The Madonna Timeline: Song #62 – ‘Open Your Heart’ – Winter 1987

{Note: The Madonna Timeline is an ongoing feature, where I put the iPod on shuffle, and write a little anecdote on whatever was going on in my life when that Madonna song was released and/or came to prominence in my mind.}

Early evening, in the midst of an endless and snowy winter. In the hallway of my childhood home, the television in my parents’ room glows, and MTV – a relatively recent addition to our lives – is playing Madonna’s ‘Open Your Heart’ video. I am alone upstairs, looking into the mirror above my mother’s bureau, while anonymous men look into the peep-show of Madonna’s video world.

The carpet in the room is blue, the bedspread a faded pastiche of pastels. Pale white-washed furniture stands on elegantly carved feet, while two candelabra lamps glow on each end of the bureau. It is one of my strongest childhood memories, and I don’t know why, for nothing other than Madonna and my solitude was happening, yet I distinctly remember that moment, that scene, the way the light fell – more than I remember most of my birthdays. It must have been early 1987, which made me all of eleven years old.

I see you on the street and you walk on by,
You make me wanna hang my head down and cry,
If you gave me half the chance you’d see,
My desire burning inside of me…

As a kid, I wasn’t the most social of children – preferring to entertain myself in solitude, far more interested in walks in the woods or the pursuit of solitary projects in my room. Yet part of me longed for company, to be a part of something, even as I pushed my contemporaries away. It was the essence of this song – yearning for someone to open their heart and include you in their life. I couldn’t see that then – I only loved a catchy hook and a decent beat.

But you choose to look the other way…

Back then, I never really “hung out” with people. School was my social scene, and it was enough. It was more than enough, and it was like work. As such, it was tainted with the drudgery of forced labor, lacking in the joy and play that I wanted to surround social activities. I was well-liked enough, but I left those friendships and relationships at school, and was happy to do so.

I took the easy way out and just hung out with the friends my brother brought home. It was easier that way, and I could get away if I got bored, without being expected to provide entertainment, any sort of babysitting, or the awkward exit strategy.

My brother’s friends, younger than me by a year or two, were good enough for companionship, for the boyhood camaraderie that I simultaneously sought out and rejected. I always wanted for adventure, for some Stand By Me/Goonies journey filled with exciting twists and turns, and a small, measured dose of danger to keep us on our toes – but such travails work best when you’re not alone.

We did the best we could, finding thrills in night-time games of hide-and-seek, now and then embarking on the planning of a fort in the woods (which would never see any real building), or enacting bike chases in front of befuddled neighbors.

I’ve had to work much harder than this
For something I want
Don’t try to resist me…

For all my enjoyment of solitude, part of me wanted to be some integral part of a pack, an instantly-assimilated team player, even as my otherness made it impossible. On one night, my brother was invited over to his friend’s house for a sleepover. I desperately wanted to go too, but pride prevented me from asking outright. Instead, I called over to the house, inventing some lame easily-seen-through excuse to talk to my brother. We spoke briefly, and then he had to go. About half-an-hour later I called back. I asked for my brother again, and his friend’s Mom asked if I wanted to come over. A quick feigning of surprise and utter interior relief, and I was soon part of the sleepover, running around the wood-paneled basement and hiding from their huge dog.

Open your heart to me, baby,
I hold the lock and you hold the key
Open your heart to me, darling,
I’ll give you love if you,
You turn the key.

I’ll probably never know what my brother and his friends thought of me, other than some sometimes-bothersome tag-a-long, or funny older brother – he claims to not remember much, and even my perfect memory has suffered a little deterioration. But whenever I hear ‘Open Your Heart’, the memory comes back – the memories, I should say – and instantly I’m that little boy again, begging to be asked, to be invited.

I think that you’re afraid to look in my eye
You look a little sad, boy, I wonder why
I follow you around but you can’t see
You’re too wrapped up in yourself to notice
So you choose to look the other way
Well I’ve got something to say…

“Open Your Heart” was, looking back, one of the major themes of my boyhood. As much as I fought against it, all I really wanted was to belong, and to be welcomed. All of my acting out, all of my strange behavior, all of the weird attention-getting antics ~ they were my convoluted ways of pleading for acceptance and love.

Don’t try to run I can keep up with you
Nothing can stop me from trying
You’ve got to open your heart to me, baby
I hold the lock and you hold the key
Open your heart to me, darling
I’ll give you love if you, you turn the key…

The strange thing is, the very ways I went about finding friends and companionship were so odd, and my interests and passions so atypical of an eleven-year-old boy (plants, flowers, tropical fish, Madonna, unicorns, dolls, glitter) that I alienated as much as I sought. It would be a conundrum that haunted my way through adolescence and into adulthood, and in so many key ways is with me to this day. All I can do to counter it, to vainly strive to show what it all means, is to put up a Madonna post and have her plead my case.

Open your heart with the key
One is such a lonely number…
Open your heart, I’ll make you love me
It’s not that hard, if you just turn the key
Don’t try to run I can keep up with you
Nothing can stop me from trying
You’ve got to open your heart to me, baby
I hold the lock and you hold the key
Open your heart to me, darling
I’ll give you love if you, you turn the key…

Song #62 – ‘Open Your Heart’ – Winter 1987

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