May 13, 2008
The character in “The Apologist” is a monster. This isn’t apparent in the first verse — he seems contrite, and genuinely remorseful. As the song progresses, the truth gradually slips out: He’s a delusional narcissist who cannot comprehend why he can’t just be forgiven for his past misdeeds simply because he’s come around to apologizing as part of some 12-step ritual. He’s only concerned with his own emotional well-being, and can’t help but to transform prayer and rehabilitation into a grotesque mockery of atonement. It’s always tempting to go a bit overboard when writing songs from the point of view of toxic hypocrites, but Michael Stipe’s lyrics are nuanced and understated, and are written in such a way that I can imagine that some listeners may even relate to, or at least feel pity for, the character. The tone of the song is rather grim, but there’s a sense of half-formed sadness in its drones and minor key chords that hints at conscience muffled by self-serving insincerity.
A title note: I briefly considered calling this site The Apologist, but decided against it, mainly because I felt it was far too self-deprecating and defensive.