March 31, 2008

STQ 2008 Summary

Life is funny. We say and do so many things to help us cope. We re-shape things in our mind in order to gain control and perspective of the myriad random occurrences around us. This is a recurring theme here at Unfinished Dad and will continue to be for a long time I suspect.

Consequently, I find myself in a well rested, reflective mood this morning. I just put Annabelle down for her nap and realized that I have taken for granted my good fortune. For about two weeks now she has taken both a morning and afternoon nap every day. These little miracles are almost always an hour and half long and often they reach the two hour mark.

Who is this baby? And where did she come from? I asked my wife this question last night, with the thought that Annie is who she is. She has arrived at this restful period in life simply as a matter of course. I have worked very hard at molding her sleep habits into what people have always told me were normal patterns, but I think that when all is said and done she has decided that this is what she needs. Next week she may decide that naps are boring again.

My wife looks at it differently. She believes that it was hard work and scheduling that has made the difference. On the sage advice of my mother-in-law, I have been keeping Annie up until 10:00 every morning, thus assuring exhaustion before her first nap. I do concede that this is when we turned the corner. The bottom line is that every morning at 10 o’clock I have the opportunity to write, or shower, or eat. Whoah. If you told me this in November I would have laughed. Now you see why I am feeling reflective.

This morning, Monday, March 31, 2008, also represents the end of another family project. STW turned STM turned STQ 2008 has seemingly come to an end. We have been progressing in this direction for a few weeks now, and last night for the first time in over two months, Annie slept from 7 to 7. She has been getting closer and closer to this feat, waking up at 6:30 or so, but today officially marked the end of what has been a long road. On this project I will claim victory in the name of perseverance. I tried a lot of different tactics over the last three months until the right combination paid off. Compellingly, it was my mother-in-law’s advice that helped right this ship too. She helped me find the right mix of toughness and love (settle Annie with two Bob’s every five minutes until crying/standing ceases) to get Annie back to sleep.

Now, that being said, I don’t want to contradict myself from one paragraph to the next. Did Annie return to a full night’s sleep on her own? Could I have been standing on my head or doing a jig all night and had the same results? I hope not. I worked very hard for this and lost a lot of sleep and made Annie cry more than I was comfortable with. So let’s just say that it was good parenting that gave me my first full night of sleep since January. After all, isn’t that what coping is all about?

Rival's Kind Words

Dear Joe

Wanted to write in and applaud you for you efforts on the PJ compilation. I had the pleasure of listening several times and it is a truly wonderful set list of some of the best PJ songs ever created. The flow is logical yet raw enough to keep the listener interested to see what's next.

I only question 2 things, and 1 one is a matter of personal preference and shouldn't factor much into the equation.

1) I though your set ended a bit slow and dark even - Immortality, Fatal, Present Tense. This is just a matter of preference though - and whatever PJ does for you is ok in my book. Eddie mostly bring me joy/happiness so I chose to end on a more positive note.

2) While Light Years is a heck of song, I think it was a stretch to put on this 'album'. Especially next to MFC. Not that MFC shouldn't be on the album, but it was more of an obscure selection and fronting it with Light Years took away from it a bit. If for instance, after listening to Corduroy, MFC came on it would have brought a huge smile to my face. Instead, I was looking for a huge comeback after Light Years.

I think I made a similar questionable song selection with Evacuation and Given to Fly back to back.

Finally, I find it interesting that we both seem to have the same idea with the first 5 songs. I deliberately tried to increase tempo song after song: Release, I am Mine, Marker in the Sand, Porch, Animal - so much so you should feel mentally exhausted after Animal. I then brought us back down to a normal pulse with I Got Shit and Fatal.

You did something very similar, but instead of tempo, it was a focus on song quality - I Got Shit, Life Wasted, I am Mine, Marker in the Sand, Corduroy - and brought us back down from heaven (can't stay there too long!) with Light Years.

Anyway - Bravo!

March 29, 2008

And the winner is...

Okay, so you have seen two things over the last couple of days. One, that I love Pearl Jam almost as much as Annie and two, that my brother Lou and I are both very competitive, no matter what the situation. It's a good thing that we weren't working on this project while in the same would definitely have come to blows.

To resolve this, Lou and I have agreed to compete in a Pearl Jam one hour playlist standoff. Each man will post his own special Pearl Jam player within the confines of Unfinished Dad and then you the reader will have the opportunity to vote (see poll to the right) on which one of us truly knows Eddie more. Keep in mind that I was the only one of us to slap him five at a concert in the Ed Sullivan theatre.

PS-For any of you that tune in just for Annie, then you can check back in a few days from now for your fix, but until then, sit back, relax, and enjoy the rockin' sounds of the greatest band to ever walk the face of this or any other planet.

March 28, 2008

A brief glimpse how competitive our childhood was

Dear Joe,

Just a few comments on your 'debunking' rebuttal

1 - Way to turn a fun post of my favorite PJ tunes into antagonistic diatribe..

2 - Omissions? My goal was to rate the best Pearl Jam album ever. And you take me to task for omitting songs that didn't appear on albums? Huh? This is like the Global Warming Alarmist Community (GWAC) omitting from all their research the wide historical variations in climate over the past millennia. Oh wait, they do that, bad example.

3 - You said, "a group of people that hears a song on a commercial, or waiting in line for their caramel macchiato, and downloads just one lone track." Right, that group of people takes a period of 10-14 days to graph out Pearl Jam tracks? Nice try - you and I both know that isn't me.

4 - I personally feel you put way too much stock in lyrics. What good is the poetry if the sound isn't that good. Comatose and Severed hand don't sound good. If you want me to rate the message of each song, I will do that at a later time. Bottom line - great tune plus great lyrics = the best song. Great lyrics and bad tune = meh. Great tune and bad lyrics = good. The latter is how Tom Petty made his living you know.

4b - You on No Code: "thing takes on a very introspective feel, and beginning to end you should be able to sit with this one and feel more connected to the band than on any other effort they make" and "You can spend your time alone/Re-digesting past regrets, oh/Or you can come to terms and realize/You're the only one who can't forgive yourself oh/Makes much more sense, to live in the present tense. C'mon.". C'mon? I get the message man, but I prefer the music part of it. It is a slow PJ song where the lyrics are better than the instruments.

5 - You on Vs. "My issue with it is that it gets caught between Grunge Pearl Jam (Ten) and Groundbreaking Pearl Jam (Vitalogy)." How can album be caught between? It is good or it's not good. The music stands on it's own. The band isn't sitting there saying, "hmm, lets not be Grunge lets try for something new".

Anyway, the main point of the two posts to non-PJ listeners should be a positive message. Any PJ album can be "the best" depending upon what type of mood you are in on any given day.

There is no bad PJ album.

Traversing the big city

We’re settling back in to our frontier life here in Shreveport after a wonderful trip to Washington, DC over the weekend. We humans are exceptionally adaptable and yet I was stunned by how much I missed this ol’ town. It certainly has its charms and a long weekend in the northeast crystallized them in my mind. My wife and I are resolved to take some of them with us. Ultimately, it will be up to our friends and family to decide if we do. I suspect that after a few months we will be returned to the dark side of the eyes front, no talking, be just barely courteous enough to get by life that we witnessed all week.

Not only were we overwhelmed by the impersonality of it all, we were a little surprised at how ill prepared we were for the hustle and bustle. I knew we were in for a culture shock when the shuttle bus that took us to Avis became more and more crowded at each stop. Every time a few new people got on I wanted to get up, politely of course, and explain to the driver that there simply wasn’t anymore room. Could no one else see this? The passengers and bags made the bus a veritable sardine can. Eventually, when the bus looked like one of those pictures you see of people travelling in Mumbai or Beijing, the doors peeled back and the swarm of people was let out to rush their separate ways.

After two days we were mostly adjusted. Fortunately, DC is truly a great town for walking, which I was reminded of as Annie and I strolled the maze-like streets. However, I was still clueless when it came to the traffic. I had an appointment with our new realtor at 10 a.m. The office was about three miles from our hotel, a distance that in Shreveport would take five minutes. I left the hotel at the safe time of 9:45 and promptly arrived at the office at 10:20. Who knows what time it would have been had not found a parking space out front. Similar trips will be much easier though when I have two children in the car.

By the time Monday rolled around and we had to go to the airport Annie and I were pros. We checked out of The Hotel Palomar, confidently tipping the staff, breezing through the crowded lobby, and doing an illegal u-turn while squeezing into traffic. We picked up my wife downtown and navigated our way out of the city just before rush hour (do we have that in Shreveport?) and arrived at Reagan National Airport in plenty of time. Despite there being no need to hurry, we used the Skycap to help us cut the line with almost no shame to speak of, much to the chagrin of the folks already waiting. It’s amazing what you can get away with when you live “up north” and have a baby.

A little post-script for you: I ate my favorite meal, Pizza, on three separate occasions while in DC. There are two places in town at which you can get the closest facsimile to that which you would find in the older establishements of New York. On Friday night we dined at a great but very crowded Two Amy's with our extended family (Grandma, Grandpa and the Great Grandparents too). Even Annie chowed down on some of the offerings, liking the orzo best. I was a little disappointed with all the gimmicks that were ordered on our pizzas, favoring the very simple offering of Pizza Margherita. For all of you sadly misinformed residents of Louisiana, a real pizza should be very thin, cooked in a brick oven and dressed in fresh tomatoes, slices of mozzarella (the kind made from Buffalo milk and stored in water) and some well place pieces of basil.

On Sunday we had some friends over and ordered from the equally delicious Pizzeria Paradiso. This time I was smart and ordered a Margherita for myself. I wasn't leaving town with out gorging on one of life's delights. Of course, on Monday when Annie and I were in a rush and needed a place to eat lunch, we went to Paradiso's just next door okay.

March 26, 2008

Pearl Jam Fanatacism - Debunking the Best Ever

I sit here in my living room listening to the entire Pearl Jam catalogue. A challenge of sorts, because including bootlegs and rarities, this totals 517 tracks. I obviously will not finish this preposterously fun task today, but it’s an important undertaking to consider. It makes me feel the weight of what is at hand and it sheds some light on all that my older brother left out. No, you won’t find a ranking of all 517 songs below, but I will let you know about a few omissions from an admittedly thorough dissection of our favorite band’s career.

What Lou’s post accomplished was to take the soul out of music. His method of ranking each song individually and then regurgitating them into complete album reviews automatically includes him in the current iTunes generation; a group of people that hears a song on a commercial, or waiting in line for their caramel macchiato, and downloads just one lone track. If you follow this avenue you will never hear some of the great songs that appear on the “B sides” of albums. Most often, it is the lesser known tracks that stay in your personal rotation, not the ones that your goofy friend who reads Rolling Stone likes best.

The second and only slightly less important ramification that stems from the individual track to complete album methodology is that you wind up ignoring 80% of Pearl Jam’s prolific catalogue. Granted, much of these songs are rare recordings that I do not often listen too, but Lou, what about Down (7), I got shit (a dead to rights, bonafide, 10!), Dead Man Walking (5), and Other Side (5) to name but a few of the best. Notice, people, that I left out Yellow Ledbetter.

In this post, I will (for the most part) resist the temptation to argue over the rankings of each individual song. This is based on my possession of a soul, and a baby who does not afford me the time for such a feat. So, without further ado, the ranking of Pearl Jam’s albums based on a truly novel idea…how good they are.

An almost perfect album that epitomizes what Pearl Jam is: A groundbreaking band that isn’t afraid to experiment with sound and a band with the unique ability to combine the art of popular songwriting (my god, Betterman?) with unconventional formats (Corduroy). There is no album on earth that I would rather listen to at harmful decibels while driving down a back road in midsummer with the windows down. Enough said.

When this album came out and the Sony website had a front page banner declaring that the company was In Hiding listening to the new album. I felt it was my duty to ignore my college classes and wet blanket of a girlfriend for a week and do the same. Top to bottom this album is as almost as strong as Vitalogy, it just lacks Vitalogy’s originality.

Pearl Jam
Lou, go back and listen to Comatose and Severed Hand. Comatose is a rare example of PJ acknowledging their punk roots, with a drum line that is an ode to the form. Just ask your sister, this is one of her fav’s. And Severed Hand may be a bit unconventional for the PJ catalogue, but have you ever heard of Crescendo? Understand, I’m not falling down/I said Look around, the room’s taller now/I can’t close my eyes, cause I see the sound/In waves/In waves. Add in the myriad tempo changes and you have a great song. You gave it a fucking two, just like Comatose. Okay, now that that’s out of my system and I’ve won you over, you can go re-rank these songs (I would recommend 5, if the basis of three is a mediocre song like Love Boat Captain). When you do that, this eponymous album starts off 5, 5, 5, 5, 7, (10?). Can any other album on your list match a run of songs like this?

No Code
Here is where you have to take in an album as a whole. This is the one where PJ tries out the old Eastern Religion vibe with songs like Who You Are. The whole thing takes on a very introspective feel, and beginning to end you should be able to sit with this one and feel more connected to the band than on any other effort they make. When you rated this one, you literally ignored any soul you have. Of course you’re not going to queue up Red Mosquito or Lukin, but as two parts of a greater whole they fit so well. Oh, and by the way, you once told me that Who You Are was one of you favorites from this album…you gave it a 3. Oh, and double by the way, Present Tense is about as close to a 10 as you can get without being Corduroy. You can spend your time alone/Re-digesting past regrets, oh/Or you can come to terms and realize/You’re the only one who can’t forgive yourself oh/Makes much more sense, to live in the present tense. C’mon.

There is no way to do a traditional review of Ten. It is unlike any other album that Pearl Jam subsequently made. I doubt that they had any idea what they were starting. Almost every other rock singer since has modeled his voice on Eddie Vedder’s (my God, that douche from Creed?). If they did know how mimicked they would be, this album would have sounded entirely different. No matter, this was THE seminal grunge album and had tracks on it that made girls cry (Black), parents cry (Jeremy), and dudes want to lovingly punch each other (Porch). Top to bottom this album carries with it more memories for someone in their thirties than their High School yearbook.

Okay, so Versus is a great album. My issue with it is that it gets caught between Grunge Pearl Jam (Ten) and Groundbreaking Pearl Jam (Vitalogy). Because of this, it sonically leaves me feeling lost. I love some of the tracks, but would on the whole rate them significantly lower than you did, especially Elderly Woman. I would however, have rated two tracks much higher: Indifference and Leash. These are the only two songs (I’d include WMA, but it isn’t much of a song) on the album that are both musically powerful and carry a powerful message. You missed the boat on these two. They both capture Eddie’s youthful anger more artfully than Jeremy and have the added bonus of no excessive airplay.

As with Yield on your list, I truly feel bad about Binaural’s seventh place finish. I really, really like this album. The track list is ridiculously strong and it gets points for being recorded entirely in a format that is best suited for headphone listening. This, as you know, is the only true way to listen to a band you love. So why seventh place? First and foremost, this should not be seen as a bad thing. No album put forth by Pearl Jam has been bad. Hell, all but one of them have been great. So to be seventh on this list is sort of like being sad that you are dating the sixth Bundchen sister; pretty sure she’s nice to look at, and you're never too far away from the real thing. Secondly, Binaural as an album sort of all feels the same. There are no surprises here and very little innovation.

Riot Act
What to say about Riot Act? It had too many tracks. It didn’t include one of the best songs form the recording session (see Down above). It was PJ’s least effective “political album,” with too obvious a disdain for the current president in the likes of Bush Leaguer. They have recorded great songs about the state of our country before (Insignificance) and after (World Wide Suicide), but the difference is that these songs were great songs put together with great care. The unfortunate thing is that Riot Act did include one of my all-time favorites in I Am Mine, a song that should, if there is a music God, show us glimpse of the sonic future of the band.

March 25, 2008

Pearl Jam Fanaticism - Ranking the Best Ever

A long time ago I bastardized what musical influence I had in little circle of Pearl Jam’s friend I am part of. The bastardization technique was simple – in Microsoft Excel, rate and rank every Pearl Jam song of all time in order to mathematically determine their best album. I believe, and thank goodness there is no longer any proof, my rating system gave the “best ever” nod to Riot Act, which is now widely recognized as one of least appealing Pearl efforts ever.

Time has passed, tastes have changed, and against all better judgment I once again take the torch upon myself to mathematically decide the best album of the best band. Yes, I know – for all intents and purposes this wrecks the very point of why we listen to music in the first place but some things can’t be helped. (Perhaps my love of statistics stems from my childhood when Dad used to rate us kids as #1, #2, etc. Ever since the youngest, Bobby, took to the hammer and nail it has been an uphill battle for the rest of us. He did this a joke of course, as we all did take turns at the top spot.)

Before getting into the individual album rankings lets spend a few minutes on my methodology. In order to avoid “album love” I entered every PJ release into a new I-Pod play list and listened to each individually using the shuffle feature. The benefit of this technique is the ability to listen to each song as it’s own entity as I tried to form a rating independent of the songs before and after it on the original album. One by one each song was then sorted into one of 8 categories

- Non Listen: PJ has a history of numerous pointless songs that serve no purpose other than to feed Eddie’s funny bone. 0 Points awarded. Example: “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me” on Vitalogy.

- Barely Not a Skip: While “Non Listen’s” are routinely skipped when listening to an album, this next class of songs can be skipped at times, but it is not a 100% certainty. By all means, these are not good tracks, but can be stomached. 1 Point Awarded. Example: Help Help on Riot Act.

- Decent: Here’s is where the harshness comes in. Decent songs are actually good songs, but a step below the next category. 2 Points Awarded. Example: Indifference on Vs.

- Good: The heart of Pearl Jam’s brilliance is the shear number of good or better songs. 3 Points awarded. Example: Love Boat Captain, Riot Act.

- Great: We now approach the elite songs in PJ’s repertoire. Great songs are just that, almost perfect. 5 Points Awarded. Example: Porch on Ten.

- Excellent: It doesn’t get any better than this category. Excellent songs are virtually flawless and end up on almost all play lists list I create. 7 Points Awarded. Example: Hail Hail from No Code.

- Best Ever: The whole point of music is great tunes. You will have noticed the scale of points awarded also increases as the songs get better (0, 1, 2, 3, 5, 7). After all, great songs define great albums. However, there are two songs that I can not differentiate between for best PJ tracks of all times. These two loners get 10 points.

Finally, I tried to be harsh in the scoring. I love Pearl Jam, and if I had it my way, so many more songs would be rated as great. Realism was needed however, and hopefully fellow Pearl Jam readers will understand why their favorites may not have made the cut.

Counting backwards

8) No Code, 1996

This rating particularly hurts because I like the album, almost cover to cover. Which is a funny thing about PJ fans – bad albums do not exist and the core fans of Eddie Vedder and company are among the most loyal I have ever seen. There are two brilliant tracks on No Code: Hail, Hail and Smile but what hurts the album is the lack of a 2nd tier. 7 points were awarded to the aforementioned, but no track gets a 5, instead scoring skips down to the 3’s. This realization only came upon when comparing the individual tracks off of No Code to the tracks on their other albums.

A positive for No Code is the fact it has 7 songs rated good or better, which is tied for 4th among their 8 albums. There are three clunkers as well: Habit, I’m Open, and Around the Bend.

I could be convinced to bump up Sometimes (a truly wonderful song but hurt in the ratings due to its short length) and Present Tense.

7) Riot Act, 2002

I loved Riot Act when it came out 6 years ago, loved it to the point I considered it the best PJ album of all time. In hindsight, I was caught up in the newness of it as the tracks I thought were great, Love Boat Captain for instance, are merely good in retrospect. Three songs carry the album – I am Mine, Can’t Keep, and Save You. I am Mine is the lone 7-pt Excellent and the latter two come off with 5 pt greats. There are other very good cuts such as the aforementioned Love Boat Captain, and Thumbing My Way and Green Disease are great listens as well.

The negative of the is album is how top-heavy it is. It is a 15 track album that I have often turned off after track 10 (Green Disease) thanks to very odd songs such as Help Help, ½ Full, Arc, and All or None.

6) Binaural, 2000

I still remember sitting in my car listening to this album with Joe after it first came out. These were in Joe’s pre “pack up and go West” days while he was a rising star at AT&T. There are several tracks that grabbed us back then and it was also around the time where music downloads were becoming mainstream. We grabbed a few off of Bear Share following PJ’s appearance on the David Letterman show.

Binaural is the only album of PJ’s to open with 9 of 10 songs rated good or better, with Evacuation, Light years, and Insignificance getting honors as the best songs on the album. This may be PJ’s deepest best album (as in deepest starting lineup), but without a true killer track it takes a hit in the ratings. As we have seen, the tail end of this album follows the pattern of other albums with odd song selections to close out.

Of the Girl was given a 2, but I could be convinced to bump it to a 3 for pure nostalgia, I loved the track when it came out. Nothing as It Seems is reminiscent of Pink Floyd, and at the time I thought it brilliant, but it has lost some of it’s luster over the years because it simply can’t match what Floyd had done so well.

5) Pearl Jam, 2006

I unfortunately don’t love this Album. I wish I did as some of the tracks are the best ever performed by the band, and the hit or miss style of the song list prevents it from a higher standing among the pantheon of great PJ albums. In perhaps the best two opening songs on any of their albums, Life Wasted and World Wide Suicide get rockin right from the get go. This is unfortunately followed by two tracks I don’t particularly enjoy in Comatose and Severed Hand, before rising up to lofty heights with one of my two best PJ songs of all time.

Marker in the Sand is as good as gets. It is a track that grabbed me the first time I listened to it and hasn’t let go since. A perfect 10 in my book and justly top marks (10). The rest of the album outside of a fun song in Big Wave is decent in my mind, but no better.

Is the 10 pt Marker in the Sand pushing “Pearl Jam” up on the rankings too much? Can one track make up for too many mediocre ones? When that one track is one of the 3 songs you want to be stranded with on a desert island for perpetuity, the answer is yes.

4) Yield, 1998

Yield is vastly underrated by the mainstream musical world, and even among PJ fans in my mind. Top to bottom this is likely their best album with an incredible 10 tracks rated good or better. There is no weak spot. The gem of the album is the overplayed In Hiding, but that doesn’t take away from it’s beauty. Whenever you hear Eddie Vedder hit the high notes you’re in the right spot. This track is complimented by Given to Fly and Wishlist, the latter a song that any person would like, regardless of their musical tastes.

The rest of the album is good too: Brain of J., Faitfhul, No Way, Do the Evolution (what a hit that was), MFC, Lowlight – these are all songs that can be listened to over and over.

3) Ten, 1991

Wow, can’t believe it has been 17 years. No Nirvana album quite matched the brilliance of Ten as this was truly groundbreaking material. Their first album was a shorter, 11 track edition that combined classic rock with punk rock to create a sound unique to the band. Black and Release are he highlights, both garnering 7 points a piece. Alive and Porch are close seconds with 5 points each and Even Flow, Oceans, and Garden round out the good or better scoring.

Ten ended up with the same score as Yield but I gave the edge to the original because of one song – Jeremy. Most PJ lovers can no longer stand the track, but it has to be recognized as a major hit in 1991/1992 and in all likelihood should have more than 2 points. But I just can’t to do it as the track had unfortunately become the face of Pearl Jam despite numerous better songs throughout the years.

Additionally, Release should be a 10 pointer in my mind but it is not a very popular song, so I stayed conservative in awarding it 7.

2) Vitalogy, 1994

Vitalogy is recognized as the bands best album, at least among most of its core fan base. No other PJ album has 3 songs rated as Excellent or better, and it is also home to Corduroy, only the second song awarded 10 points out of the 104 we are delving into. Betterman was a stellar hit and Nothingman still holds up despite the 14 years since its creation.

Interestingly, Vitalogy also has more duds than any other album. “Tremor Christ”, “Pry, To”, “Bugs”, “Aye Davanita”, and “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's me” are all very strange and borderline non-musical. Part of this is irrelevant because they are throw-ins - there are still 11 real songs on the album, but in my mind it does detract a little from the set as a whole. This does not come through in the rankings however, as no points are taken away for this type of craziness.

1) Vs., 1993

Are you as surprised as me to be sitting here and calling Vs., their second album, the best of the bunch? Well, maybe I am not so surprised. Over the past few years Vs. has gotten more play in my car than any other album, but I always chalked it up to the fact I hadn’t listened to it in a while. In truth, the album is their best work and with good reason.

The first 5 songs match up with the first 5 off of any other Album, accumulating 21 points. No Code (22) and Pearl Jam (24) have more points, but they also each have 1 track in the mix that is rated below 5 points. In other words, the award for the best first 5 songs on any PJ album goes to Vs. This is followed up by Rearviewmirror (5) and Elderly Woman… (7) which puts the album over the top with a grand total of 44 points.

Other good songs: Leash, Blood, and Indifference (although I gave this track a 2, maybe a bit low).

I would like to display the point totals along with great or better tracks for each album:

37 – No Code: Hail, Hail (7), Smile (7)

39 – Binaural: Evacuation (5), Light Years (5), Insignificance (5)

39 – Riot Act: Can’t Keep (5), Save You (5), I am Mine (7),

40 – Pearl Jam: Life Wasted (5), World Wide Suicide (5), Maker in the Sand (10)

41 – Yield: Given to Fly (5), Wishlist (5), In Hiding (7)

41 – Ten: Alive (5), Black (7), Porch (5), Release (7)

42 – Vitalogy: Last Exit (5), Nothing Man (7), Corduroy (10), Betterman (7)

44 – Vs.: Glorified G (7), Dissident (5), Rearviewmirror (5), Elderly Woman… (7)

And here is the file containing the ranking of each song and my initial stream of conscience thoughts for many of them.

....from the desk of the Eldest Brother

The mother of invention

I don't know if my genius is evident in my writing. However, I should take a few seconds to acquaint you with a side of me you may not know. What you do know is that I am the loving father of one, soon to be two. And that I enjoy writing, golf, and long walks on the beach, oh right, and I'm a genius. That being said, what I don't enjoy is flying (see previous post dated 3/19/08). My phobia has gotten worse over the last few years and is now starting to affect my loving wife. Before me, she had no fear of flying whatsoever. Now, she has been turned to the dark side of questioning the physics that allow a 70,000 pound hunk of metal to fly distances longer than a few feet, and fearing any amount of turbulence.

The good news is that our flight into Washington, DC's Reagan National was the most turbulent experience I have had to date. At one point the winds were so strong that the nose of the plane was quite obviously askew from the tail. The many well lit monuments of DC turn out to be a great for calibrating this by the way. Not surprisingly, amidst the people vomiting from motion sickness, my wife began to freak a bit. Stupefyingly, I was comforting her.

Upon landing, I felt compelled to ask the two flight attendants how they would rate our carnival ride on a scale of 1 to 10. One of the answers was not too reassuring. The first woman said that she was a bad person to ask, because at this point in her nascent flying career she was sweating it out too. The answer I was actually looking for came from the more senior of the two, and she gave it a 6. God, please don’t ever let me see 10.

Time out. I began this post telling you what a genius I was. We now arrive at the brilliantly timed segue. I said that the severe turbulence was good news. It was, because my brilliance and the necessity to not scare the shit out of my family, caused me to turn to an obvious and old friend. Through a painstaking review of body chemistry and alcohol content, I discovered that bourbon delivered orally at the rate of one ounce per hour will keep a 185 pound man sufficiently mellow for a period of up to seven hours. I know what you are thinking though. Joe, that’s why they invented those teeny bottles of Jack Daniels in the first place.

You’re right, but what about before you even board the plane? That’s where a five ounce baby bottle and a trip the liquor store comes in. Once Annie was safely out of my hands upon arrival at the Shreveport Airport (that has no bar), I ducked into the bathroom and downed about half of my previously filled, homemade medication. You would be surprised how much it looked like juice when it was making its way through security. Then, upon taking our seats I polished off another ounce or so. That left me with about two ounces for our second flight (the one that did barrel rolls) and enough liquid courage to support my family the way they deserve. The night turned out to be a success and as I told you, we arrived safely in Washington. Necessity, my friends, is after all the mother of invention.

March 19, 2008

STM 2008; Housecleaning

It's Thursday morning and I face certain death in five hours. Kidding, but you know how I feel about flying. We leave for Washington, DC today for my wife's interviews with some big ol' lawfirms. I probably should be concerned with how nervous it would make someone to have five half-day interviews in the course of three days, however I am more concerned with how to get two bourbons in me before our first flight, when the Shreveport airport has no bar.

The short of it is that I may be offline (decided not to bring the laptop) for five days or so. I will see if my baseball field reporter will check in about Yankees training camp while I'm away. If he is busy than I can rely on the guest writing of my incredibly eloquent and honest mother. Maybe she can tell you about the great "Desitin Fight" of my youth, or the nightly sightings of aliens that I would scream and climb the walls over. If they are both busy than you will have to check in daily to look at the beautiful video of Annie, or her butt.

I do have a quick update on Sleep Training Month '08. Things are finally progressing. Two nights ago Annie woke only once and that was at about 3:00. She went back to sleep after about 30 minutes of the five minute tackle method. Then, last night she didn't wake up on until 5:30. To top it off, I only tackled her twice and she went right back to sleep. I hate to think that the end is in sight, what with a week in an unfamiliar place ahead of us, but I think the end is in sight.

March 17, 2008

STM 2008

Well, STW is now STM. We have been attempting to “train” Annie to sleep through the night for over two weeks now, so it is time we re-christen this event as Sleep Training Month 2008. Over the last sixteen or so days there have been many different variations and ideas about how to pull this off and, to be honest, none have worked.

I have successfully weaned Annie from eating at night. However, she is still waking up at least once (usually around 1 a.m.), but most often twice (the second time around 4 a.m.). The idea behind weaning her from these especially soothing (for both of us) bottles is that once she gets over the whole standing thing, she will have no reason to wake up at all hours. This obviously has come with some adverse consequences for the adults in our family. Every night, I have been spending at least thirty minutes per wake up trying to get her back to sleep. On the worst nights the thirty minutes become sixty. On the truly horrific nights, where my daughter seems possessed, the sixty minutes become ninety.

Until last night, my strategy was to sit with Annie and lay her back down every time she stood up. But on the advice of my mother-in-law I decided to put her down and then leave the room. I waited on the couch for five minutes and then repeated the process. The good news is that at 1:00 this only lasted for twenty five minutes. The bad news is that she woke up an hour and a half later and I had to do it all over again. After this second wake up, Annie slept quietly until 7:30. Tonight, we do it all over again.

You tell me, has progress been made here? I truthfully don’t know. I may be adding to the problem by settling her every time she stands up in her crib, but the night that I let her try and figure it out on her own she was wailing for an hour and a half. When I finally gave up, it was 7 a.m. and time to get our day started. The whole process seemed pretty mean and pointless when I went in to get her as if it were any old morning. She looked as if she has been awake for days, her face blotchy and covered with tears and mucus. I ask you, who out there could handle that?

March 13, 2008

Unfinished Immune System

Before I begin this story, I feel a brief introduction is in order. I am “Unfinished Dad’s” seventeen-year-old brother in-law, and when the opportunity presented itself for me to take a trip to Louisiana for a week to visit with my siblings and niece I gladly accepted. As soon as I made my arrangements it seems, I came down with mono and was bedridden for three weeks. Luckily my symptoms subsided not long before my scheduled trip down south. So this brings me to my story, which I am going to present to you through metaphor. I ask you to think of this story as a sandwich, with a great, satisfying center trapped between two awful slices of bread.

Slice number one: My journey starts with me leaving Atlanta after visiting my other sister and flying into Memphis. Every flight taken on this trip makes a stop in Memphis, which clearly makes a stunning amount of sense. So I arrived in Tennessee around seven in the evening with my flight to Shreveport scheduled to depart at seven-thirty. Time passes slowly, as it usually does while waiting in an airport, but seven-thirty eventually rolls around. The ticket agent began to call passengers up by rows, and the masses moved toward the gate. Suddenly, she explains that there was a mistake and that the plane has mechanical problems which will soon be fixed. She is sorry for the inconvenience. Frustration begins to set in after three hours pass and I’m still sitting in the Memphis airport. But finally, the agent explains that we will be moved to another plane, but of course that plane is on the other side of the airport. She is again, sorry for the inconvenience. So through the deserted airport, the twenty or so passengers, including myself, walk to their new gate, united through suffering. We are then seated by our flight attendant who showers the passengers, excluding myself, with free liquor. She too is sorry for the inconvenience. As we ease onto the runway the pilot’s voice mumbles over the loudspeaker. He explains that this plane too has mechanical issues, and we will have to fly with the landing gear down, but it’ll be fine, just louder and slower than normal. He is sorry for the inconvenience. Now I know why they gave out free liquor. Finally, at one in the morning I arrive in beautiful Shreveport Louisiana.
Delicious center: Relieved to be far away from planes for the time being I take in all Shreveport has to offer, which is limited, but satisfying nonetheless. I spend time with Joe, Kristen, and Annie and am taken back to the days of us living together, a great feeling. Joe and I instantly center our plans around experiencing all of the food found in the south, and not back in Jersey. We indulge in the delicacies of Sonic, the finger-lickin’ goodness of local barbeque, and the store-bought satisfaction of Oh’s (the greatest cereal ever) and Girl Scout cookie ice cream. After doubling my daily food intake, I begin looking for other things to do. The two of us later decide to find Joe a cheap guitar, so I can teach him a few things. I come up with the plan to look into local pawn shops to supply us with our instrument. Joe is skeptical seeing as neither of us have ever been to a pawn shop or know what to expect. But of course, that’s where we find the guitar. We also stopped in on a record shop in town, and get to talking with one of its employees. We discuss our similarities in music tastes and he let’s us in on his secret of taking all the good albums for himself before he puts any on the shelves. It’s true what they say about southern hospitality, everywhere we went we found someone to talk to. The week passed by quickly, I seemed to be enjoying myself too much to notice how much time had gone by.
Slice number two: Friday rolls around and I am to head back north at five in the morning on Saturday. So for my last night in town, we all go to Kristen and Joe’s friend’s house for crawfish, the last southern dish on our list. The night ends and everyone is happy, that is until around midnight. I wake in a sweat and proceed to get sick, and I mean sick. I’ll spare you the details. So ultimately I end up on the bathroom floor from midnight until seven in morning, the only sleep I get is with my head resting against the toilet seat, of course this results in me missing my flight. Exhausted, sick, and delirious, I sleep for a full twenty-four hours, no exaggeration. In comes Sunday, and I’m feeling like I am able to move with out vomiting, so I book a flight for that evening. We arrive at the airport and I say all of my goodbyes, only to discover my flight had been cancelled. The airline is sorry for the inconvenience. I spend one more night in Louisiana and finally, fly out on Monday. This time, I flawlessly make it to my connecting flight without any delays, mechanical issues, or cancellations. But wait, I must have gotten too cocky, for when I sat on the runway waiting to leave for New Jersey, the pilot’s voice came over the loudspeaker. He tells us that maintenance has to clean out the septic system, and it should only be twenty minutes. He is sorry for the inconvenience. At this point apologies are becoming an inconvenience. An hour later, we take off for Newark, and I’m on my way home.

Despite my tragic mishaps within the two slices of bread, I had a great time. But would I go back…that baby’s first words better be “Uncle Steve is the greatest” if there’s any hope of that.

March 12, 2008

When Annie was in Egypt's Land...

“Life goes by pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”—Ferris Bueller.

Truer words were never spoken. Things are moving pretty fast with Annie these days as the above video shows. This week illustrated this more than most. We had a visitor again (Yeah Aunt Dani!) and she witnessed a whirlwind of activity.

From her arrival last Thursday to today, she was part of the sprouting of Annie’s first tooth, Annie’s true transition from stationary baby to crawling baby (with her head in the dog bowl no less), and the news that Annie is going to have a little sister. It has gotten to the point where writing about all that happens in this girl’s life is a full time job.

Because of this, Dani and I decided to spend Tuesday making an all encompassing video of my little bird, which may or may not have made you cry. Enjoy, and I will check in tomorrow with an update on wild nights of crib dancing and how the lack of sleep is affecting all of us.

March 10, 2008

The Wire, Finale

Dear Void,

My old friend Mike never answers my questions about The Wire. Is it because they are unanswerable and The Wire poses the same thought provoking discourse as religion or politics? Does he not answer because he is too busy saving the world from incorrect billing statements or misplaced site id’s? Regardless of the reason for his absence, I now pose the questions and observations forthcoming to you, Void. I hope you find some measure of enlightenment within.

Is it really over? Could you not see a whole season based around taking down the new miniature kingpin of West Baltimore, Kenard? Oh, wait, we saw him in the final montage being led to an idling cop car, presumably for the murder of Omar Little. If not a Kenard centric season, then certainly you can see Sydnor taking up the fight for the newly retired Jimmy and Lester. He did, after all, bring the show full circle (something David Simon did a bit too much in the traditional end of season montage) by talking to Judge Phelan about the lack of drug policing in B’more.

If it is really over then the first real question I have for you is how you feel about this last installment, now that you can view it as a whole? For me, the last three episodes were so good that I can forgive much of the stupidity of the first seven. The way the show wrapped up (pre montage that is) was fittingly Wire-esque. Of course no one was going to blow the lid on the faux homeless killings or on the illegal wire tap that brought down Marlo’s crew. Last week, Mike and I discussed whether or not it was possible that someone in the chain of command would try and bury all the dirt, and obtusely neither of us mentioned the fast climbing Carcetti. Essentially the series ended with some very obvious truths about life. The homeless stay homeless, the drug dealers stay drug dealers, and the politicians stay politicians. As for the police, well, I think in seeing Jimmy’s funeral we can say that for the most part they probably have their hearts in the right place.

Void, there are a couple of quick questions that I would like answered before I wrap up. We have all week to analyze this super-sized hour and a half episode and the series as a whole. Are you as loyal as Chris and are you prepared to take the wrap for the 26 people I just killed in order to keep Unfinished Dad on the web? Also, do you have the stones of Rhonda Pearlman and could you have kept your cool like that with Levy? And lastly, is there a chance that David Simon’s new series about musicians in New Orleans (that sounds funny even typing it) can be as powerful as The Wire?



March 7, 2008

STW 2.0 Day 5

Thursday night, day five, was the worst night yet in STW 2.0. Technically on day five we should have let Annie cry for 40 minutes. With my new plan however, I was determined to continue laying her back down every time she stood up. In theory she would eventually be too worn out to stand and I would win, right?

Let me give you a little background first. For all of her naps this week I have been using this tactic and Annie as tackling dummy has been responding quite well. Twice she has taken morning naps of over two hours, which as any of you with kids know, is a dream come true. Think of all the vacuuming I got done. Also, as of today, I have only let her sleep in my lap once all week, and that was yesterday when Aunt Dani flew in from New Hampshire. I think we can chalk this blip up to over excitement.

With this in mind, I thought last night I would be victorious. At 3:30 Annie woke up screaming. When I went in her room she was in her usual corner, standing and contemplating the easiest route of descent, like a novice climber stuck on Everest. My first few attempts at putting her back into sleeping position worked well and she appeared to calm down, but the next thing I knew she would start screaming again and sit up. This went on for about a half hour and then a little after 4 a.m. I brought out the big guns.

When Annie puts her Bob (pacifier) in her mouth by herself she settles much easier than when I pop it in. With this in mind I decided to put multiple Bobs in the crib with her. The strangest thing happened. For the next thirty minutes she held a Bob in each hand (left hand pink, right hand green) and switched back and forth every minute or so. The good news was that we wasn’t sitting up and standing anymore; the bad news was that she was so preoccupied with musical Bobs that she never fell asleep. Finally, at 4:30 I gave in and fed her. She quickly slid off to sleep and I crawled back to bed to try and rest before her usual 7:00 a.m. wakeup call.

I’m going to use the same technique tonight, hoping to wear her down. I doubt this can last much longer as the novelty of standing up surely ends by the time you learn to walk. At what age does that happen?

March 5, 2008

Okay, so yesterday’s invective was full of advice for parents around the globe. I felt very passionate about the subject and always will. However, despite writing about using your gut and trusting your instincts, I wholly ignored myself. I confess to you, reader, on just the third day of STW 2.0, that I have modified the rules a bit.

I don’t think that it will be possible to condition Annie to sleep through the night so long as she is standing up in her crib when she wakes. I am banking on the want to stand being a phase that she has to get through. Because of this, last night my plan was to continually peek in on her while she is crying (due to the layout of our apartment and the two entrances to her room this is possible, see Exhibit A below) and as long as she was not standing I would let her work through it. Work through it, by the way, is Joe speak for Cry It Out, a buzz phrase that I'll avoid because it makes a lot of people very emotional in the baby rearing world.

The new plan worked for less than ten minutes. The first peek showed Annie sitting forlornly in the corner of her crib. The second peek, a few short minutes later, showed her standing and screaming and wondering where the hell I was. Sorry fans, but at that point I fed the beast, thus sealing my fate. In the dark of her room I had some feelings of guilt at the realization that I was essentially conditioning her to do the opposite of what I wanted. It’s a nasty little Catch-22 we are caught in, but until I’m comfortable (or desperate enough to give up) with her ability to fall back asleep on her own, I will continue on this weary path. When you are still reading this blog 18 years from now and Annie is pulling an all nighter during her freshman year in college, I will post a picture of me warming her bottle in her micro-fridge.

Exhibit A:

March 4, 2008

STW 2.0

What are the white lies you tell? Are you the person who lies about how long you’ve been playing golf to justify that slice? Are you the person who innocently exaggerates how quickly you made it to work this morning, even if just by a few minutes, so that your commute doesn’t sound quite so bad? Maybe you’re the person who ups the ante a bit and uses your “sick” child as an excuse to avoid seeing some friends that aren’t really friends. Every day we tell these lies, and having a kid simply opens up hundreds of new avenues even with higher stakes. The well being of your child is at stake. I know what you’re thinking. He wants to know if he should eventually tell little Annie that there is no Easter Bunny. Or that Samoas are only for adults. Or that he doesn’t believe in God.

Those may be the white lies that we talk about every day and later laugh about with our kids and friends, but what about the lies we tell to make ourselves seem like more accomplished parents? The other day my wife and I were telling someone that Annie has been getting up at least once a night lately, and that the only way to put her back to sleep is to give her a bottle. Our friend was shocked that we were still feeding Annie in the middle of the night. After all, she is eight months old, an age that seems to be universally known as the bridge to toddler hood. A seven month old can still get away with the whole baby act, but once you cross over into your eighth month it is time to start fending for yourself. Baby be of use!

Personally, I’m skeptical of parents that tell me their child fits into any of the time lines and milestones you might read about. Don’t sit there in Gymboree and make excuses for you baby’s stuttered crawling or leave off a couple of weeks from their age to explain all that spitting up. Parents, learn from your babies and be yourself. If they can drool all over themselves, grunt and get red-faced while pooping, and still just want to be near you, then you can take what comes and learn from it. Annie won’t mind and I won’t either if your son is packing a few extra pounds lately. If you still coddle the little one and you are being true to your belief system, then keep on plugging along. When the time is right to lay down the law you’ll know it. If you know deep down that it’s time for a change then implement one, but don’t torture yourself because a book tells you that you should be feeding your baby solids now, or that she should be napping at 10 and 2.

Okay, so that segue was on the lengthy side. I would like to welcome you to STW 2.0. For all you loyal readers out there, you will remember that STW stands for sleep training week. Back in early November, my wife and I reached the point at which we realized Annie’s sleeping habits, or lack thereof, were beginning to affect all of our lives. So we embarked on a one week journey towards better sleep habits. Starting on Sunday, we decided to let Annie cry for successively longer intervals as the week progressed. By the time we reached Thursday and 40 minutes the issue resolved itself and she was sleeping for twelve hours straight. We were scared to take such measures and felt like we were torturing Annie, but the improvement in our lives was immediate and very satisfying.

This new Annie lasted for a little over three months and then Annie 2.0 learned how to sit up on her own, oh, and then stand on her own. The first time I witnessed this, I was sitting on the couch listening to her cry and hoping that she would take an afternoon nap. When I poked my head in to check on her, she was standing straight up and gnawing on the top rail of the crib. Ever since then, every time she wakes up (day or night) she stands up and gets stuck there. The crying becomes both about exhaustion and the fear of the unknown. Until she learns how to get back down from her perch I fear consistent sleep may be put on hold.

As of this post we are on day three of STW 2.0. Sunday night’s 10 minute wait did absolutely nothing. When my wife and I came in to feed her she was waiting for us, not with bells on, but the next best thing…tears and poop. Monday and 15 minutes were also unsuccessful, with Annie not even batting an eye. She waited us out like a kidnapper demanding ransom. Tonight, we move to 20 minutes, but in this war of attrition I have my doubts. The first time around I was confident that we would find a resolution. However, that baby wasn’t as smart as this one. Annie knows what we are up to and nothing short of complete disregard will get her to fall (literally) back to sleep. This time around I’m not willing to do that. So the next time I see my friends, should I lie about it?

March 2, 2008

Hurtling towards the finish

Dear Michael,

Wow! Wow! We said that last week’s episode was the best of the year and deservedly so, but tonight’s was ridiculously good. As good as any of the work we have seen during this entire series. Kristen and I spent most of the hour on the edge of the couch juggling all of the potential bombshells that could have gone off on the screen before us. It was the kind of episode that made you want to lock the door while you were watching, you know, just in case. The impact of this episode is such that for an hour you could forget all about the drivel that preceded it for much of the previous eight weeks.

Since we didn’t really put a good polish on last week’s episode, I thought we could keep our emails this week a little less detailed. Obviously if given the time we could wax poetic about the “Dickensian” aspect of The Wire, but that may be better suited to a more personal phone conversation. The poor people who tune in to the Unfinished Dad to look at Annie’s jowls must be bored to tears. Hey, maybe when The Wire is over we could start playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on Nintendo 64 and review that.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on a few things to get us going. The scene where Marlo finds out that Omar was hunting him and calling him out was so powerful and really made me like Marlo more than ever. He really is a badass. You immediately realize that Chris has made a huge mistake in not keeping his boss informed. Maybe my prediction of his demise may come true after all, but for a different reason than I guessed. So my question to you is this, do Marlo and crew (except for Snoop of course) walk? This would be, in my opinion, the best way to show us couchers how futile the war on drugs is, no? I’m personally hoping for Rhonda to pull a McNulty and bury her newfound information, but I doubt it.

Secondly, are you surprised that Kima is taking everybody down? I know my own personal moral shortcomings when it comes to doing wrong in order to do right (I’m somewhere between McNulty and Greggs), but I’m curious to know if you think that the public is served by her actions.

Lastly for tonight, do you think that Michael should be the next President of the United States, or the CEO of Microsoft?



March 1, 2008

Mom shopping?

Annie and I went to Target yesterday for some baby essentials (diapers, wipes, formula [generic], and puffs [I'll explain]) and couldn't believe how many other mom's and babies were there. Every time we turned down and aisle we bumped into some cute little baby looking out with wonder from their shopping cart perch. If there were more stay at home dads in this world, Target would definitely be the place they would go to pick up girls. That's not how Annie and I role, but we certainly will take all of the compliments we get as we stroll around.

On the way out of the store we got caught in a rain storm, and as I was unprepared, I did the gentlemanly thing and gave my lady my sweatshirt to keep dry.

Okay, so the puffs are a kind of transitional food for babies that are meant to teach them the art of the pincer grasp and the more subtle art of not choking. They dissolve easily once coated in saliva, which is perfect for a baby that drools as much as Annie, and tend not to kill babies. The good news is that they were a huge hit and when mom and I took Annie out for dinner last night (at a moderately adult restaurant) the puffs kept her amazingly preoccupied. She was so well behaved and happy that she captivated everyone in the place including our local State Senator Buddy Shaw, who came over to do a little baby kissing. That's networking at its best.