The Madonna Timeline: Song #8 – ‘Cherish’

{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.}

This is one of my favorite Madonna song memories because it captures a specific period of time when the world was just opening up to me. The year was 1989, and I had just turned fourteen when Madonna released the third single from ‘Like A Prayer’ – ‘Cherish’. To be honest, it wasn’t nearly my favorite song from the album, and the video (though brilliant in hindsight, and the first foray of Herb Ritts into the medium) seemed rather ho-hum, especially after the inflammatory riot of ‘Like A Prayer’ and the S&M-tinged sexiness of ‘Express Yourself’.

To see Madonna frolicking on the beach with a child and some mermen? Tame, if not outright dull. But like all good things, it would grow on me, from the girl-group harmonies of the song to the simple, slow-mo beauty of the video. And what was taking place in my young life at the time was simple, but memorable.

So tired of broken hearts and losing at this game
Before I start this dance, I’ll take a chance
In telling you I want more than just romance…

My Mom took me, my Gram, and my brother up to Maine for a last vacation before school started. We went to the beach, but it was already too cold to go in. We stopped at some of the Kittery outlets, and I remember getting a navy cable-knit sweater for fall. (I was still in my preppy mode but just beginning to break free.) ‘Cherish’ played on the radio, and to this day it’s one of the few Madonna songs that my brother actually liked a bit more than me. At the time, there was something too soft-focus about it – I preferred my pop songs to have a bit more power to them. But like all slow-burners, this one forged its way into my memory.

You are my destiny,
I can’t let go, Baby can’t you see,
Cupid please take your aim at me…

It was the start of my first year of high-school, and I had to attend practices with the Amsterdam Marching Rams. It was ridiculous, insane, and practically dangerous to march with an oboe, but I adamantly refused to learn another instrument, so I strapped a clarinet lyre to the bottom bell and proceeded to practice choking myself with a double reed.

After my eighth grade shenanigans, I wasn’t sure if anyone would even talk to me (that was the year I happily stepped into the villain’s role, so dull and boring was Wilbur H. Lynch Middle School for me). Now, the girls I hurt the most were the only ones I wanted to talk to – and somehow I worked my way, through wit and humor, back into their good graces again.

All the while, ‘Cherish’ bubbled over the radio, and on MTV, but never from my own CD player because I wasn’t obsessed with Madonna right then.

I can’t my need for two hearts that bleed with burning love,
That’s the way it’s got to be.
Romeo and Juliet, they never felt this way I bet,
So don’t underestimate my point of view…

I hadn’t lost my heart to any boys yet – in fact, I was still holding out hope that I’d find a girl and settle down with a wife and a home, and a family. I found men attractive (as I had since I was a little boy) but I put those feelings into the recesses of my heart, willing myself to focus on the girls instead, even though it seemed that I was destined to remain in the friendship circle, with no hope of romance.

Cherish is the word I use to remind me of your love…

To be honest, it didn’t bother me much at the time. Somehow I knew I was only meant to be friends with women – that I was better at being friends with women – and it was a safe and comforting thought. (Oddly enough, the drama and trauma I witnessed in many messy boy-meets-girl scenarios seemed more upsetting and depressing than anything I was going through – one of the strange bonuses of flying under the radar as an unknown-even-to-myself gay kid.) And still the chords and yearning chorus of ‘Cherish’ strummed in my head – a wistful unfulfilled longing for something, for someone.

Cherish – give me faith,
Give me joy, my boy,
I will always cherish you…

As September bled into October, ‘Cherish’ peaked on the airwaves, an autumnal call to romance that subliminally fueled the innocence of my adolescence. It was a song that held onto summer, despite all the pushes and pulls of a new school, and a new school year, and the slow awakening of a boy who, despite all direction, was headed on a journey all his own.

Song #8: Cherish – October 1989
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