Mrs. Chase was hard of hearing and that was a good thing. Because when I dropped the needle on "London Calling," to paraphrase Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap, the party went to eleven. It was our annual Christmas tree decorating bash – 20-plus people crammed into a tiny third-floor apartment on Canton Street in the Mount Pleasant section of Providence. Mrs. Chase lived below us on the second floor. Her only comment the next day? "The hi-fi was a little loud." God bless Mrs. Chase.
This was in The Days Before Children, back when you couldn't play the Clash or Talking Heads or Elvis Costello loud enough. Back when people still bought speakers the size of small refrigerators.
And then Peter was born. My brother-in-law Steve warned against lowering the volume. "Never turn it down and you'll never have to," he advised. "Your kids will grow up thinking all that noise is normal."
Steve was right. While we did dial the volume knobs back a tad during nap times, our kids grew up with loud music playing in the house and on the road and all the time. Noise was not an impediment to sleep. When my daughter Juliana was an infant and our house was in a constant construction uproar, no amount of sledgehammering could penetrate her dreams.
Still, with the arrival of children, I modified my playlist – less head-banging stuff, more acoustic guitar. Amidst all the feedings and diaper changes and walks down Modena Avenue came the discovery of songs about early fatherhood that were striking in their simplicity and gentleness:
"Beautiful Boy" by John Lennon – "The monster's gone, he's on the run, and your daddy's here…"
"Daddy's Baby" by James Taylor – "Is there something I should know, something new to you?"
"Pony Boy" by Bruce Springsteen – "O'er the hills and through the trees, we'll go ridin', you and me…"
"St. Judy's Comet" by Paul Simon – "I long to see St. Judy's Comet sparkle in your eyes when you awake…"
These songs played as I shared Cheerios, one by one, with baby Pete at six in the morning. Through the alchemy of a three-minute pop tune, I connected to wisdom of the ages: being a young dad is wondrous and tiring and humbling and transformative.
That came through, loud and clear, at any volume.