Monday, November 28, 2016

C'MON! (Chapter Eight: Game Changer)

C'MON!
My Story of Rock, Ruin and Revelation
(The 5th Anniversary Edition)
- Christopher Long -

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CHAPTER EIGHT
Game Changer

At the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2000, the new millennium was ushered in officially. Despite rampant Y2K conspiracies, the world (obviously) did not come to an end. And I welcomed the perceived promise of a fresh start that accompanies a new decade — not to mention, a new century.

Now approaching 40, I was focusing on new endeavors. I was establishing myself as a popular area special events and nightclub DJ and I also had been hired recently to write record reviews for Florida’s east coast entertainment magazine, Brevard Live. Although I had contributed to such Florida-based publications as The Buzz and JAM! throughout the ‘90s, my gig with Brevard Live offered an opportunity to develop my writing skills and reputation on a greater level. In fact, it was a total game changer.

In Los Angeles, talking music with
rock legend George Thorogood.
(2000)
I became bored quickly with merely writing record reviews and I soon began seeking out national recording artists whom I could interview for Brevard Live in conjunction with feature stories regarding their upcoming Florida concert appearances. And with the growing popularity of hip-hop and electronic dance music, rock acts now were becoming quite accessible to the press — even to a small-timer like me. And before long, I was conducting phoners (telephone interviews) with members of many of my all-time favorite arena rock bands, such as Poison, Cinderella, Stryper and Quiet Riot.

Yes, the new decade would offer numerous industry-related experiences. Some were more positive than others. But overall, I was enjoying my newfound “insider” role thoroughly in the early 2000s.

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Heads Are Gonna Roll
As a writer, I was gaining access to rock stars successfully, but I still needed to navigate through the obligatory line of managers, press agents and handlers in order to set up many of my interviews. And I discovered in short order that even once arrangements were made, things often would change at the last minute. Phoners that were to take place on Tuesday would be rescheduled for Wednesday, 3PM would become 5PM and sometimes I’d wind up interviewing the drummer or guitarist of a particular band instead of the prearranged frontman or bassist. However, some of my most memorable rock and roll experiences would play out by complete accident. And a complete accident perfectly describes the chain of events that led to my personal encounter with the iconic heavy metal band, Judas Priest.

Initially, I hadn’t planned to attend the Judas Priest concert in Boynton Beach, Florida on Super Bowl Sunday, February 3, 2002. The band had achieved legendary status during the 1980s, releasing a string of chart-busting records such as British Steel, Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith, and I was one of their most devout followers. However, my enthusiasm for their music had waned since the 1992 departure of original frontman, Rob Halford. In 1982 I would have killed to witness a Judas Priest concert. However, in 2002, seeing them live was less of a priority.

But I began having second thoughts about attending the concert after speaking to my old friend, David Thornquest, on the morning of the show. David had heard some buzz on a local radio program regarding the event and he surmised that it would be a must-see performance.

My primary concern was whether or not tickets were even still available — after all, it was the day of the show. So I called the Club Ovation box office and to my surprise, the owner, John Gracey, was manning the phones personally that morning. Gracey turned out to be quite personable, and he informed me that tickets were, in fact, still available. Perfect!

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During our conversation, Gracey revealed to me how he recently had spent close to a million dollars renovating the 3,000 person capacity venue and he was thrilled to be booking such top-name acts as Judas Priest. I mentioned my interest in doing a feature on the club for Brevard Live and that I’d bring a camera to the show and take a few pictures of the venue to coincide with the story. My offer was music to Gracey’s ears. He graciously invited me to be his personal guest that evening, offering a VIP table, an after-show pass and an opportunity to meet, and perhaps even interview the band.

I arrived at Club Ovation precisely at 10:30PM, just as Judas Priest was taking the stage. The club was packed and the band delivered the kind of high energy performance that one would expect. Afterword, I was escorted by a couple of the club’s beefy security guards to the backstage meet-and-greet area.

Drummer Scott Travis was the first band member who I encountered upon entering the hospitality room. Literally standing close to seven-feet-tall, Travis resembles a cross between an NBA star and Lurch from the 1960s comedy TV series, The Addams Family. In passing, I complimented Travis on his incredible performance that evening to which he replied with a scowl, “Yeah, whatever.”

In contrast to Travis’ less than warm and fuzzy vibe, the other members of his band proved to be quite charming. Bassist Ian Hill appeared to enjoy the post-concert festivities thoroughly — seemingly delighted to be hanging out with his fans, as he signed autographs and posed for pictures.

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During my backstage conversation with guitarist K.K. Downing, I couldn't help but overhear a petite blond girl chatting with Travis, just a few feet away.

“I’ve loved you guys since I was a teenager,” she confessed — nearly breaking her neck to make eye contact with the giant.

“You probably don’t even know my name,” Travis replied sarcastically — dismissing his passion-filled fan as a garden variety, backstage bimbo.

You’re Scott Travis,” she fired back. “I’ve been coming to see Judas Priest shows since 1986. I ought to know your name.”

"Honey, I wasn’t even in this band in 1986,” he replied, seemingly looking for any excuse to be argumentative.

“I didn’t say you were,” she shot back with rapid-fire reflexes. “I said that’s how long I’ve been coming to see the band."

Anyone who loves to quarrel loves sin.
Proverbs 17:19 (NLT)

After listening to about a minute of this ridiculous exchange, I realized this gal was a diehard, longtime Judas Priest fan and likely knew as much about the band’s history as Travis did. By the time she began schooling him on some of their more obscure earlier material, I surmised that it was an ideal time to move on and say “Hi” to guitarist Glenn Tipton.

Backstage with my (then) girlfriend, Vicki,
and Judas Priest guitarist, Glenn Tipton.
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As I was preparing to leave for the evening, I mentioned to (then) frontman Tim “Ripper” Owens that I was interested in setting up a phoner with him for a feature story in the following month’s issue of Brevard Live. Although I had hoped for an interview that night, it was obvious that this backstage scene wasn’t the best environment for conducting such business. However, Owens seemed quite interested in doing an interview later in the week, and he went into his dressing room to get a pen so we could exchange contact information. This made for one last opportunity in which Travis could demonstrate his particular brand of “people skills.” And he succeeded with grand style.

One thing I’ve learned during my music biz endeavors is that when it comes to dealing with rock stars, it’s important to understand where you do and do not belong. At that moment I knew I definitely DID NOT belong in Owens' dressing room. So I stood in the doorway while he dug through his travel bag, searching for a pen. As we were getting ready to exchange phone numbers, Travis came up and grabbed me from behind.

Apparently feeling that I was violating Owens’ personal space, Travis loudly offered some choice expletives as he physically dragged me by the throat from the dressing room doorway. Angry and somewhat embarrassed by the incident, I figured it was best that I make my exit right then. Over the years I’d been accused of having my own anger management issues, so the situation would have likely gotten uglier had I hung around any longer. Besides, I stood all of five-foot-six. What was I going to do, slay this “Goliath” in a “David-like” fashion by punching him in the ankles?

Avoiding a fight is a mark of honor;
only fools insist on quarreling.
Proverbs 20:3 (NLT)

When I first met Gene Simmons in 1983 I approached him as a giddy fan. Nearly 20 years later, my encounter with Scott Travis was as an industry professional. However, both experiences met with similar results. It took decades, but I was finally beginning to realize that my glorious perception of rock stars was all pie in the sky.

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The Big Score
I was determined to make something big happen during the early 2000s. Now in my 40s, I didn’t feel that going back to school and rewriting my life playbook was a terribly viable option. So I took my various industry-related “eggs” and put them into as many “baskets” as possible. One way or another I was convinced that I could somehow “make some rain.” My DJ business was successful, but playing Jay-Z records in clubs and leading the masses through the “Chicken Dance” at wedding receptions were less than fulfilling propositions. And although a bounty of writing opportunities were now coming my way, that was hardly paying the bills. I needed a big score.

Since my first plunge into the rock and roll world back in junior high during the ‘70s, management seemed to be my forte. Even during the heyday of Dead Serios, I was recognized more for my drive, marketing skills and business savvy than for having any significant musical talent. Although I had dabbled in representing other artists over the years, I always was consumed more with my own projects and consequently those endeavors all fizzled out rather quickly. However, that was about to change in 2004.

One night, while DJ-ing at a little club in Cocoa Village, Florida, a stunning-looking, 19-year-old waitress named Katty approached me with her demo CD. Given my current notoriety as a music critic, I recently had become inundated with demos from countless unsigned artists. To be honest, I had little interest in hearing Katty’s music. I was, however, quite attracted to her energy, big blond hair and other alluring physical attributes. In my depraved mind, I reasoned that if I listened to her song (which I was certain would suck) and at least faked some interest, I just might land her in the sack. But to my utter amazement, her little one-song, two and a half minute, ‘80s synth-pop demo was just about the most exciting thing I’d ever heard. “I’m gonna make you a star,” I vowed on the spot to the young, wide-eyed newbie.

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I went home that night and began devising an immediate plan of action. This involved putting Katty's band together, scheduling a photo shoot and recording sessions, generating press, booking shows and calling up every industry contact I had in hopes of selling my newfound pop princess.

I first reached out to C.K. Lendt, an adjunct professor of marketing at NYU and former business manager for the band, KISS. C.K. and I had developed a personal and professional relationship over the years. And as an acknowledged "big gun" with a stellar reputation, I trusted his judgment. In early 2005, he traveled from New York to attend one of Katty’s early shows in Florida. Simply put, C.K. was impressed, to say the say the least. Before I knew it, he and I had created a business partnership and we signed Katty to an exclusive management contract.

I still believe that Katty
was destined for stardom.
Next, I contacted Bobby Dall, bassist for the platinum-selling band, Poison. Bobby and I lived in the same town and through mutual acquaintances we had established a personal friendship in the late ‘80s. I recognized early on that he was the brains behind his band’s mammoth success. As a result, I valued his opinion. Although he hadn’t been impressed with any of my previous projects, Bobby definitely “got” Katty. He soon began mentoring the young singer / songwriter — helping to develop her material and ultimately producing one of her demos.

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With her captivating, Madonna-like persona, high-energy stage presence and hook-laden pop tunes, everyone who got an early taste of Katty was knocked out completely. And I knew that it was just a matter time before I finally landed that big score.

While C.K. dealt with business matters such as courting major record labels from his home base in New York, I attended to Katty’s personal day-to-day affairs from my home in Florida. And we went to great lengths to ensure that our client was presented and represented as a national caliber artist. Recognizing that perception is reality, I retired my collection of black rock concert T-shirts and replaced them with an array of business suits. And yes, I even bought a briefcase. If Katty was to be perceived as a big-time contender, then as part of her management team, I had to look the part as well.

C.K. and I spent the next year (and thousands of dollars) developing and marketing Katty. By the time she turned 21 in early 2006, Katty was performing in clubs and at major festivals throughout Florida — opening for such up-and-coming national acts as Silvertide and Family Force 5. Along the way, Katty and I became close and we enjoyed both an amazing personal and professional relationship.

Unfortunately, people can become greedy the first moment a whiff of "pie" is detected. So greedy in fact, a big score can be decimated before the pie is sliced, or before there even is a pie. And by the time C.K. and I had developed Katty fully as an artist, and we were ready to pitch her to major record labels, trouble already was looming. A couple of the trusted industry pros whom I hired to advise us had become paranoid that they would be somehow left out of the "serving line" when the pie was sliced. As a result, they began advising my client privately on career decisions based on how it best served their interests.


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After years of developing a personal relationship with Bobby Dall, I was hired to tour with Poison as Bobby’s personal assistant in the summer of 2006 — a dream come true opportunity to be sure. But when I returned home from the road in the fall, Katty notified C.K. and I that despite our 11-page management contract, she was going to pursue other career options.

For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition,
there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
James 3:16 (NLT)

The truly heartbreaking and frustrating aspect of that experience, aside from the small fortune C.K. and I lost in the venture, was that Katty personified the sound and style of such artists as Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Ke$ha — years before those divas arrived on the pop scene. And I still believe that if just a bit more faith and patience had been exercised, Katty would have been the big score. Fortunately, she and I managed to maintain our personal friendship, despite our professional break-up. Today, Katty still performs throughout Central Florida in various cover bands.

Paradise City
In February 2007 I found myself at the world famous Henson Studios. Located in the heart of Hollywood, the facility was built by silent screen star Charlie Chaplin in the early 1900s and was originally a movie studio. In 1966 it was purchased, remodeled and transformed into the legendary A&M Studios by music moguls Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. In 1999 the property was purchased by the Henson family. Jim Henson created The Muppets, one of TV’s most successful kids shows. In May 2000 the facility re-opened officially as Henson Studios. During the A&M days, this was the studio in which legendary such artists as John Lennon, Carole King and The Carpenters recorded some of their biggest hits. As an admitted pop music nerd, it was hard to believe that I was so privileged to be within such hallowed halls.

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Poison bassist, Bobby Dall, had invited me to accompany his 16-year-old son, Zak, from our mutual hometown in Florida to visit him for a few days in L.A. while he was in the studio working on the band's Poison'd! record. Like countless times before while working for Bobby, my role on this trip was that of “Rock Nanny" — attending to and entertaining Zak. And although we did enjoy some leisure time — shopping, sightseeing and eating out, Bobby had a full workload. Hence, most of our L.A. excursion was spent holed up in the studio.

During the long sessions, Zak kept himself occupied, playing with his assortment of iGadgets while relaxing in the studio lounge. These diversions afforded me extended nanny breaks — allowing me to hang out in the control room and experience the recording process first-hand. The record was being produced by Grammy Award-winning music biz guru, Don Was. Don’s impressive résumé includes producing critically acclaimed records for the likes of Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt and Brian Wilson. For years, I had been paying my dues on an indie level, working in, and learning my way around various recording studios from Florida to the Carolinas. So to be actually sitting at the mixing console, side-by-side with Don Was during a major label recording session had me awestruck to say the least.

While Poison worked in Studio B, Guns N’ Roses alumni Slash and Duff McKagan were in the adjacent room recording Libertad, the sophomore record for their current project, Velvet Revolver. Zak is a huge rock and roll fan and can’t get enough of the fast-paced lifestyle. He loves to be on tour with his dad, and with his up-to-the-minute rock fashions, painted finger nails and expensive, ever-changing hair styles, it’s often hard to tell between father and son who's the rock star. Standing in the hallway of Henson Studios and hearing Slash’s signature guitar riffs buzzing through the walls was more than Zak could endure — he had to meet Slash. In fact, the prospect of meeting the rock icon was all I heard from Zak for days. Then one night during one of Poison’s sessions, Bobby finally gave in. He approached me with the official order — “Take Zak next door and introduce him to Slash.”

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This was the night of the 2007 Grammy Awards and Henson Studios was hosting a lavish after-show party. From such current pop sensations as Christina Aguilera to retro hit makers like Taylor Dayne, the Henson party was an all-star event. Yet despite being Bobby Dall’s son, getting Zak to Slash was going to be no easy feat. I first introduced myself to one of Slash’s handlers. I was instructed to have Zak stand by for a few minutes while Slash finished his session.

Before joining Guns N’ Roses in the mid 1980s, Slash had actually auditioned for the guitar slot in Poison. Legend has it that Poison frontman Bret Michaels wanted Slash but was out-voted by Bobby and drummer Rikki Rockett who wanted C.C. DeVille. The possibility of lingering bad blood caused Bobby to be a bit skeptical initially about Zak meeting the guitar hero. But Slash couldn’t have been nicer. Wearing black leather pants, a lavender silk shirt and his trademark top hat, he was quite cordial and even displayed a sense of humor and patience when I had difficulty operating Zak’s camera. Although the meeting was brief, Slash proved to be gracious and completely unassuming. Zak got to meet his hero and we escaped the Grammy hoopla by slipping quickly back into the quiet comfort of Studio B.

Slash cutting tracks at
Henson Studios in Los Anges.
(2007)
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Hit Me Baby One More Time
It doesn’t take an Einstein to know that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. But it took a while for me to get that memo. Despite the obvious lesson I should have learned from the Katty debacle, I opted to move forward in the field of artist management.

Deana Lane was an 18-year-old singer / songwriter who I met in Tennessee while on tour with Poison in 2006. Shortly after returning home from the road, I encouraged Deana to relocate to Florida so we could begin developing her career properly — an invitation she accepted gleefully. Although Deana had zero experience, and her initial songs were dreadful, I was impressed by her enthusiasm and apparent drive for success. But her material developed quickly and it didn’t take long for me to recognize that she truly was a diamond in the rough. Unlike Katty’s polished pop sound, Deana’s music was raw and edgy. Her lyrics portrayed a sharp sense of black humor — sort of like a southern-fried, female version of Alice Cooper.

C.K. Lendt thought the bandaged wrists
in Deana's photo shoot was a “gimmick."
It wasn't.
To me, Deana’s most endearing attribute was her willingness to do anything to make it. During a 2007 photo shoot, she appeared in one shot, snorting chopped-up lines of powdered candy that spelled out her name, cocaine-style, from a mirror on the studio floor. Even Bobby Dall said that we went too far with that one!

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In 2008, I booked Deana to perform at an East Coast music awards ceremony. It was a fairly upscale event in which all of the female performers and presenters looked very elegant, with their spray-on tans, black slinky dresses and golden hair highlights — everyone, that is, except my client. Deana walked onstage wearing a tattered $2 dress we bought from Goodwill that she had stained cleverly with heaven only knows what. Her hair was tied up in ratty pigtails and her make-up was smeared from ear-to-ear. In short, she looked like a deranged mental patient who had just crawled out of a dumpster — and I couldn’t have been more proud. In fact, Deana made such a powerful impression that night, the promoter of the event called the next day to chastise me for putting such a "hideous spectacle" on the awards show stage.

And that summed up my dilemma perfectly. Katty was cute and bubbly. Her music was infectious and salable. Conversely, Deana’s vibe was dark and abrasive. Oh sure, I “got” her, but I just couldn’t find others in the industry besides Bobby Dall and C.C. DeVille who shared my enthusiasm. In late 2008, after two years of total dedication and another huge financial investment on my part, Deana chose to return home to Tennessee, also to pursue other career options.

Deana Lane
(2008)
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Our subsequent personal relationship hasn’t fared as well as my relationship with Katty, which is sad because it’s tough to live with someone for two years without becoming close. Deana and I worked together diligently on her music and marketing, 24/7. We made several long distance trips to visit her family, and I even brought her to L.A. for her first taste of big city life. And while Deana turned me on to some incredible, early David Bowie music, I introduced her to the genius of Debbie Gibson. It was a fun and exciting time — or so I thought. But hey, if I had lived with me during that period, I wouldn’t talk to me anymore either! And I wish her the best in her future endeavors.

I now maintain a strong “Just Say No” stance regarding my personal involvement with any bands or solo artists. In fact, when my own son came to me for help with his band in 2009, I orchestrated and financed ONE professional photo shoot, set up a ONE-song recording session and booked a (proper) initial gig or two in order to ensure that they were launched in the right direction. I then advised him passionately to quit.

Like father, like son.
(Jesse Long - 2009)
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A Family Affair
Feeling burned-out and defeated, I was desperate for any kind of break in 2009. I met Chris Dillon in 2006 while I was on the road with Poison and he was on tour with Butch Walker. Over the years we’d become good pals. As an acknowledged touring veteran and close personal friend of frontman Michael Sweet, Chris had just signed-on to manage the upcoming Stryper tour. Realizing how gaga I still was over the ‘80s Christian rock combo, he offered me a position handling merch on the tour. Given my often less than pleasant Poison road experiences, I had vowed to never step foot on a tour bus again. However, this was a Stryper tour! The money being offered to me was less than I’d be making as a nightclub DJ at home in Florida, but on the road, personal living expenses are a fraction of what they are in the real world. So I reasoned that financially, I could afford to take the gig.

The tour kicked off in September. The band already had a merch guy signed on to cover the first leg of the tour and I would connect with them in Chicago on October 4th for the second leg. During that time I was in frequent communication with the band’s management company regarding my personal tax and passport info, and setting up payroll arrangements. Chris also kept in touch with me through emails, phone calls and video clips.

I was goofing around with Chris on the phone shortly after the tour began, when I jokingly asked him if Michael Sweet was likely to go crazy on me, Poison-style, while on the road. “Dude, this is a Stryper tour,” Chris calmly, yet enthusiastically, reminded me. “This is a ‘family’ and it’s gonna be the best experience of your life.”

To say the least, I was psyched to be going on tour with my longtime Christian rock heroes. I’d immediately put in for a four-week leave of absence from Siggy’s and my bags were packed, sitting by my front door for more than a week prior to my scheduled departure.

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One morning, just a couple of days before I was to hit the road, I received a call from Chris. He was upbeat and excited about me coming out, and he wanted to let me know that the band’s travel agent had just emailed me all of my flight info. Then, to my chagrin, I received another call from Chris later in the day.

“Dude, I’m at the airport, headed home,” Chris informed me — clearly bummed out.

“What?” I exclaimed in total disbelief. “Did you get fired?” I immediately asked.

“No,” he quickly replied. “I’m leaving the tour for medical reasons — Michael Sweet makes me sick!”

Hold on! I thought this was going to be a “family” affair. I thought it was going to be “the best experience of my life.” Now, at the last the minute, my contact, my buddy was off the tour. What was I going to do? I’d already put in for a leave of absence at my regular gig — I couldn’t afford to lose this tour!

But the dilemma wasn’t for me to resolve. The next day I was contacted by the band’s management office and informed that given the circumstances (i.e. being Chris Dillon’s "guy"), my services would not be required on the tour. And that was that. Just a simple, half-hearted apology, followed by the obligatory, “Good luck” — and NO offer of any type of monetary compensation.

Fortunately for me, the owners of Siggy’s were delighted to hear that I wouldn’t be leaving for another tour after all, and I didn’t wind up losing any work. But what if my situation had been different? What if I actually was a full-time touring guy? What if I’d turned down offers from Foreigner or Taylor Swift in order to go out with Stryper? I’d have been in real financial dire straits, that’s what! But that clearly was of little concern to the Stryper organization.

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Writer’s Block
Despite my professional frustrations, writing was one area where I truly continued to excel. I now was getting offers to write official bios and press releases for various top-name artists and I also had been brought on as a contributing writer for the popular music and culture website, Ink19.com. It was becoming apparent that I just might have a future in writing.

Since reading Bob Greene’s 1974 backstage tell-all, Billion Dollar Baby, I’d been drawn to stories based on the personal experiences of music biz insiders. In recent years, I’d devoured such behind-the-scenes memoirs as C.K. Lendt’s Kiss and Sell and Cherie Currie’s Neon Angel — which only further fueled the desire to tell my own story. But publishers were universally ambivalent about embracing any of the feel-good, fan-type book proposals based on my involvement with various bands that my agent had been pitching over the years. While I did have some interest from publishers, it was clear that none of them were going to sign me until I took off my "fan hat." I’d have to dig deep, get real, and focus on ONE particular band if I was to advance to the next level.

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Read C'MON! in it's entirety 

Copyright 2012 / 2016 Christopher Long

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