Friday, August 31, 2007

River News: Month Five

Dear Mr. Riverton,

Today you turn five months old and I swear it could be five years. Part of that comes from feeling like my pre-baby life is so very distant (who was that woman who woke at a leisurely 9am, who felt harried when she had more than one acting project to work on, who always knew what movies were out--even the independent ones--and managed to see most of them?). Now I wake at 1, 3, 5, and 6am--at which point, your dad will take you for a few hours to give me some blessed uninterrupted sleep (oh glorious day!). Now, I feel harried every minute of every day--always behind, always playing catch up--and I know that comparatively two or three acting projects would be a breeze. Now I barely know when the blockbusters come out and it is a rare weekend indeed when we get to see a movie in the theaters.

I'm a different person--stronger, more resilient, more creative--and though I'm not more relaxed, in many ways I'm much happier.

The other reason these short five months feel so much greater are the changes they have brought about in you. As my friend Melissa recently reminded me, one day very soon I will wake up and you will no longer be my tiny baby, but a little boy. I imagine it happening in an instant--bald and chubby one second, walking around the next--and I look to that time with dread and excitement.

This month you have learned to sit all on your own. You've built a strong trunk and now can get both your feet and hands under you. I watch you struggle to get your limbs to move in conjunction and I know very soon you will have it all worked out and find yourself crawling.

I'm not sure you won't walk first, though. You're getting much better at balancing on your feet when you stand, and now can hold onto one hand for support or even a table. All of your physical accomplishments are a true reflection of your personality; from the moment you were born you wanted to be engaged in your world, to explore it actively with all of your senses. You are so curious and constantly on the go. I don't know where you get all this energy from because your dad and I run on a MUCH slower pace, but you are determined to see and do it all.

We took a family vacation to Martha's Vineyard this month, and it was nice to get away even if the trip wasn't entirely relaxing. Your grandpa Jack, both grandmas, and aunt and uncle were able to come along, so we had lots of hands to help out.

You did great at restaurants, sitting in a high chair contentedly (as long as you had some toys around to drop on the floor repeatedly). And if we didn't spend too much time in the car, you managed road trips perfectly fine (you know, except for those few screaming fits that could have broken the sound barrier). You slept in the house we rented just like it was your own (until you got a cold and couldn't breath through your nose very well).

But we got to go to the beach, and we had some wonderful dinners out, and we ate ice cream every day (you too), so all in all it was a pretty fantastic trip.

It was also exciting because you experienced some great firsts while we were away. You had your first taste of solid foods (which you are super-psyched about and cannot get enough of) and you had your first trip to the ocean (the sand was fun but waves are scary) and you cut your first tooth (with surprisingly little angst).

Your sociability is really developing too. At our weekly library lap-sit you are engaging more and more with the songs we sing and the other babies in the group. You found yourself a little girlfriend this week--she's bald and cute and can stand just like you, so I think it's a good match. I'm pretty sure you want to suck on her face, but we have to save something for your teenage years.

You're making more and more sounds (a few of your babbles even came out sounding like "mama"), and I swear you're imitating your dad and Crystal and trying to do raspberries. "THHHBBBBBT!"

I see your personality developing in such cool ways and I just know you're going to be an amazing little man. You are curious, sweet, determined, funny and so smart. I'm amazed that you came from me and feel so blessed to be watching you grow.

I love you my darling boy,

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

lazy days

We're back from Martha's Vineyard, but I'm still recovering (funny how a vacation with the baby almost takes more out of you than regular life). So I'll just share a few pics until I can write more.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

check you on the flip side

Thom, River and I will be leaving soon for our vacation, so I probably won't post much in the next week or so. Think about us getting a much needed break while we're gone.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

guitar heroes

Really? No comments on the last blog? I thought the picture alone would inspire some folks to write....

Oh well.

Here's another Kev and Crystal-centric post: The kids have made it into the New York Times. I know the link won't last forever, so I'll just post the article in full here:

July 15, 2007

Virtual Frets, Actual Sweat

KEVIN Doyle and Ivan Wine strode to the front of River Gods and picked up the guitars with the confidence of two guys who had played this bar and those instruments many times before.

With their wives watching from a nearby table, Mr. Doyle, 30, a software consultant clad in a Dewar’s Scotch T-shirt, and Mr. Wine, 32, a graphic designer with an unruly goatee and thick black glasses, strapped on the guitars and chose a song from the list on a projection screen.

They planted themselves in position as the first plodding strains of Black Sabbath’s head-banging heavy-metal classic “War Pigs” emanated from the speakers. As the song’s tempo increased, they frantically fingered the multicolor buttons on the necks of the guitars, hitting them with authority in time to the song’s signature “dun-dun-dun” riffs.

But the two men were not showboating. They were actually concentrating, biting their lips and staring almost trancelike at the screen, watching colored balls falling toward them on an electronic fretboard.

When Mr. Doyle and Mr. Wine finished the last riff, the audience whooped and cheered. The newly minted music gods offered high fives as they returned to their seats.

“We rocked the song,” Mr. Wine said.

This is Guitar Hero night, where curious bar patrons, self-styled bad boys and video game addicts, all usually a drink or two deep, play the game Guitar Hero on a big screen, and fulfill their dreams of being a preening, prancing rock ’n’ roll frontman.

Bars from Roanoke, Va., to San Diego are offering Guitar Hero nights, some providing players with big-hair wigs, Viking helmets and other colorful garb to help them complete the momentary illusion of being Eric Clapton or Lenny Kravitz. Others serve as hosts of competitive tournaments where the winners receive real guitars.

Players come because, for most, it’s as close as they’ll get to being an actual rock star.

“The audience cheers and it’s almost like being onstage,” Mr. Wine said. “You don’t get that playing the game in your living room.”

Within the past year, bar owners and managers have introduced the game, usually played in basements and bedrooms, into their locations to spike business on otherwise slow nights. Now they say Guitar Hero night is the new karaoke night — without the embarrassment of atrocious vocals.

“It’s for people like me, who can’t play guitar but want to,” said Jasper Coolidge, the head talent booker at Pianos, a downtown Manhattan bar that features Guitar Hero night every Tuesday.

Mr. Coolidge said business on Tuesdays had tripled at the bar, which typically attracts a post-college crowd, since the event began in April. “We wanted some sort of quirky thing that wasn’t your typical New York dance-club house music night,” he said.

At River Gods, where the crowd is filled with high-tech workers in rock T-shirts, blue jeans and Converse sneakers, bar regulars and bewildered patrons who just stopped by for a drink, some of the players take it much more seriously.

“There are a couple of people who are these cartoon-character version of nerds,” said Jeff MacIsaac, the entertainment producer here. “They’re playing their Game Boys until Guitar Hero starts. They’re actually playing video games before the video games start.”

Guitar Hero requires dexterous players to press buttons on a plastic guitar in time with a song chosen from a library of familiar rock tunes like “Message in a Bottle” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” As the player watches colored notes scroll down a television screen, the object is to hit the corresponding colored buttons (along with a second strum button) in time with the notes to score points. The harder the level, the faster the notes fall and the more complicated the chords.

The original version of Guitar Hero was developed by Harmonix, a company that creates musical-theme video games, and released by the software company RedOctane for PlayStation 2 in 2005. But it was not until the release in late 2006 of a sequel, Guitar Hero 2, which featured a larger catalog of songs (“Killing in the Name Of” by Rage Against the Machine, “Heart-Shaped Box” by Nirvana) and a new head-to-head play mode, that the game found its way into bars. About three million copies of Guitar Hero 2 have been sold for PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360, according to Harmonix and RedOctane. No one knows how many copies are being featured in bars.

Greg LoPiccolo, one of the creators of Guitar Hero and a vice president of product development at Harmonix, said the game was created to help people experience the thrill of performing in a club. But he didn’t anticipate that it would actually catch on in bars.

“We never intended for it to happen,” said Mr. LoPiccolo, who usually selects Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Texas Flood” when he plays the game. “But once we saw it take place, it was kind of perfect, really.”

Prowess at Guitar Hero doesn’t necessarily equal expertise on a real guitar. At River Gods, Ben Azar, a 27-year-old guitar student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, eyed the game’s guitar controller skeptically when it was handed to him. Just press the buttons to the beat of the song, he was told by one of the event’s organizers.

As Van Halen’s “You Really Got Me” started, Mr. Azar watched the screen as his fingers worked the frets, but he often looked confused, unsure why a note was missed or exactly what rhythm the guitar line was following.

After finishing his song, Mr. Azar said that using the Guitar Hero controller forced him to concentrate more on pressing buttons than preening like a rock god. “It’s very different,” Mr. Azar said. “It’s like making love to a rubber doll.”

Even though the game doesn’t accurately simulate the mechanics of playing a guitar, players said that the lure of Guitar Hero lies mostly in the mythology of the instrument — one that for every rock fan conjures up images of Pete Townshend smashing his guitar on stage or Jimi Hendrix setting his aflame.

“When one thinks of rock ’n’ roll, the first thing to come to mind is usually someone wailing away at a guitar,” Mr. Wine said later in an e-mail message. “The guitar is at the heart of almost every rock band out there that is or has been.”

Others players, like Shandi Sullivan, a former contestant on “America’s Next Top Model” and a regular at Pianos, appreciate Guitar Hero more for the experience of dressing up and performing for a live audience.

After discovering the game in April at a friend’s apartment, Ms. Sullivan started coming to Pianos every Tuesday, and she even bought a PlayStation 2 to practice with in her apartment. At the bar’s weekly Guitar Hero party, she assumes a different rock ’n’ roll alter ego each time. She has been both Pat Benatar and Elvis Presley. Given her choice, though, she still prefers to rock out to Megadeth, and the game has turned her on to contemporary heavy-metal acts like Shadows Fall.

“I can’t wait until the ’80s version comes out,” Ms. Sullivan said. “Eighties music is my life.”

When Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80s, a sequel featuring the music of such nostalgically coiffed artists as Twisted Sister and Flock of Seagulls, is released on July 24, it will be the last collaboration between Harmonix and RedOctane. Last year, MTV purchased Harmonix, and RedOctane was acquired by the video game publisher Activision.

But the Guitar Hero franchise will rock on. Later this year, RedOctane and Neversoft, a video game studio owned by Activision, plan to release Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock, and Harmonix will start Rock Band, a Guitar Hero-like game that will also allow players to become drummers, bassists and vocalists.

RedOctane is sponsoring a stage at the Family Values Tour this summer, which includes rock and heavy-metal acts, and it will hold Guitar Hero contests between sets. The winner will receive a guitar autographed by Jonathan Davis, the frontman of Korn.

As with real rock stars, there is plenty of rivalry and ego to be found among the players of Guitar Hero. Mr. Coolidge, the Pianos talent booker, and Caroline Enright, the manager of River Gods, have thrown down a challenge: a New York vs. Boston Guitar Hero competition, preferably to be held when the Red Sox are playing the Yankees.

“We’re going to have a tournament here to decide who is going up there,” Mr. Coolidge said from New York.

In Cambridge, Ms. Enright said she is ready and willing. “It’s on,” she said.

Correction: July 17, 2007

An article in Sunday Styles this week about the popularity of the video game Guitar Hero among bar patrons misspelled the surname of an artist whose song appears in the game, and misstated the title of that song. He is Stevie Ray Vaughan, not Vaughn, and the song is “Texas Flood," not "Texas Blood."

Thursday, August 09, 2007

he's celebrating because he's getting a new cousin

River hit the bottle pretty hard last night when he heard the good news from his Auntie Crystal and Uncle Kevin: SHE'S PREGNANT!!

The whole Boston Doyle crew is pretty psyched to be welcoming a new addition to the brood, right around River's birthday, too.

This was a bit of an unplanned event (though not unwelcome) so Crystal is dismayed to find out some shots she had earlier this month put her pregnancy at a higher risk than normal. But for the time being she's taking care of herself and looking only to the positive.

Thom and I can't wait to have another niece or nephew to totally spoil, and River is looking forward to showing the new kid the ropes (like how to chug a beer in 10 seconds flat).