Archive for the ‘Musicology’ Category


Certainly when you look back at the 1980s and the icons of the era, you won’t ever get far on that list without thinking of Michael Jackson. So his death comes at perhaps one of Eightiesology’s greatest tragedies. Obituaries and speculation and contemporary invocation are best left for other websites. They’re going to bring up the man’s eccentricities and the scandals that pursued his later years, and I don’t deny they made Jackson a very inaccessible person to me. In fact, I’ve often felt his total solo output wasn’t as grand as touted, certainly not for a self-proclaimed King of the genre. But nobody growing up in that era could deny the impact his music had at some or another, whether on your own nostalgia of moments in your life or on the very pop culture that is the bedrock of the ‘80s.

Though rivaled by his years with the Jackson 5, the ‘80s were certainly his most formidable era, with his two biggest albums, Thriller and Bad, dropping in the heart of the decade. (Off the Wall and Dangerous fell on the fringes of either side of the decade but had strong connections to the ‘80s, though the latter album was essentially the beginning of Jackson’s creative end.) Yet the heyday of MTV kept Jackson in the spotlight for what seemed like every single day of that decade. His grand usage of the music video format helped put the channel on the map and may be one of the most brilliant uses of the medium as a marketing tool. And he ended up transcending the radio-and-MTV template of the time by expanding into charity work, long-form videos (like “Thriller” and “Moonwalker”) and even theme park entertainment (EPCOT’s Captain EO). By the end of the decade, many of our generation grew tired of Jackson’s increasing presence in tabloids due to his eccentricities and scandalous behavior. The music eventually wore thin too as Jackson broke very little ground after Bad.

In retrospect, you realize how ever-present the artist was for everyone who lived through the decade. I can’t speak to devoted fandom here and unlike the narcissistic celebrities coming out of their Twitter hives, am not going to stand here and preach about how Michael Jackson was a genius or a beacon in my life. As I’m sure many people speaking from honesty would agree. But part of what I’ve attempted to do here on this blog is celebrate the whimsy and innocence of the ‘80s (as I’ve often stated, without the snarky irony hoisted upon us by the VH1 generation). For me, the strongest aspect of that has always been the music and how it invokes such a strong memory to certain moments or periods of our lives throughout the time. And you just can’t go very far without having a Michael Jackson song soundtrack one of those moments.

Thriller was released in 1982 but stuck around for years after with the last single, “Thriller” stretch the success well into 1984. For me, that meant the album hit the airwaves starting when I was 8 years old and soundtracked 2nd – 4th grade for me and my friends. That would put the album in one of those ‘80s nostalgia vortexes for me. In 1982, I visited Walt Disney World for the first time and when that summer was over, transferred over with a dozen classmates from a primary school to the larger elementary school. Between the new school and increased activity in sports and Cub Scouts, this was a time of many new friendships. 1982 really was the start of a different style of ‘80s music as the earliest hits of the ‘80s tended to have more of a punk or new age aesthetic before giving way to the more familiar pop. So memories of those times are incredibly intertwined with the advent of the pop sounds of the era.

I have to admit, part of my nostalgia for Jackson’s videos were the inevitable Weird Al Yankovic parodies, most memorably “Eat It” and “Fat.” But those videos were only as successfully as the imagery they were parodying. They just couldn’t work if you hadn’t seen “Beat It” and “Bad” a dozen times a day. To me, the more memorable of Jackson’s hit videos was “Billie Jean.” Elements of the video were a bit scary to me, but I don’t know that there were many kids in America who hadn’t hoped that by walking down a sidewalk, they too couldn’t trigger a hopscotch lighting effect where they walked! Eerie and cool, a great utilization of the medium.

Of course, there may be no music video more successful or popular as “Thriller.” You couldn’t escape either version, with MTV rotating the long version and the edit. A truly creepy piece of work, “Thriller” may be one of the first songs seemingly written specifically to be a music video. It’s not often you hear an artist of Jackson’s caliber essentially writing a Halloween song! I quickly soured on the overplayed hype of the song, but unlike some of Jackson’s other hits, I have a better appreciation for “Thriller” now when I hear it.

Still it was some deeper album cuts and later singles that really made their mark on me. “Human Nature” is one of those songs that is just there, sort of filling out the atmosphere until Jackson’s falsetto grabs you. It was really a great template for the new jack swing movement which would revitalize R&B music later in the decade, perhaps best exemplified by Bobby Brown and his New Edition cohorts. The song’s freeflowing melody is perhaps its strongest suit as it’s lent itself to being a song that interprets wells in different music genres. The best, in my opinion, being David Mead’s very honest rendition which melds the new jack swing of the original with his own singer-songwriter talents. With piano replacing the synth, Mead’s version expertly gives me nostalgia for a time 20 years before his own recording.

Though a weaker track, “P.Y.T.” was probably the most memorable tune from the album for me. I have a distinct sense of the song being popular for a brief time, and my friends and I digging its rather unique sounds. For me though, one of my most vivid memories is pulling out the Thriller vinyl record from the bookshelf in our den. With “P.Y.T.” crackling through the speakers, I bopped around the room singing about a “Pretty Young Thing.” Could I have been any more clueless to the subject matter? When I think about Jackson’s music, I often go to that moment. It’s undetermined and rather pointless, but it continues to float there in the ether of my mind. And will very much be performed the next time I do karaoke.

Bad didn’t resonate as much with me. By then, I was moving into different sounds and had hitched my wagon to harder rock and power balladry. With rap very much on the scene, it was difficult watching Jackson act tough when he was very clearly a sensitive pacifist. However, “Man in the Mirror” was a stand-out track for me and very much ever-present on the airwaves in ’87-’88. I can hear it in my head when I think back to riding my bike to various stationery shops hunting the newest lines of baseball cards. (It may also be soundtracking my failed attempts at moving away from the G.I. Joes and Transformers of the time.) There’s just something wickedly cool about Jackson’s singing at the end of that song backed by a gospel choir.

The world is still in shock over Jackson’s death with little details known to the public. Though only 50, Jackson hasn’t been the mark of good health but it’s shocking nonetheless. Rumors and jokes are already afire on the internet, while many are focusing on Jackson’s speculated activities that led him into many courtrooms. That said, so many people were affected by the man’s music ; whether or not you liked it, it was a ubiquitous presence in our lives. I’m sure as I listen to Michael Jackson’s songs over the next few days, it will conjure up more memories of the time. For so many fans of the ‘80s, they may drift back to wearing socks on a hardwood floor attempting to moonwalk, the momentary cool of wearing a singular white glove, or the recreation of one of his many dance routines. It still hasn’t quite sunk in that this icon has passed on. Admittedly, I keep launching the Internet thinking how surreal it is that news of his death is staring me in the face. In response, I keep going back to a line from one of Jackson’s songs. “If they say, why? why? Tell them that its human nature.”


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Continuing our week long concentration on all things Back to the Future, we take a detour into the musical realm, highlighting a hit song from the soundtrack of the film, a song that itself ranks high in ’80s musicology. That’s “The Power of Love.”

BTTF Soundtrack

The Power of Love really is a curious thing. The #1 hit by Huey Lewis and the News is almost as vital a part of Back to the Future lore as any other aspect of the movie itself making it one of the best examples of how powerful (no pun intended) soundtrack songs can be as not only marketing tools but also as a further artistic extension of the movie and the inevitable nostalgia for said movie.


So it’s rather ironic then that the song has nothing to do with the movie. Granted the theme of “the power of love” certainly looms over Marty McFly and Jennifer Parker’s romance but his love is more evidentally powerful for a friend (Doc Brown) and his family. But the lyrics could be related to many movies for that matter. Regardless of the subject matter, the song quite effectively become the de facto theme to Back to the Future


The ’80s were particularly adept at effective associations between movie and music. The advent of MTV had created a new forum for essentially advertising your movie. Imagine a video with movie clips interwoven into the performance playing once an hour on television. Previously movies only had 30-second TV spots to promote their product, and those were fleeting. Otherwise, one had to actually be at the theatre to get a glimpse of the upcoming moving pictures.


But more importantly, popular music never worked as effectively as thematic music for cinema as well it did in the ’80s. John Parr’s “St. Elmo’s Fire,” Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose,” “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds, the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. I could do a weekly feature on this and would probably take a year to run out of selections. When you heard those songs, you thought of the movies. “The Power of Love” may be the ultimate ’80s soundtrack song in that regard. The freewheeling synthesizers, boisterous horn section, and precision guitar-playing, along with Huey Lewis soulful singing, certainly helped craft a quality song in and of itself. But close your eyes and you can’t help but be transported to scenes in the movie every time you heard the song in 1985 and every time you hear it today. 

Huey Lewis and the News

Huey Lewis and the News marvel at Huey's phallic microphone.


Huey Lewis and the News didn’t need this song to put them on the map. They already had hits and would go onto release more, making Lewis one of the most bankable stars of the ’80s. It was hard to dislike the group. I wasn’t even that big of a fan, but I adored some of the band’s hits, particularly “If This Is It” and “Do You Believe in Love.” But “The Power of Love” is by far their biggest hit, even nominated for an Academy award. In some ways, Huey Lewis and Back to the Future helped each other out as the hit never would’ve reached such a high summit had it not had the association of a beloved movie attached to it. 


Huey Lewis and the News did contribute a more theme-appropriate song to the same soundtrack with “Back in Time,” an underrated song that held court in the shadow of its more popular soundtrack companion. Unlike “Power,” which made a few appearances during the movie, “Back in Time” plays over the credits. Lewis himself makes a cameo in the film as a nerdy judge who dismissed Marty’s band from playing the school dance.


Back to the Future also made vital contributions to scoring with Alan Silvestri’s famous score, one of the preeminent scores in the history of fantasy and science fiction cinema and easily recognizable to even the most casual of cinema fans. 


The Back to the Future trilogy’s popularity crossed over into so many other areas besides film, hence its cultural importance and popularity. Music was an important aspect of its popularity, though a natural extension for an epic ’80s franchise. As we’ll learn later in the week, BTTF would cross over into other realms.



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It really hits you hard as a thirtysomething when you start to see the celebrations of 25th anniversaries of things that you were wholly conscious for in your youth. As it is, I’m witnessing the birth and growth of friends’ children and reconnecting with long lost friends on Facebook, many not talked to in 10-15 years, a startling revelation that comes to a surprise every time I count the years in my head. Was 1992 really that long ago?   


"This is what it sounds like when doves cry." exclaimed Prince in 1984. Doves responded, "What? We sound nothing like that. Our cries have less electric drumbeats and more synth."

"This is what it sounds like when doves cry." exclaimed Prince in 1984. Doves responded, "What? We sound nothing like that. Our cries have less electric drumbeats and more synth."



In 1983, I wrote about the 25th anniversary of a now-defunct EPCOT attraction called Horizons. 1982 was the 25th anniversary of EPCOT itself and of my first visit to Disney World. It was also the anniversary of the relaunch G.I. Joe as the smaller action figures that my generation came to know, love, and blow up with firecrackers. And the first year of many that Family Ties aired. As I started doing research for this blog, it scared me how many beloved ’80s institutions had been around for 25 years. And yet we’ve only just begun. 


1984 through 1986 are really the core years where the 1980s started forming its own identity. Those first few years had so much spillover effect from the ’70s. A lot of early music from the ’80s was essentially disco, new wave and soft rock, all genres owing significantly, if not entirely, to the prior decade. The music we would come to think of fondly as ’80s music started to thread itself through these ’70s holdovers and slowly take over. Think back to your favorite songs of the decade, or at least to the biggest hits of the decade, and you’ll see most of them came in the latter half of the era. (This is no different than the ’60s, ’70s and ’90s all decades with similar transitions).


How many people on this page have appeared in the nude since 1984? (Other than Gizmo and Starscream.)

How many people on this page have appeared in the nude since 1984? (Other than Gizmo and Starscream.)



Movies and TV shows had a similar aesthetic transition though many of our treasured favorites of the era aren’t always marked by an ’80s aesthetic. The Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises started in 1977 and 1981 respectively. The Star Wars trilogy was finished by 1983. But these film series informed the decade, not the other way around. But those ’80s-centric films which came to epitomize the sensibilities and imageries of the era, like The Breakfast Club, Back to the Future or St. Elmo’s Fire were informed BY the decade. And would come to epitomize our recollections of movies of the time. As a visual media, TV shows were much the same. Every kid remembers watching M*A*S*H* and Three’s Company reruns, spillover shows from the ’70s. But we came to identify the decade with shows such as The Cosby Show, Who’s the Boss, or Cheers. 


Starscream has led a life of crime since getting kicked out of proctology school.


As for cartoons and the toys that often came along with them, well this year one of their granddaddies celebrates its 25th anniversary: Transformers. With G.I. Joe and He-Man, the Transformers really came to influence the rest of the decade’s animation styles and toy collections. For me, it was also the first year that I started to collect trading cards (mostly baseball) and followed sports with more interest. 


So pay attention in 2009. And don’t be surprised at how frequently you hear it’s the 25th anniversary of a number 1 song, the debut of a favorite TV show, the release of a major film, or the arrival of a favorite action figure. 


Gizmo on the Casio keyboard he used to compose most of the big hits of the '80s as well as Justin Timberlake's last album.

Gizmo on the Casio keyboard he used to compose most of the big hits of the '80s as well as Justin Timberlake's last album.


Oh and for the record, I’m celebrating the 35th anniversary of my birth this year. Equally as scary and frightening as celebrating the aforementioned anniversaries. As of this writing, there are no plans to honor me with a live-action film or deluxe box set.

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Days of Guns n’ Roses

Duff, Slash, Axl, Izzy and the uncleverly-monikered Steve

Duff, Slash, Axl, Izzy and the uncleverly-monikered Steve

It was announced this week that Guns n’ Roses’ new album will finally be released by the end of November. Chinese Democracy is now legendary for its 14-year birth and its many rumored release dates. What it will be is the first new studio album from the band since Use Your Illusion I and II were released in 1991. For all intents and purposes, Guns N’ Roses is now an Axl Rose solo venture since the original band all departed by the mid 90s. It remains to be seen how relevant the band will be 15 years after its last recorded product and 17 years after its last original albums. The band’s fans have grown from angry young teenagers into middle-aged mothers, husbands, managers, and maybe even a stray grandfather. And in that time we didn’t watch Gn’R grow up with us. But for some of us, all we ever really needed was Appetite for Destruction.

The stars of Pirates of the Caribbean!

The stars of Pirates of the Caribbean!

Released in 1987, Appetite for Destruction is an absolutely essential album on so many levels. It is a turning point for rock n’ roll in the ’80s. In retrospect, it ranks as a great album in the pantheon of all-time hard rock. And for Eightiesology, it ushered in a new era and nudged this Eightiesologist into new musical realms. Make no mistake, I still found a way to balance the pop and R&B with hard rock. And many of Guns n’ Roses supposed contemporaries became crossover artists dabbling in power balladry, a genre I indulged in to its very end. But in ’87, I started thinking about the rougher edges, oddly enough when a band called Guns n’ Roses skyrocketed up the chart…with a ballad.

“Sweet Child O’ Mine” is no ordinary ballad. It may very well be my generation’s greatest contribution to the Billboard charts. And it was an easy song for the band. The opening riff was a Slash joke that the band quickly fleshed out and turned into a melody. Axl wrote lyrics that read aloud would sound like a rather pedestrian poem but his voice helped transcend those lyrics into something immortal. (Don’t believe me? Try listening to the dozens of crap covers of the song, including Sheryl Crow.) Lastly, the band essentially throws in an improv breakdown at the end as a response to the producer’s request and yet it ends up not only working as a bridge between Slash’s killer solo and the empowered finale, but also helped give the song its unique identity as an antidote to the types of ballads we’d been listening to since the late ’70s. A gem almost entirely created by accident.

And that was just the beginning. “Welcome to the Jungle” had already been released months earlier to some acclaim but it only reentered the atmosphere after “Sweet Child” brightened the spotlight on Guns n’ Roses. With interest piqued, I had a newfound respect for this harder edged side of the band. And with album soon in hand, I wandered down a road that was often a lot more like the Jungle and less like a warm safe place.

To fully understand the magnitude of my appreciation for the music on Appetite for Destruction, you need only go back through this blog’s archives and read all posts about The Bangles, Ghostbusters, Disney World, Star Wars, and the song lists of my mixes and Friday Night Dances. Now scroll down to last week and watch me singing Wham! karaoke. I was the antithesis of hardcore. Growing up, I watched my brother indulge in Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and I couldn’t stand that music. So for this Eightiesologist to take a shining to “It’s So Easy” and “Nighttrain” on the heels of the opening “Jungle” was a revelation that was baffling to me. This shit had groove, man. It was heavy, drunk and dirty but underneath it all was a mischievous melody. And as a 13-year-old, I got it.

That was never better represented than by “Mr. Brownstone.” This tale of heroin and the heroin addicts who wrote it could not be further from my reality than it was and yet I could be seen bouncing around with this playing in my headphones, often as I headed off to buy baseball cards. It had an almost supersonic riff to it, overlapping its dirty groove. We used it to come out to during some basketball games in high school. I still remember the mischievous glee I had looking over at Mr. Weber during the “that old man, he’s a real motherfucker” line. Heh.

The album never ran out of songs. “Paradise City” and “My Michele” continued the sturm and drang of Sunset Boulevard life. “Think about You” and “Rocket Queen” showed the influence of classic rock on the band that would be more fully fleshed out on Use Your Illusions. And the album stayed in rotation for years never growing old or stale. In fact, it is one of those gems of the decade that I can’t say I’ve ever gone too much time without having listened to. In fact, many of the aforementioned songs have been parked on my iPod for a long time, essential for nudging me along a workout, especially after a brutal work day.

For all its sordid tales, I think the album represents an argument against censorship and influence as I never went on to a life of drugs, debauchery or prostitution. And I was hyper aware of the lyrical content I was singing along to. I recognized that it was grungey and corrupt, but it was entertainment to me. It didn’t make me want to aspire to become the protagonist of the songs. It only made me want to be in a rock n’ roll band. I enjoyed listening to the lifestyle but never came close to living it or wanting to.

There is something about rebellion that helps connect young listeners to artists and their art. At some point in our lives we all have an appetite for destruction, whether it is literal or metaphoric. We grow up from that but not away from it. We like to put these things into perspective and the music that perhaps once meant something to us on one level, now takes on a nostalgic presence. That’s a lot for some bands to stomach because the good ones abhor becoming nostalgia acts to punk kids who grew up to become lawyers or bankers. But the reality is that some of us still need those sounds because it makes us feel like we’re young and full of piss and vinegar. And maybe sometimes we wish we could be irresponsible and go punk on our bosses, unleashing a profanity-laced diatribe of truth with “It’s So Easy” playing in our heads.

“You get nothing for nothing, if that’s what you do…”

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Sunday Evening Serenade

The Eightiesologist ventured into the city with his wife to celebrate a friend’s birthday and was able to utilize our camera’s video feature to capture some of the karaoke fun. It’s not pretty but part of the beauty of the ’80s and the total lack of shame we can now have in retrospect is our ability to belt out a good tune and totally feel the spirit move you. Forgive the semi-drunken camera work. And enjoy “Everything She Wants” by someone who was not in Wham!

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I have a confession to make. I actually purchased Milli Vanilli’s Girl You Know It’s True album AFTER it was revealed that the two dreadlocked males we’d come to believe were singing, were actually lip synching frauds. Much of the music on the album had been everpresent in the late ‘80s but as I hit upon my first dose of ‘80s nostalgia in college, I wanted a copy of that album. However much of a fraud the guys in the video were, that doesn’t take away the enjoyment of the music. Sure it’s a bit overwrought, even by ‘80s standards, but if that many people were buying into the popularity, than they were hitting some notes right.

I think the bigger issue is that the real Milli couldn’t even find guys who could dance to put in his videos. While some could laugh at many of our Friday Night Dances, they were mostly delivered by people with groove (or, in Paula Abdul’s case, outright skill). I’m not quite sure the flying chest bump became something anyone ever embraced, at least outside of the NBA. Or the side-by-side, shoulder-enhanced-blazer-wearing shimmy, for that matter. (Axl Rose had better rhythm than these guys.) That all said, girl…you know it’s true.

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The second Eightiesology iMix focuses on hard rock and glam metal from the dubiously designated hair bands of the era. I thought it was important to take a hard left turn after the first mix since these are pretty much the polar opposite images of the time: pop stars abiding my fashion trends versus hair bands decked out in leather and denim. For me, I lived comfortably in both worlds but leaned more towards the hair bands once we entered high school. And much like a hat could not have enough space to contain this much hair, 80 minutes was not enough to capture the best sounds of the time so I’ve kept with the mostly upbeat, edgier tunes of the genre here while the planned sequel will focus on the more powerful ballads of these bands. There are exceptions to change the tempo but these are mostly songs to passionately air guitar to with fists shaking in the air.


Click the button below to go to the iMix on iTunes. Again, I don’t make any money off of this, it’s just a way for me to further promote the site. Feel free to download the whole mix, individual songs or use it as a guide for you to create your own mix. Download the artwork here and print it out for a mix CD. But most of all, enjoy the ride on a crazy train!



“Crazy Train,” Ozzy
I wasn’t a big Ozzy fan in the ‘80s but always dug this song. It’s one of the strongest, rawest metal tunes on this compilation and thus made for a great opening track. It’s one of the rare times that Ozzy was able to cross over into many different markets and genres with a song, one that put the melody and vocals on par with the guitar muscle of Randy Rhodes. This also happens to be one of the earliest songs (of any genre) in the ‘80s that ranks in Eightiesology lore.


“Round & Round,” Ratt
Ratt didn’t do much for me as I tended to be more of a fan of cleaner, glammier metal sounds at the time (at least until Guns ‘n Roses entered the scene). In fact, I don’t even recall being a huge fan of this song at the time but in nostalgic mode, it’s gained significant relevance and appreciation for me.


“Runaway,” Bon Jovi
We’re now 3 for 3 on songs by artists I wasn’t crazy about. It’s almost sacrilege to have ill-conceived criticisms of Bon Jovi but they were just never a band that captured my interest. For the most part, I find them to be a little too ordinary and vanilla to me, even though they’ve created a lot of cool tunes. To me, though, those tunes were never as good as their first real hit. Despite the pulsating piano riff, the song had an otherwise raw aesthetic to it that seemed to go away as the band progressed into hair-spray infused rock.


“Dreams,” Van Halen
And now a band that to me ranks as one of the top hard rock bands of the decade and remained relevant into the ‘90s. I’m an unabashed fan of the Van Hagar era. I think Sammy Hagar’s a far superior singer to David Lee Roth, capable of reaching incredible octaves with his voice. I also happened to prefer the band’s more melodic approach in this era over the bluesier tones of its earlier phase. “Dreams” wasn’t even the biggest hit of this lineup’s output but it was a popular song in my circle, assisted by a cool video featuring the Blue Angels. It still pumps me up today.


“Tell Me,” White Lion
White Lion’s third single from Pride. (Their first? You’ll have to “wait” for it.) The band made quite a splash on the scene with an album full of accessible songs. I always dug this one, particularly the fist-pump-invoking opening, and appreciated how it snuck onto the scene but got lost in much of the nostalgia of the time. I think it’s important to respect how rare it is for some of these bands to chart three worthy songs from one album in hair metal lore.


“Talk Dirty to Me,” Poison
What a way to burst onto the scene? One of the main proprietors of metal’s glam phase, Poison was also one of the first bands I remember “arriving” (whereas many bands seemed to have already been there when I discovered them). A band that provided many highlights for this genre of music, making it harder to edit their input on this compilation. The song remains a sing-along highlight for my friends and I today.


“Up All Night,” Slaughter
Slaughter was big for about a week but it was quite a week. Actually a ‘90s hit, the song reminds me of hanging out at my friend Tom’s house. Now in high school, the music of the time was a backdrop to our own attempts at more rowdy endeavors. (Tom was always successful; me, not so much.) The song is actually one of hair metal’s last gasps but those last gasps also had added poignancy with their place in the hormone-raging high school years. And yeah, I had a habit of sleeping all day.


“Don’t Close Your Eyes,” Kix
To me this song was representative of tunes from bands you knew little about, and cared less when you heard what else they had to offer, and yet compelled you in that moment. I don’t need to know much about the band Kix, just that this song was pretty friggin’ killer. As you’ll see by the end of this compilation, I tended to favor those songs sung by high-octave-reaching singers.


“Kiss Me Deadly,” Lita Ford
The first relevant metal chick, Lita Ford was scary and sexy at the same time. She also introduced me to the more scandalous meaning of the word “laid.” (Though I may not have entirely understood it for the first few listens.) And while Lita and I could relate on going to a party but not getting laid, our evenings differ because I didn’t get into fights. It ain’t no big thing. 



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