Sorry (live, 1991).

By late 1991, Hunt Sales was no longer the character who had come to public notice on Tin Machine. Then his brooding looks and shoulder-length locks had made him the Machine’s most striking visual, while his sardonic Catskill-comedian personality let him dominate interviews. Two years later, he looked washed out, vampirish, sporting a new set of tattoos, a crop of bleached hair and a pair of sunglasses seemingly affixed to his face. He still made wisecracks, acted the cut-up, but something was off about him at times. He had a nervous, jittery energy; he could seem like a man in a fever.

Bowie biographies generally concur that Hunt had issues with drugs around 1991, which would become a factor in the collapse of Tin Machine (David Buckley quoted Carlos Alomar that Bowie was “depressed because of his inability to deal with that drug problem…It’s a terrible blow when you find out one of the band members is lying to you and, most importantly, lying to himself“; Paul Trynka quotes Eric Schermerhorn, the rhythm guitarist on the 1991-92 tour: “I think [Bowie] watched Hunt self-destruct and I think it angered him, in that he was trying to help him.“). Bowie has never commented publicly about it, though the coldness of his post break-up statements—“Reeves Gabrels will continue to work with me. The Sales brothers will not”*—suggests that he thought a firm separation was required.

Bowie had become anti-drug by the time of Tin Machine II‘s release, especially once he had met Iman in late 1990 and had committed to clean life—he called himself “a former drug addict” in interviews and once snarled about the Happy Mondays: “you look at them with their pro-drug stance and you look at Magritte, who never touched anything other than a pipe in his life, and you wonder who came off better.” And as Tony Sales had been sober for over a decade, not even touching beer or wine, there was little sympathy for Hunt from even the fraternal quarter of the band.

So in this context, Hunt’s self-penned self-lament “Sorry” has some real pathos to it, especially at the start of the closing verse: I guess I’ve thrown it away. It’s a continual fuck-up’s apology, as pathetic as it’s desperate, and with a touch of defiance—after all, it’s the voice of the man who had intended to tattoo “It’s My Life, So Fuck Off” on his back (the pain proved too much even for Hunt, so he stopped after the first three words). So “Sorry” ranges from the classic melancholic key of B minor in the verses to a combative C major in the “I’m sorrrry!” refrain (via an odd shift from G major to G minor during the last pleas in the verses).

Originally tried out as an uptempo rocker in the brief 1989 tour, its revision as an acoustic ballad didn’t really gel—“Sorry” winds up as one long, dreary meander. With Hunt’s vocal a study in abasing neediness, and with the song’s unabashed sincerity, “Sorry” seemed wildly out of place on a Bowie record; it’s like a tap-dance routine appearing in the middle of a Bond movie. Still, Bowie’s somber backing vocals and saxophone, and his and Gabrels’ guitars (Gabrels offering some haunting harmonics) add some restraint and nuance to the recording.

There’s no point in going on too much about the many failings of “Sorry.” Just take it for what it is: a strange, sad footnote in Bowie’s collective work.

Recorded ca. September-October 1989 (with possible overdubs in 1990-91) at Studios 301, Sydney. Performed live on both Tin Machine tours. I haven’t heard the original rocking version from ’89, and am curious to, so if anyone has a copy let me know.

* In an interview with Uncut in 1999, Bowie said that “personal problems with [Tin Machine] became the reason for its demise. It’s not for me to talk about them, but it became physically impossible for us to carry on. And that was pretty sad, really.

PS: Ask and Ye Shall Receive Dept.: So thanks to Xianrex, I’ve heard the ’89 rock version. It’s not bad—probably on the whole slightly preferable to the studio version. The lyric’s pretty much the same, and Hunt’s lamenting vocal sounds jarring when soaring against the Machine playing a slack variation of the “Lust for Life”/”Can’t Hurry Love” beat. Lots of Gabrels’ needling guitar, including a climactic 32-bar wailfest of a solo.

Top: John Cusack and Angelica Huston, The Grifters (Frears, 1990).

19 Responses to Sorry

  1. Brendan O'Lear says:

    Perfect last paragraph. Could apply to so many of the recent entries.

  2. princeasbo says:

    I thought the point of PAOTD was precisely to “go on too much” 🙂

  3. In the Tin Machine segment of Uncut’s special all-Bowie issue (yeah I know, “which one?”), they mentioned Tony going to AA towards the end of the Tin Machine era as one of the reasons for the band’s demise. Questionable journalism or a case of both brothers being equally at fault? The correct answer, of course, is meh.

    That said, I also remember reading somewhere that Hunt wound up meeting Corey Feldman in rehab, leading to them collaborating on something called Corey Feldman’s Truth Movement. I swear to god I am not making this up.

    Lastly, thank you for writing a classy, insightful summation of a song that invites nothing but low blows. My stock response to it has always been “like finding a Hallmark card in a book of Anaïs Nin erotica” but the tap-dancing-in-a-James-Bond-film comparison is also quite apt.

  4. Mike says:

    I’ve been avoiding this song for 20 years. Just listened to it for the first time ever. Sounds like Pink Floyd. Yawn.

  5. Xianrex says:

    I have a copy of the uptempo “Sorry” from ’89 – let me know if you’re still interested!

  6. Maj says:

    This song would work well as background music/closing music in a TV show (Closer-like).
    I’ve heard worse from TM, I don’t mind this as much. But I won’t be re-listening to it any time soon either.
    Any idea how Hunt’s doing these days?

  7. Diamond Duke says:

    Okay, Hunt Sales is no David Bowie. But then again, Ringo Starr is no John Lennon or Paul McCartney (or for that matter, George Harrison) either. So I’m not going to judge either Stateside or Sorry too harshly. Having said that, I think that col1234 is absolutely correct when he refers to Sorry as merely a footnote in Bowie’s story. I personally don’t think either song is outright awful, but in the context of Tin Machine II overall, they’re filler at best. Stateside is kind of a lumbering, generic heavy blues-rock number (albeit with some funny lyrical contribution from Bowie), while Sorry is basically a low-key rock ballad, albeit perhaps a little closer to the bone than most.

    The interesting thing is, I once read a Tin Machine article in a 1991 issue of RIP Magazine (Hell yeah! That was, like, my freaking bible back in the day…) where David referred to Sorry as being his favorite track on the record. (And knowing Bowie, he probably meant it quite sincerely at the time!) He very much identified with the song’s lyrics, and related very much to what it was about, having gone through his own nightmarish experience with drug addiction in the mid-70’s. In fact, the thing which somewhat elevates the song ever so slightly above the generic is Bowie’s sympathetic contribution of backing vocals (the words sound like “I’m so tired / Time to die / I’m sorry, so sorry, so sorry…”) as well as some wonderfully melancholic saxophone. It’s actually rather similar to the way John Lennon’s lyrical contribution to the Beatles’ She’s Leaving Home – expressing the viewpoint of the girls’ parents – elevates Paul McCartney’s song above simply being a sentimental ballad of a lonely girl. (Not that Sorry is anywhere even close to She’s Leaving Home, mind you! I’m just saying the effect is rather similar in that it kicks the emotional factor up another level.)

    Also, in the same interview, he also mentioned somebody else he knew who was going through a really hard time with drug addiction and was in danger of completely blowing it. He wouldn’t identify this person by name, although I think he did say this person was in his late twenties. (This would rule out Hunt, but I’m assuming this was a collective band interview and that his remarks were perhaps aimed slightly sideways at him.) I’m going to guess the person Bowie was referring to was actually Slash, from Guns N’ Roses – who was struggling with heroin addiction at the time.

    (As most people probably know, Slash’s mother Ola Hudson was the costume designer on The Man Who Fell To Earth and was conducting an affair with Bowie at the time, so Bowie and Slash knew each other fairly well and probably caught up with each other again in the late ’80s – presumably during the making of the Sweet Child O’ Mine video. There’s a really funny story involving a fracas between Bowie and Axl Rose during this period, but it’s a tale for another time. I think I’ve taken up too much space here already…! 😉

    • Diamond Duke says:

      Whoops! Another boldface/italics mistake…

      “Having said that, I think that col1234 is absolutely correct when he refers to Sorry as merely a footnote in Bowie’s story. I personally don’t think either song is outright awful, but in the context of Tin Machine II overall, they’re filler at best.”

      Fixed! 😀 (If only one could go back and fix mistakes here…)

  8. humanizingthevacuum says:

    So did Bowie stop drinking entirely after the eighties? He didn’t even drink socially? I find it hard to believe he and Iman wouldn’t order an expensive Beaujolais to accompany dinner.

    • Roman says:

      Apparently he gave it up around the time of BTWN (1993). There are many anecdotes of him being a messy drinker in the 80’s – Tony Parsons has often written about hanging out with an intoxicated Bowie about 85-86 in London clubs. And Bowie has called himself a terrible drunk.
      However who knows what and when he gave up. He said he was finished with coke in the late 70’s and yet he was still taking it during the Serious Moonlight Tour, The Absolute Beginners sessions and on the Glass Spider Tour.
      More recently he claimed to be off cigarettes since about 2000. However there was an interview/photo session with Bowie and Kate Moss during the Heathen period where he takes her cigarette and greedily feeds on it. Plus one of the recent bio’s mention Bowie skulking around backstage on the Reality tour sneaking a smoke before show time.

    • My understanding from a colleague who worked at the Essex House during the period when Bowie and Iman lived there is that Bowie went all in on sobriety including using the Twelve Steps, which he would frankly talk about with staff (though it was unclear to me whether he ever attended metings.) At the time (this was late-90s) she also described him as very warm and healthy looking If he still subscribes to AA methods that would mean total abstention, but it is possible to be in recovery without being AA.

  9. David L says:

    When I first heard this song I interpreted it as Hunt’s apology to the many rock groupies he’d “loved” and left while on his travels. (“time is tight, love always gets in the way”) Which makes it unintentionally hilarious in its apparent sincerity, coming from an obvious egomaniac. “sorry babe, I know I’m irresistible, but it’s time for me to go bag the next babe in the next city. It’s me, not you,” etc.

  10. sunrayjahchild says:

    i do like these comparisons, don’t i. i can see another drummer, from another time, another band, hating himself, hated by his band, including siblings, making a grab for the mike and … connecting with the fans in a way the rest of the band didn’t anymore… but then again, hunt sales ain’t dennis wilson

  11. david says:

    I think you went far too easy on this turgid piece of shmaltz, but I get that you might like to play devils advocate on easy targets from time to time.
    Still, it doesn’t stop the fact that one of the core reasons Tin Machine was and is leathered in the press,is as a result of allowing this rancid turd to stain the Bowie cannon.

    I had the joy of being at a TM gig in Liverpool, when one of the Sales’s sang ‘Go Now’ to which an audience member shouted at the key moment, ‘go on then, fuck off!!’.

    To my surprise, our man tried to suppress a hearty giggle.

  12. tin man says:

    Before maligning Hunt Sales like many guys since many many years defining themselves as real genuine Bowie fans (sure of their solid knowledge of the “Generalist” & full of Their “bon goût”, think, yes think he was the drum force behind Iggy’s Lust For Life & the half part of the same Ig’s best rhythm section Osterberg used as sidemen… ever. Don’t forget this guy hit the toms 52 years ago when aged 6. As the son of Soupy Sales he had the opportunity of knowing Buddy Rich who said to him “don’t play the rhythm, be the rhythm !”, Shelly Manne, Art Blakey & even Gene Krupa (what a team, just huge stars!)…
    Tin Man adore the way he plays & admire the man a lot.
    He is born march 2nd 1954… i first saw the light of day the 3rd of march 1969 (OK!… année érotique!).
    Another thing about Hunt: his voice, great real R’n’B voice. You have to admit one evidence, if you don’t you’re not sincere: there’no real difference between the way Hunt sings & the kind of Samuel David Moore vocals, i mean the Sam of Sam & Dave.
    Hunt for sure is a great caucasian Stax/ Volt man, not a lad in vein ! Long live Hunt!
    beware the Sales Brothers, they’re just amazing & Tin Machine was one of the best Live band i’ve ever seen & heard!

  13. It seems to me the biggest loser in the Tin Machine story was Tony Sales. From what I have been able to glean, he was an affable, talented guy with his act together. It couldn’t have been happy to know that people regard you as a unit with your f— up brother.

  14. colincidence says:

    Hunt’s on backing vocals on Iggy’s Success too, isn’t he?
    I think he sounds a lot like little Benny from Top Cat, which is always a source of amusement that almost helps me survive his songs.

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