Van Morrison – When Heart Is Open. “Slowly opening”
From the moment of the opening of this song, I am at ease. A slurring guitar chord leads into a horn fanfare and flute accompaniment. And the song, it eases into its lengthy unfolding.
Meandering forth, along elongated bass lines, languorous, yet passion-filled. Repeated lines, dragged-out words as Van pauses to admire the view. No hurries here. Getting ready for the walk in the woods. Does the walk ever start? Probably not. Time is etiolated so much that a few seconds of real time, of paused reflection are stretched out for 15 minutes.
There is a rhythm. While it sounds to be dawdling, getting lost in cul de sacs of instrumentation, Van throws out a few more lyrics, a few mumblings to chivvy it forwards, even if it is to pursue the prospect of getting dressed for the cold weather.
Baby, it’s cold outside. Cold and damp, seeping in under the sills and around the door frames. Van must go outside, just not yet. Any moment now for sure. He’s on the cusp, approaching the threshold. Incrementally, fragment of movement at a time. “No coming and no going”
Meantime, let’s enjoy his consideration of some girl’s approaching puberty. The flower slowly opening at the same speed as Van’s front door.
Flute and guitar, horn and bass, resonating, then fading as Van predicts a tryst and then stops, to a final flute and horn flourish.
This could be my favourite song of all. As much as anything else about it, it would be because of the first time I heard it, I was in a small cottage in rural, coastal Devon in the autumn reading week at university. Not much reading took place, but that day, after wandering the beach in search of driftwood for the fire, the advancing evening and long night saw a group of us drinking and getting stoned to a selection of music, until, in the early hours, semi-comatose, Common One was played. I listened in a dream-like state, as Van intoned for what seemed like hours. The environment, the atmosphere, the mental state, the company was perfect. A trance of mutual incomprehension, yet perception took place at a deeper, more primitive level.
Nowadays, I use it as a soporific, a lullaby for my young daughters. As they drift off to sleep, exhausted after their unbound energies poured out over the day, I am happy for them to enter a tiny corner of the imaginative world that Van created with this song. Semi-conscious familiarisation with its many minutes means that, in later life they may reencounter the song, as if for the first time, yet feel primal associations that stir early unfocused memories, through the gentle tones of this calming and comforting piece.