7.01.2009

How NKOTB Re-Wrote History: A Fan's Redemption

It was 1989, and everything was big. It was the era of sky-high hair, enormous earrings, and oversized shirts. As a 12-year-old girl, I had no idea that I was on the brink of witnessing a very, very big phenomenon. It started innocently enough. The catchy chorus of a bubblegum song on the radio called “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” grabbed my attention. I remember buying the cassette single and admiring the faces of the cute boys on the box cover – five young men from Boston – the New Kids on the Block. Shortly thereafter, “Hangin’ Tough Live” aired on the Disney channel, and from that fateful moment, I was hooked. I really believed that I was in love, as much as a pre-teen could possibly be. The time had come to tear down the She-Ra Princess of Power posters of childhood and move on to what I perceived to be more grown-up interests – namely, these five famous, dreamy teenage boys. Up went every teeny bopper magazine pin-up of NKOTB that I could find, and I leaned heavily toward the Joey McIntyre ones.

Then the phone conversations began. Endless talks with my girlfriends long into the night…”Did you see what Jordan said on that TV special?” “Oh my gosh, Donnie pierced his nose!” “I wonder what kind of girls they like…” My parents’ money was spent freely on loads of NKOTB merchandising – button pins, T-shirts, CD’s, videos, puzzles, trading cards, hats, and of course, the all-important concert tickets.

Seeing those boys perform at Georgia Tech stadium on August 8, 1990 was one of the highlights of my entire young life up to that point. A whole football field away from them, way up in the nosebleed section, I couldn’t believe I was actually seeing them in the flesh. I was breathing the same air. I was so excited that I accidentally hit my dad in the face with the binoculars.

After that, I daydreamed about them during English class, scrapbooked their pictures as soon as I got home from school, and literally pined away for them. The crush I had was so intense that it hurt. It was hard enough being an adolescent and trying to make sense of relationships with boys in my own social circles. The New Kids were somehow a safe crush…so perfect, and so unattainable…it was easier to fixate on them than to have to worry about “real” boys. And undoubtedly, that was the reason that the “real” boys hated the New Kids. It was jealousy in its most obvious form. Though they would vehemently deny it if confronted, the New Kids were a very real threat to any hopes they had of winning over our affections. After all, how could the average, pimply-faced teenage boy compete with the perfectly styled big hair, fabulous wardrobes, and ├╝ber cool synchronized dance moves of the New Kids on the Block? No wonder that my husband now admits that back in those days, he wished he could punch Jordan Knight in the face.

But eventually, my love affair with the New Kids began to fade, as is typical for teenage crushes on celebrities. By the time the group officially dissolved, most of the fans had already moved on. My NKOTB posters came down and were replaced by the guys from Beverly Hills 90210, although my admiration for them never even came close to matching the epic proportions of my obsession with their predecessors. I knew I would always look back on my NKOTB craze with fondness, but I really believed it was over for good.

And then I spent the next seventeen years growing up. College, marriage, relocation, and children happened. Every now and then I would come across a former NKOTB fan, and we would reminisce about those days and laugh about having a “favorite.” It was all just a warm, fuzzy memory.

Until April of 2008. I was chatting with my sister-in-law who breezily asked, “Oh, did you hear the New Kids on the Block are coming back?” My heart skipped a beat. I felt butterflies in my stomach. “What?” I laughed, playing it off. “Are you kidding me?” She wasn’t. Coming back, I thought. What did that mean? Some kind of goofy appearance on a late-night talk show just for kicks? And what did they even look like now? At the time, I didn’t know. All I knew was that the 13-year-old fan in me, who had apparently never really grown up, needed information, and fast. Never had I been more thankful for the internet, as I rushed home to my computer and quickly discovered that there was to be a reunion performance in May on the Today show.

There was a group photo released, and a new song, and I was positively giddy. I was not the only one. Fans came out in droves to see the New Kids perform on stage together for the first time in fifteen years on the Today Show, one of the largest gatherings ever at Rockefeller Plaza. Once again, the New Kids had seized on perfect timing, in the same way that they had years ago. They had been away long enough for their original fans to miss carefree days gone by, but not long enough to be forgotten. It wasn’t just that we enjoyed seeing them again on TV. NKOTB was a symbol – a representation of an entire era in our lives, an era that took place before we became worried about recessions, wars, and mortgages. All of a sudden, we got the fever again. We wanted more New Kids. We wanted concerts, new music, and press coverage. Demand for the group was reborn.

I was ecstatic to get a brand new NKOTB CD in my hands, ‘’The Block,” which proved that the boys were all grown up musically and in every other way, as well. It really didn’t matter that prejudiced radio stations wouldn’t play the new songs. Apparently, they were run by the same jealous adolescents who had grown up and still wanted to punch Jordan in the face. Shunning demand for the group seemed to be an indirect way for them to exact their revenge. But the fans made the magic happen themselves.

In September of 2008, the reunion tour kicked off, selling out venues in many places in a matter of minutes, much to everyone’s surprise. My entire summer was spent networking with other fans, teaching New Kids songs to my children, and literally counting the days until the concert in Atlanta. By sheer act of will, I did not allow myself to read a single concert review, watch youtube videos of the show, or even look at other fans’ pictures. I wanted the moment that they hit the stage to surprise me with the same delight that I had experienced in 1990. My husband, ever the New Kids critic, picked on them (and me) for months, but it was all in fun, and I had a sneaking suspicion that he might even be won over eventually. Being the good sport that he is, he went with me to the show and even waved his hand in the air to “Hangin’ Tough,” while all the girls around us patted him on the back in encouragement and appreciation.

The show itself was all I had hoped for. And as the tour ended, I assumed that we would hear about some official closure from the guys, and it would all be over at that point.

But I was wrong. Little did anyone suspect that 2009 was to be a grand extension of what had already begun. We learned that fans would be treated not only to a spring tour, but a cruise with the group. I wondered where the guys found the superhuman stamina to keep up such a tremendous pace. And then the frenzy began again in earnest. Dates for a brand new “Full Service” summer tour began to leak out. “Blockheads” were relentless in scooping up tickets to second, third, fourth, and even fifth concerts in the course of a year.

And in the midst of it all, there were the guys – twittering away to the fans, keeping us occupied with minute details of their lives, and stretching us to do things we never thought we would do for the chance of winning contests to meet them. I felt like a little teenage girl the night that Jordan posted a vlog including instructions and details on how to win a trip to one of their Today Show performances. I lay awake all night, scheming and plotting how I might win, and planning my very own trip to New York City for an up-close-and-personal meeting with the dreams I had as a teenager. I had already decided how I would choose the friend who would accompany me when I was forced back into reality upon realizing that I had lost. I was reminded that years ago I had entered a Teen Beat magazine contest to win Joey McIntyre’s famous black hat, and, so certain of my victory, it had also come to naught.

It gave me pause. How had I, once again, become putty in their hands, exactly as I had been years before? You're an adult, I told myself. So how could I have possibly regressed into a "fangirl" once again? The marketing team for NKOTB, whoever they were, had me exactly where they wanted me – pining away again, hanging on the New Kids’ every word, but still having the time of my life in the process. So instead of being resentful toward those admittedly saavy marketers, I simply acknowledged that I did, in fact, fall squarely into the target demographic just as I had almost 20 years before, and then gleefully salivated for even more NKOTB, as any good blockhead would.

Seeing the group on the summer tour was an unforgettable milestone for me. I was with a fellow fan this time who grasped the gravity of the experience. But what really gripped me was the opening line of the entire concert as the video montage began, “I know it’s hard – to see me go – to see me standing – so close to the door.” I told myself that it was just a song about a lover going away, a very general love song, and that I was reading too much into the words. But I was distressed by a feeling in the pit of my stomach. Oh, no. I thought. What if it's a message to the fans…that it wouldn’t be too long before they would be the ones going? What if this concert was a chance to see them “standing close to the door” before they walked out of it for the last time? I was surprised and a little embarrassed to notice tears pricking at my eyes and a big old lump in my throat. When I got home and pondered the possibility some more, I was even more bewildered by my emotions.

During the first wave of New Kids success, most of us were fickle teenagers who quickly and easily moved on to the next thing. Fickle as we were, the relationship that we had with this group in the late 80’s/early 90’s had marked us in ways that we could not fully understand until our 30’s. They were our first loves, the objects of our dreams, and the privilege of enjoying them years later was something I had never fathomed. So to think of them leaving again would mean closing a chapter for good. It was never really a new chapter. It was the exact same one that was begun in the past. Whenever they do leave, I thought, I will have to close this beautiful, tender childhood book that has just been opened once again, and I will somehow feel even older. For this reason, the fanbase, as a whole, has worried and fretted and wrung its hands.

But for the second time in the course of a year, I was once again proved wrong in predicting the end. Donnie Wahlberg's reassuring tweets have convinced me that my fears have been irrational. Even upon the conclusion of the summer tour, rumblings and rumors about another new album and future tours are prevalent, much to my delight. As long as the demand is there, and the guys are willing, I remain in steadfast support.

But I cannot bear the thought of a slow and painful fading away into obscurity. They deserve better than that. We all do. Instead, whenever the group determines that the ride is over, even if it’s years away, I will long for a figurative tip of the trademark black hat, a formal acknowledgment of the impact of both the past and the present, and a blown kiss goodbye as they ride into the sunset. Though that moment will be painfully bittersweet, it is my hope, as a fan, for a re-write to the old ending. A redemption, as Donnie Wahlberg once aptly described the reunion. A definitive moment in time when they choose to show us their cards and lay down their last hand, exiting with grace, just as it should be. As it always should have been. But the chance to pen the final chapter the first time around in the way that they intended had somehow been elusive.

Make no mistake – I never want this ride to end. But I will never begrudge them their choice to take a bow when that time comes, although it will undoubtedly evoke strong emotions in me. After all, they are ever the masters of perfect timing. Just as they stormed back on the scene at the most opportune time, in the most perfect way, I believe that one day, they will perceptively sense the appropriateness of real closure. The closure we never really had before. The chance for them, for us – for the “five brothers and a million sisters” – to say goodbye to one another. Until then, NKOTB, you have marked my life in immeasurable ways. You really did have the last word in the end. I thank you…I salute you…and I will never forget you.

My friend and I at the June 4, 2009 concert in Atlanta in our vintage T-shirts. Thanks to my mom for saving them all of these years.

46 comments:

  1. This is awesome! I feel exactly the same way, girl.

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  2. I don't know you, and you don't know me, but a friend of mine posted this on her Facebook page, and I read it and I TOTALLY get it. From another Blockhead in Michigan :)

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  3. Jennifer, I just read that with tears in my eyes...I am convinced that no one could have expressed the way we all feel any better. I hope this makes its way to the guys & somehow you are rewarded for putting our feelings into such great words. I am looking forward to seeing you in ATL for the next concert...There will be another one!!! ~Tonya

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  4. Someone posted a link to your blog on twitter. I have to say that everything you said in it rings true for me as well. Very eloquently written!

    Laura-Fellow Blockhead from Indiana :)

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  5. Jennifer, from one Jenn to another :) that was beautiful! It's the perfect summarization of all that's been going thru our heads for the last year+. I hope, in all sincerity, that this link gets to the guys someway, somehow. This blog is... well?! It's perfect! I may not see you at the next ATL show (gotta agree with Tonya - there will be another!) - but I'll be there! (((hugs))) -Jenny (jordansmyfave)

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  6. Thank you for putting mine and every other Blockhead's feelings about this reunion into words. I will pass this on.

    With love,
    Ali

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  8. Beautifully written and it perfectly sums up the emotions of our million blockhead sisters everywhere !!!!

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  9. Beautifully said... expresses so much of what all of us feel. Thank you.

    - Lisa

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  10. I think you just summerized how many of us feel. Thank you for putting this into words that are so true.Great job!

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  11. Tears reading this! As for the opening line of the Full Service tour, you're only remembering part of it:

    (Showing video of the old days)
    "I know its hard, to see me go. To see me standing, so close to the door."

    (Showing video of the recent days)
    "I know its hard, when I'm far away. But I promise you when I get back, I'll stay."

    They were promising they weren't gonna disappear again. :)

    - RocksicleLover

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  12. Wow, this is beautifully written. I got a little misty reading it. I found your post via a link on twitter. I was at the June 4 show too (by myself) I had such a blast. I too am just hoping this will continue, even if it is just an annual tour with a handful of dates in each region (oh I will be there!)I first saw them in 1989 (at age 9) when they opened for Tiffany in Columbus, GA. Would love to connect with another fellow Georgia BH on twitter (@elibba). In fact that has been another point of perfect timing, the way that we have all been able to unite via social media and meet people that we may otherwise never know. Thanks for the post!
    @elibba in Georgia

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  13. Thanks from another Jenn in Georgia!!! I saw this on twitter and was compelled to read it! Very well said and exactly how I, and other devoted BH's, felt back in the day and feel now.

    We've been so blessed to have them come back into our lives and open up doors for all the BH Sisters to connect!

    I'm looking forward to other opportunities to meet/see the guys in the Atlanta area/southern region and can't wait to Cruise, again!

    Thanks for the post!!
    ~Jenn
    AKA on Twitter: JoeysIrishPower

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  14. You summed up the experience beautifully. I got misty while reading.

    Kelly
    Twitter: spellbound_girl

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  15. I really couldn't have said it better myself :)
    Thanks for your beautiful tribute to our guys and to all us fans!

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  16. Wow, if I could only encourage my friends & family to read this. I will post the link to my facebook and on twitter. This so eloquently and completely embodies my feelings from the inside out. Thank you very much. I feel I have a new sister <3
    JoyClick3x on twitter

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  17. You've given me chills. You've brought tears to my eyes. It's amazing that you know exactly how I feel, and we don't even know each other. 2009 has been one of the most special years of my life thanks to NKOTB. I feel like I'm truly living my authentic life now because of them, & it's so DAMN FUN! Thank you for this, sister. You've made my day.

    Lindsey
    Twitter: @LemonN2Lemonade

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  18. Soledad Sent...(not dewayne, he's my guy)
    First, thank you for such a beautiful post. You describe what my heart and all of our hearts feel about our boys.

    This reunion has brought not only NKOTB and the fans back together but it has connected all of the BlockHeads/NK Army/DDub Soldiers together.

    You created a blog that has strengthen that connection. Thank you for that.

    Soledad
    Twitter: JonKgirl4ever

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  20. *passing the Kleenex*.....AMEN SISTA!!!

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  21. Hi... very nicely written, and a lot of fans feel the same way :)

    Oh, and DONNIE TWEETED THIS!! GO YOU!!!

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  22. you hit the nail on the head sister... thank you for putting it so well. I never got to see them as a kid so this time around it really fulfilled all my pre-teen fantasies and am enjoying the ride while it lasts (much to my husband's annoyance.. hehe)

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  23. *wiping my tears of joy away* Thank you for perfectly wording how everyone of us BH feels... I was @ the "Full Service" Atlanta concert w/my sister who was kind of appeasing me! But at the end of the concert SHE THANKED ME! WE HAD THE BEST TIME SINGING & DANCING TO THE SONGS SHE REMEMBERED BUT WASNT QUITE READY TO ADMIT! (Her fav is Jon & mine is & always has been Donnie ;o)

    I also found this blog on Twitter; Ddub RT it!! He is such a sweetheart!

    Another Jen!! ;o)
    AKA @Smitten4donniew

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  24. Thank you for writing this! It is EXACTLY what I am feeling, what I have been feeling since 1988. I was in tears reading this and I didnt know why. You never ever forget your first love and my first love was NKOTB. And for that they will be in my heart forever. I went to 4 concerts this past year and I hope it wasnt my last!

    Michelle

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  25. Wow. I really am at a loss for words. You've described everything I have felt over the years. After the 1990 Magic Summer Tour I was never the same lol. I'm glad to know it wasn't just me!

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  26. Iam speechless and have tears in my eyes I really think that the guys have touched our lives in ways that only fans could understand I will forever be grateful for everything they have done for us they have truely changed my life and even my kid loves them I think when the time comes for them to say good bye lots of us will be left with an empty place in our lives and hearts until then let's keep on loving nkotb forever.............. @nkotb_twin1

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  27. I could not have said it better myself. I have struggled for a while to try to explain how and why I (as an adult) feel the way I do about them. You've explained it to a tee. Like my inner child has picked up right where it left off even tho my age and exterior has grown up. My husband doesn't get it. My non-fan friends don't get it. But that's ok because Donnie said it perfectly when he said "how can we expect them to understand something that you can't explain." Thank you for trying to explain it for me!

    Twiiter: MySummerTime09

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  28. I don't think anyone could have described the emotion and passion we have for our guys as well as you just did. You just spoke for thousands of us die hard New Kids fans. Wow! So crazy that so many of us feel the exact same way. Thank you.

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  29. You could not have summed it up better! I had the posters, the crush, and even made a birthday cake for Joe one year. I, too, was at the Atlanta show in '08, screaming like a 13-year old girl again. I went to the Full Service show in Atlanta, and will be there when they tour again. Thanks for such a beautiful trip down memory lane!

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  30. Beautifully written....and I think you speak for so many of us here- myself included. Wow, I'm speechless reading this and feel EXACTLY as you described it. Thank you for this and thanks to DDub for tweeting it!!

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  31. I cried reading this. Aug 1990 in Toronto was my 1st show, 1st concert ever. I sat so far back they looked like little ants! But I was the happiest 13 yr old ever. Then I saw them in Dec. 1990 & was just as giddy haha I waited the 4 yrs to see them again and even though you knew it was "ending" you tried to have hope. Flash foward 20 yrs and I remember were I was sitting when I heard, THEY WERE BACK! My mom and I held our breath to make sure it was true! Sept 2008 We are at the 1st,2nd and 4th show! hahaha March 2009 we hit Erie, Syracuse and Niagara Falls! Booked the cruise 1 month before because we knew we had too! July we went back to Toronto and a "last" show at Darien Lake in Buffalo. We booked the 2010 cruise without a 2nd thought. In 2 weeks we hit DDUBS CD party!! Do you think at 33 I would still be doing this?!?!?! I'll tell ya..there's no place I'd rather be!! These Million Sisters will always be here!

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  32. What a beautiful way too say it, because it's exactly how i feel, it is so Amazing how they have come back, my life has change once again and i tell ya, i'm so glad it has..I'm a Blockhead for life, a Ddub Solider for life..NKOTB forever!

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  33. I'm in tears, thank you for posting this! Beautifully written

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  34. What a great way to describe how & what NKOTB has brought into all our lives. I was born and grew up in Eastern Europe during comunism. So it wasn't till after 1989 when we got exposed more to western culture. The second I saw The Right Stuff on TV, I couldn't resist the smile of Donnie. I had no idea who they were..till weeks later I saw them on a cover of a German magazine that were so hard to come by back then too. And that was when it all began for me. During those years II didn't get my hands on any merhcandise, as none of it was available to us. But I wuld have all posters or TV recordings that I could get.

    ...I would have never guessed almost 20 years aago that one day I would not only live in US, but also be an US Citizen...

    Had a rough year with a divorce, but no one can take away the smile from my face during those time that my 5 brothers and milllion sisters are bringing to my face.

    Again THANK YOU for such a great way of describing what this family means to all of us!!!! :)

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  35. Oh dear - I'm "only" 28 by now and must have belonged to the youngest fans back then...but I can say that I so share the feelings you describe here.
    Living in Europe and having been too young back then, this year's tour offered the chance to finally see them on stage. And I can say - I was not the only person feeling 11/12 again that night :-D

    *sighs* Wonderful text!

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  36. Wow. That was beautifully written & so on point! It completely sums up my feelings about NKOTB from 1st loves to impeccable timing down to the immeasurable impact on my life and the chance for closure. But if they can go forever so can I!!!

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  37. Perfect! So amazing written. It's like you wrote everything that I have felt. It's amazing that we get to experience this again AND with so many new friends!!

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  38. That is awesome! It started innocently enough October 30, 2008 in Charlotte, then Tampa, then Greenville, and like a drug, they got me hooked. I even made a Twix dress so they could see me! I also went to the June 4th Atlanta conert and quickly ran to the back when they performed in the audience!! I had tickets to the NC concerts and was heartbroken when they cancelled them. I was fortunate to ride with 3 other blockheads to Houston (22 hours later) and had a wonderful chance to meet Jonathan Knight as he spent almost an hour with NKOTB fans thanking us, inspiring us. All of us collectively sobbing in Houston, grateful and full of love for this second chance to take this ride. Thanks for putting it so eloquently.

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  39. So beautifully written, I think you have captured all our feelings perfectly. And like you, I hope for a fitting farewell, an opportunity to say goodbye, knowing it is our last chance.

    But for now, let's continue to enjoy the amazing ride. I am so happy I saw them in concert 4 times in the UK earlier this year, I even arrnaged to go to to FL to see them in 2 concerts there, but sadly they were cancelled. I went anyway as had already booked everything, and from Miami, I saw the cruise ship they'd been on only weeks earlier. Next year I am so lucky that I will be on that ship with them.

    What an amazing experience it has been for us all.

    Sonia, London UK

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  40. You said everything I have felt since I bought my tickets for my first NKOTB concert in 19 years last May. My best friend (of 30 years) and I went with a group to see them on Oct 4, 08 and I was so overcome with memories and emotions that I barely remember any of it. I have since made many wonderful friends and gone to 7 more concerts. (Three of them Danny wore the shirts I had given him!!) What a wonderful time I am having. I hope it never ends. Isn't Twitter the BEST??!! I am so happy that Donnie saw your blog and I hope he follows you!! Thanks for saying what I couldn't possibly express as wonderfully. Congrats to a BH sister -Carey (@wicked12)

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  41. Along with the rest of you, I can never explain to "outsiders" why I feel the way I do. My husband is good about it, but I know he thinks I'm a little nutty. My non-fan friends don't get it. Sometimes I'm embarrassed to "talk" to them on Twitter for my other readers to think that I'm somehow immature or something. But this whole experience the past 18 months or so has just brought me so much joy. It's brought me back to a time when things seemed so hard, but were really so simple. When a song on the radio could make my entire day. When a daydream about my "future husband" would make things all better. It was safe, and it was fun. They couldn't break your heart.

    A friend and I have gone to every NKTOB-related event we could for the past 15 years. Jordan and Joey solo concerts, the September 2008 Toronto concert (even though she gave birth two days later!) We were at one of the very last original concerts, May 1994 in Toronto and it cemented our friendship.

    Thanks for the post. It was really great to read.

    Cynthia (AKA @8thCyn www.climbinguptheslide.com)

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  42. Your article is amazing..I got tears in my eyes, goosebumps and eventually real tears...as your story is the same story for millions of other blockheads. Your words are like looking back on our own lives. We know the feeling, we know the regression to "fangirl" and only true BH know what it is like to experience this AMAZING journey.

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  43. Hey, I'm glad I saved those T-shirts!
    Love reading these comments, Birdy. Your writing is perfectomundo.

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  44. I swear you wrote my story. I saw New Kids 4 times in the late 80's-early 90's. I was the first person to find out about them and told all my friends at school, spreading the word about this awesome new group. Over the years I have still professed my love for them, even to the dismay of my husband, who shakes his head and wonders if I'm ready for the looney bin. I was lucky enough to score a ticket to the Tinley Park, IL concert a few days before we left for Vegas to get married. It was the best bachelorette party EVER! Thanks for writing the story that rings true with me!

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  45. I got your link from Donnie's twitter! So cool. So I had to come and read. Amazing!!!!! My friend and I went to the concert in our hometown and then, three months later, we drove to Irvine, CA for their concert there. It was amzaing and so worth it. Like everyone else, that is the story of my life!

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  46. This was so beautifully written. These are my feelings exactly! I am so touched by your blog and listening to those lyrics I also thought the same thing. I put way too much thought into it, it drove me insane. Then I also came to the conclusion that what will be will be and that I will enjoy the ride as long as it lasts! LONG LIVE THE BLOCK!

    Twitter ID: FortuneRose

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