My son is asleep. He’s resting peacefully right now, a bit exhausted from a trip to the doctor earlier today. Occasionally his slumber is interrupted by a series of harsh coughs. It’s a sound you don’t expect to hear from an infant – a hacking that would surprise you even coming from a chain-smoking tuberculosis victim. Bad stuff. For now, he’s quiet, peaceful, and hopefully having sweet dreams.
This takes me back to the day he was born, and to a song. In the weeks leading up to his birth, I learned to play “When You Dream” by Barenaked Laides to play for him in the hospital. It’s a soft lullaby at the end of the album Stunt, and it’s written from the perspective of a father to his newborn son wondering what goes on in his head as he dozes.
The entire experience of his birth was set to a soundtrack. We had two playlists running through my wife’s labor – a relaxing one called “Cool Baby” and a driving, motivating mix called “Hot Baby” for the final stretch. I brought portable speakers and we kept the former mix playing almost continuously for the next two days in the hospital, as he slept wrapped in three layers of hospital blankets (either expertly swaddled into a tight bundle by the nurses or in my best approximation thereof). I also brought my stepson’s compact guitar to play this BNL song for him.
(He just woke up – with no cough this time! A good sign.)
The album Stunt was BNL’s breakthrough album in the U.S. and included the lighthearted and fast-paced “One Week” (remember chickity China, the Chinese chicken?). I picked it up off a clearance shelf near the registers at Amoeba Records in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco. At three or four bucks, it’s probably the best music buy I’ve ever made. The whole album is clever and musically tight from start to finish. If you draw a triangle between Weird Al, Frank Zappa, and R.E.M. they are somewhere in the middle.
“When You Dream” resonates with me because of its soothing tone as well as the lyrics. They’re surprisingly deep, touching on themes about the persistence of the human soul & reincarnation. They ask: Do you dream about Jesus or quantum mechanics? Are they Yiddish or English, or languages not yet conceived?
(Hack, hack. Bad one. Poor guy. He’s asleep again).
It does make you wonder. They spend so much of their early life asleep, yet they have no form or structure to their thoughts. No words, no concepts or symbols. They can’t even distinguish faces clearly from the blurred spectrum of color in front of them. Their dreams must be a Technicolor potpourri of strange sights and sounds, of frights and comforts.
I actually feel the strongest kinship with him when we’re both sleeping through the night. During the day our lives couldn’t be more different. I’m dealing with complex grown-up concerns while he’s struggling to talk and walk. But when I wake up and seem him there next to me I realize that at night, in that sleeping state, we’re exactly the same. Calm. At peace. Passive.
He’s awake. Mommy’s home J.