When I was a child, I would go to the beach with my family and search through the surface of the sand for perfectly round sand dollars. They had to be all white with no cracks or breaks. The few times that I did find one or two along the shoreline, I cherished them like treasures. There was something so special about their delicate strength.
Finding “Heaven” gave me the same rush that I was so familiar with from this childhood tradition. As a B-side track that Joan Armatrading tacked onto a greatest hits compilation in 1983, it seemed to outshine the other singles with its angelic eroticism.
Joan's holy vocals rise to the top as the question “Am I in heaven?” repeats. She croons the chorus line in a hill-like melodic shape: “I want to be the sunshine when you’re down.” A chord is strummed backwards like an angel’s harp, and her trademark freedom of inflection interrupts the consistency as she sings “Started a dream” in falsetto.
Despite Armatrading's legendary status and critical acclaim, she has been know as a mysterious figure, very careful to rarely sing about her life's events. But she has admitted that the happier songs tend to be autobiographical. As a homosexual woman of color, her consistent omission of pronouns might be a technique for self protection. But this track overflows with genuine love that proves to be impossible to keep contained.
As it all fades away, it’s nice to imagine Joan in this perpetual state of vulnerable wholeness. As forever changes, tangible timestamps of the rare moments when everything felt complete can serve as pleasant reminders than heaven can happen more than once.
By Katryn Macko