It was 17 years ago this week that Madonna’s “I’ll Remember [Theme from With Honors]” dropped out of the top 50 of the Billboard Adult Contemporary singles chart*, and I worry about its legacy. I know not every piece of art lasts forever, and that even the most deserving works of culture are occasionally forgotten or overlooked in our relentless obsession to discover the new, but it would be a real shame if this timeless gem fell into obscurity.
Much like the film to which it provided thematic support (1994’s Alek Keshishian-helmed With Honors, which features a subtle, underrated performance by Moira Kelly and shows Patrick Dempsey beginning to develop the precision and gravity that would be the hallmark of his later work), “I’ll Remember [Theme from With Honors]” teaches a valuable lesson that every generation needs to learn anew. In the film With Honors, the lesson is that homeless people will steal your college thesis if you accidentally drop it down the steam vent to the library of your Ivy League university, but they also will help you realize what really matters in life. Then they will die.
As for the song, “I’ll Remember [Theme from With Honors],” the lesson is also about homeless people at Ivy League universities, but with a more personal twist. “I’ll remember the strength that you gave me/Now that I’m standing on my own/I’ll remember the way that you saved me/I’ll remember,” sings Madonna about a homeless person who taught her “how to cry” while she was visiting what is rumored to be Yale. But the mechanics of sobbing is not the only lesson Homeless Guy From Yale (let’s just call him that) taught Madonna. No:
to let go
of the illusion that we can possess
to let go
I travel in stillness
And I’ll remember
I’ll remember [I’ll remember]
Mmmmm… [I’ll remember]
HGFY taught her to “travel in stillness.” It is something we all need to know how to do, particularly in these troubled times. All of us who are traveling in motionness are just carrying around a bunch of needless anxieties that prevent us from finding our proper reason to cry. If the question of the age is “How do I teach my heart to sing?” — and given everything we know, is there really any other question? — then the answer is very clearly revealed in Madonna’s “I’ll Remember [Theme from With Honors].” As she herself puts it, “Mmmmm… [I’ll remember].” She’s not saying she DOES remember, she’s saying she WILL remember, which, when you think about it, is perhaps the most essential step in the remembering procedure, since it’s going to happen in the future.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that this song is too important to be forgotten. If there’s one thing you take away from the web today, let it be that you remember “I’ll Remember [Theme from With Honors]” and take its lessons to heart. I think we’ll all be a little happier if you do.
*Probably. I tried checking but Google gave me nothing. But if it wasn’t EXACTLY this week it must have been kind of close. I mean, somewhere within a two month period for sure.