine to drinking heavily, and recounts one especially heartbreaking scene when he helps his sick dad tie up their 26-foot cabin cruiser. The boat later came loose on a highway, crashing into a chain-link fence. “That was the experience that I’ve always had in my head of this story,” Bry says of his father’s death. “It’s probably the most interesting thing that has happened in my life.”
His twenties were similarly rough. He failed out of Connecticut College (he eventually graduated), moved to San Francisco, and eventually wound up in New York, where he found an identity working at Vibe magazine. “I loved the atmosphere. I loved the staff. It was so exciting. I was still fucking up a lot of thing in my life, but the fact is that I sort of found a home at Vibe.”
Bry’s confessions continue into fatherhood, and he acknowledges his life is still a work-in-progress. “I spend a lot of time looking back at things I regret,” he says. “I try to get better [by] looking back at the ways that I screwed up. But, at the same time, I’m pretty forgiving. I’m very forgiving of other people, and I think that comes out of being pretty forgiving with myself.”