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I have, of late, taken to eating two tortillas with butter every night before going to bed. And every night, after I eat said tortillas with butter I get nauseous. Now, you'd think there'd be a lesson to learn in this, but noooooooo, not for me there isn't. So, I've just eaten my nightly two tortillas with butter and I'm sitting on my couch like so much fish, totally nauseous with nausea. I don't like the feeling of nausea. The feeling of nausea is nauseating and even as I type the word "nauseating" I'm getting more nauseous. But, never fear, dear readers, I will not throw up. I never throw up. I haven't thrown up since I was fifteen years old (sometime around the Revolutionary War). Isn't that a good record? I would rather put a fork through my nose than throw up. There is nothing worse than throwing up, in my opinion. Now, the word for throwing up is one word which just suits that particular bit of business to a "t". That word, as you know, is "vomit". You just look at that word or say that word and it's just perfect. It says it all. So does "barf" for that matter. Can I just stop for a minute and ask this question: Why in hell am I talking about vomit? I feel we have reached some sort of nadir here, and frankly I feel that that is all to the good. If you can't occasionally reach a nadir, then what? Don't you think "nadir" is the nadir of words? It just lays there (like so much fish) looking totally useless, word-wise.
You know, it occurs to me I could just delete the entire paragraph above and the world would probably be a better place. But will I? Absolutely not! Not when said paragraph has such beautiful lingo as "vomit" and "nadir".
So, are you all waiting with baited breath (no mean feat) for the new Sondheim biography? Won't it be fun to read all about my close personal friend, Mr. Stephen Sondheim, and finally know all about his peccadilloes? Well, isn't that a candidate for the worst word ever? "Peccadilloes". I mean, I just throw my hands up in the air (no mean feat - have you ever tried to throw your hands up in the air?). I mean, why isn't it "tortillas" instead of "peccadilloes"? Then we could find out about Mr. Sondheim's tortillas and I could eat peccadilloes with butter before bedtime. It's all so arbitrary, language is. Anyway, I, for one (not two) am looking forward to finding out all about Mr. Sondheim's peccadilloes and tortillas, even though I already know all about them, him being a close personal friend of mine. I hear it's pretty good, and delves into subjects not heretofore delved into. Therefore, there will be fresh delves. It will be hitting the stores shortly. What the stores did to deserve this beating I simply can't say, oh, no, I simply can't.
Have I said that I'm nauseous? My stomach is roiling. If your stomach has ever roiled you know how annoying this feeling is. Let's talk about something other than nausea, shall we? Let's talk about the fact that I have to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to take a written driving test. Now, if you've ever taken this test you know that it was prepared by psychopaths. They have impossible to answer questions like: Can you drive the wrong way down a one-way street? What kind of trick question is that? Of course you can drive the wrong way down a one-way street. Any idiot knows that. You'll get killed, but you can do it. You see my point? I've been studying the booklet they give you, but I got this booklet in 1987 and I think things have changed since then. Don't you hate that, when they change the rules and don't tell you? One year it's okay to make a u-turn, the next year it's not. Who can keep up? This is giving me a headache just thinking about it. This test causes great anxiety. I feel that as long as you endure having to take the damn test, you should automatically pass even if you get all the answers wrong. If you do pass, then they take one of those very flattering pictures where you look like you've been on crack cocaine for three years straight. Not that I know anything about crack cocaine as I am a drug virgin. Yes, you heard it here, The Real A is a drug virgin. Then they ask you to take the eye test. Who can see anything but the big letter on top? I always get the big letter on top right. But they sense you might need to wear your glasses while driving when you call the "Q" a "Z". Now this is grossly unfair in my book (Chapter 61 - Grossly Unfair Things). I mean, a "Q" looks just like a "Z", doesn't it? Aren't they really almost identical? Wait, let me put on my glasses and take a look. Oh. Oops. Well, I'll let you know how I do on the test. Hopefully I will pass (yes, Spock, "hopefully").
The Tony awards will have been given out by the time this column appears. So, here is who I think will win (whether they deserve to or not is not the issue): Natasha Richardson, Alan Cumming, Ragtime, Julie Taymor, the score to Ragtime and Cabaret. We'll compare notes next week.
Have you ever had the sensation that bugs are crawling on you? I've had this happen three times since I started writing this particular column. I am certain I feel a bug crawling on my leg or arm yet when I look at said leg or arm there is no bug crawling there. This is a perplexing phenomenon, this thinking bugs are crawling on you. But, the proof is in the pudding, because they're simply not there. Stop. Halt. Red light. "The proof is in the pudding"??? I'll be right back.
Okay, okay, call me stupid, but I just made some pudding and there was absolutely no proof in it. I looked everywhere. This pudding was proof free. The proof was not in the pudding. This statement "the proof is in the pudding" is false! Maybe the proof was in the pudding at one time, but it certainly is not there now and I, frankly, want the world to know it. You, dear readers, must go out and spread the word this week that there is no proof in the pudding. People will not want to hear this, they will look at you askance, but you must persist. The truth is out there, and frankly so is this column. In fact, this section of the column is just like The Life: Over. But enough about me.
Okay, so we all know that Stephen Sondheim is arguably the greatest lyricist in the history of the musical theater. So, let's just put him aside for a moment and talk about some other greats that I happen to love.
As you are probably aware The Real A is in love with words. And lyrics. The ability to tell a story through a lyric or illuminate character through a lyric or even make a simple heartfelt statement through a lyric is a true gift. Lots of people call themselves "lyricist" but don't have the craft it takes to be great. Today's pop lyricists are horribly lazy, using inept and false rhymes, or using words that fit the music awkwardly (prime example: My Heart Will Go On from Titanic - one of the most inane lyrics ever written - does it matter? Not one or two or even three whits). I simply can't abide lyricists who misrhyme or use fake rhymes (like nine and time - sorry, Charlie, not a rhyme in my book - Chapter 46 - Nine and Time Do Not Rhyme But Time and Rhyme Rhyme Isn't That Sublime?).
So, who is my idea of a good lyricist (besides SS)? Well, there are so many greats that have written for the theater and the pop world one simply cannot list them all. But here are a few of my favorites:
A master. Witty, always clever, but can also be bittersweet and rueful, too. And his lyrics not only fit his brother George's music like a glove, but they've also illuminated the music of Vernon Duke, Kurt Weill and Harold Arlen. It is impossible to pick favorite songs from this genius, but I'm especially fond of The Man That Got Away (Arlen), I Can't Get Started (Duke) and one of my all-time favorite lyrics, Let's Call The Whole Thing Off (brother George) which has this sublime lyric at its end:
Again, one of the all-timers. Her lyrics for Jerome Kern songs are incomparable; beautiful, dreamy, catchy, whatever the mood requires. Pick Yourself Up is one of my Fields faves. If you haven't heard it, do so immediately. Her work with Cy Coleman wasn't chopped liver either. Sweet Charity has brilliantly crafted lyrics, none better than Where Am I Going?:
Where am I going,
What can you say? One great lyric after another. So poetic, so simple, so right. I print here my favorite Hammerstein (very subjective, I know) and one of my all-time favorite songs, period:
Love, look away,
Ebb is not always my favorite, but if he'd written nothing other than the score to Cabaret he'd belong in the pantheon of greats. Every song in that score is right on the money. Consider this, from my favorite song in the show, So What?:
For the sun will rise,
Wonderful words. Another Ebb favorite is A Quiet Thing from Flora, The Red Menace.
No one gives Berlin enough credit for his wonderful words. The music, yes, but the words are equally swell. His lyrics to his score for Annie Get Your Gun are incredible, every single song in the show is great. The fact that he wrote ten thousand other great lyrics is just the icing on the cake. Yes, another cake saying. You heard it here first.
Next week I'll cover some more lyricists that take the cake. And eat it, too, even the icing.
I sometimes pay visits to Finishing The Chat to see what all you Sondheim folks talk about over there. The other day while perusing I noticed several posts about Rupert Holmes (I think this was a thread about other composers who were "Sondhemian"). The posts were interesting in that they all mentioned his musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood, his TV show Remember WENN and, disparagingly, his hit song Escape (better known as "The Pina Colada Song"). And that got me to thinking about my close personal friend Rupert (Rupe as we like to call him).
I like to think I "discovered" Rupert Holmes (of course I do). I remember listening to the radio in my car and hearing a song called "Widescreen" and just flipping out over it. Have you ever flipped out over something? This is much more difficult than flipping in. Flipping in over something can cause damage to important body parts and I simply do not recommend it. Where the hell was I? Oh, yeah, Rupert Holmes and How I Discovered Him. Anyway, I heard this song Widescreen (this was in 1974) and I flipped out. I called the radio station and they told me that it was from a new album entitled (guess what?) Widescreen by some new upstart named (guess what?) Rupert Holmes. Well, I flew over to the record store and there it was, said album by said Holmes. I took it home, plopped it on the player and listened. I was flabbergasted. Before we continue, let us pause for a moment to gaze in wonderment at the word "flabbergasted". This is a word that only an egghead could have created. Actually "egghead" is a word only an egghead could have created. But enough about me and back to Rupe. Every song on the album was terrific. I had a hard time trying to fathom the market that the album was intended for, as it wasn't really rock & roll, but more story songs with a strong sense of the theatrical. My favorites on that album were Terminal, Second Saxophone (complete with an O'Henry-like twist at the end) and Letters That Cross In The Mail. Wonderful songs, terrific lyrics and most of all, beautiful melodies.
Over the next few years Rupe put out several more albums, all with their share of wonderful songs. Highlights from those albums would have to include Studio Musician (a great song with a stunning orchestration - by Mr. Holmes, who orchestrates all his stuff, including Drood). This song was later done by Barry Manilow to not nearly as good effect. B. Manilow never credits other writers in his act, and most people are led to believe that Barry himself wrote it. He wishes. Also, Weekend Lover, You Burned Yourself Out, Talk, The O'Brien Girl, I Don't Need You (classic Holmes), Nearsighted (a quality I share with Rupe), Answering Machine, Him, Perfect and many many others. His songs are little gems, perfect little plays with terrific hooks and infectious rhythms.
Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, suddenly we got Rupert Holmes, composer/lyricist, bookwriter of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Rupe was apparently holding out on us. Who knew he had a big old Broadway musical in him? And a terrific one at that. Filled with wonderful songs and a smart funny book. Just prior to unleashing Drood, however, Rupe took time out to arrange and conduct a couple of albums for that pop diva of all pop divas, Barbra Streisand. They are among her best albums (especially Lazy Afternoon), but, as is her wont, she just can't leave well enough alone and asked Rupe to muck about with his lyrics. This woman knows no shame in my book (Chapter 95 - Barbra And Her Lack of Shame Knowledge). He also wrote a nice song for Barbra's version of A Star Is Born, called Everything. So, along came Drood and made Mr. Holmes a Broadway name. That show, by the way, had quite a company of players, including Betty Buckley, Cleo Laine, Howard McGillan, Patti Cohenour, Judy Kuhn, Donna Murphy and Rob Marshall.
After Drood, we waited for Holmes' next musical. But he confounded us, Holmes did, and instead wrote a play, a mystery thriller. That play, called Accomplice, premiered here at the Pasadena Playhouse. It was an instant critical and audience success. Who knew that Rupe the songwriter, the arranger/orchestrator, and the Broadway musical writer could also write a damnably funny, clever thriller, filled with more twists that a cruller. It starred Michael McKean (he of Spinal Tap and Laverne and Shirley and Jason Alexander, he of you-know-what). It also starred Mr. Holmes (in one of the play's most surprising twists). Naturally, because it was a success in Los Angeles, when it came to Broadway the critics killed it and it closed in a week.
After Accomplice, what did our pal Rupe do? He wrote another play, this time a one man tour de force called Solitary Confinement which starred Stacy Keach, and which also premiered at the Pasadena Playhouse (where it did not fare as well with critics or audiences) and also moved to Broadway (where it promptly closed). Still, it's a very enjoyable piece, again filled with surprises every step of the way. Mr. Keach was terrific in it.
So, after his two plays, his Broadway musicals, his pop albums, what did Rupe do next? Apparently, never one to look back, he created the first series for the cable network AMC, a nostalgic look back at the halcyon days of radio, called Remember WENN. The show was an instant hit, and Mr. Holmes has utilized the talents of many Broadway musical performers, including Betty Buckley, Patti Lupone, Carolee Carmello and others. And that brings us up to the present. Rupe is currently writing like mad for the show, but also is working on a screenplay for Bette Midler's company, and two new musicals.
If you've never heard his pop albums, there is a "greatest hits" compilation out, as well as the entire Widescreen album. Sadly, his later LP's have not made it to CD, except in Japan (where they apparently know better than the US record labels). And, of course, the cast album of Drood and the Streisand albums. Give him a try. Once you hear his songs you will be hooked. You will have a Holmes on your back, but this is one addiction which is good for you, I promise.
So much stuff, so little time. Or, so much time, so little stuff. You decide.
The big news this week is that since I wrote the first part of this here column, I picked up the Sondheim biography and will be reading it immediately. I'll have my comments on it for the next column. I have already looked in the index and I am not there, so how good or accurate can this book be? We'll just see.
The first batch of Sony cast album remasters is out, and I've heard Cabaret and A Chorus Line. Cabaret sounds spiffy (I think that's a good thing) and once again I am just as taken with the score as I've always been. Quite brilliant if you ask me and I know you do so I'm telling you. A Chorus Line does not fare as well. It has been totally remixed and not to the better. While the band sounds more present, the voices are too forward and sound unpleasant and they are "placed" differently than on the original album, which I find annoying. The score is much less appealing on album than it is in the theater, where it works much better. A Chorus Line has an extended version of Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen, Hello Love, otherwise is the same as all previous releases. The album proper of Cabaret is the same as the previous issues, but they've included some demos of songs that were cut from the show prior to Broadway. Haven't heard the others yet.
What else can I tell you? I could tell you that I don't have anything else to tell you, but that would be a heinous (heinous, do you hear me?) lie. I have plenty to tell you, I just can't think of what it is right now. No, right now I am bereft of thought. My head is in the clouds (no mean feat) and I am not concentrating on the business at hand, the writing of this here section of this here column. I must focus. But my mind keeps wandering. I tell it to come back, but my mind has a mind of its own apparently and will not listen to my sage advice. I will, however, confess to you, dear readers, that once every two weeks I have a cleaning lady who comes to clean my house. This she does with some aplomb. With one exception. When she leaves, virtually every picture that is hanging on the wall is crooked. Do you know how annoying this is? You look at said crooked things on the wall and feel that you are the crooked one. It messes with your mind, these crooked things on the wall do. So, after she leaves (I don't want to offend her) I have to walk around and straighten all the pictures. She also has a great sense of kitchen humor, and never puts anything back in the same place twice, so it takes hours to find things. Otherwise, she's tops in my book (Chapter 101- The Cleaning Lady Is Tops Except For The Crooked Pictures and Moved Kitchen Items).
What else can I tell you? I can tell you that I've just received some e-mail. Let's see who it's from, shall we?
Dear Real A:
What? I can't change lyrics? What's the big deal? I like the words to mean what I want, who cares what they were originally. Everyone lets me change their lyrics, even the dead writers. So what if I change the meaning of the song, aren't I allowed? It's a free country, you know. My friend Bill Clinton told me that. I'm still happy as a clam with my beau Jimmy Brolin. He thinks I should change lyrics, too. He thinks I should do whatever I want, because he is supportive. He thinks you were out of line to criticize my changing of lyrics. He says he's going to beat you up if he finds out who you are. He looked under "A" in the phone book but there are just too many. But he'll find you, he says, if you persist in criticizing my changing of lyrics. Don't cross him. He was on Marcus Welby, you know. Anyway, I still read your column even if you criticize my changing of lyrics. What? Why do you do that? I'm creative. I need to have an outlet. I write songs, too, you know. I wrote that song Evergreen. Have you heard that song Evergreen? It's really nice. It hasn't had any recordings but mine, but that's because I refuse to let people change the notes. Who do they think they are, these singers who try to change the notes? I wrote it a certain way, and that's the way I want to hear it. Jimmy says I'm right about this. He's very supportive. That's why I love him. Anyway, I have to run now. I'm changing some lyrics and I have to finish.
(Jimmy says hi, too, even though he says if he finds you he's going to beat the crap out of you)
I just had a phone call and I also had to go to the bathroom really bad but could not get the caller off the phone. Isn't that annoying? Is there anything worse than having to go the bathroom really bad and not being able to? Isn't that just the worst? That is a pet peeve of mine, there is no doubt about it. You know, if you named your dog "Peeve" then that would be your pet Peeve. I'd better stop right now, don't you think? I think I have reached The Lower Depths, and if you doubt this just go back and read any of this column because, frankly, the proof is in the pudding.
As usual, a lovely array of letters from you, dear readers. Every night after a long day, home I come and there are your letters for me to read while I sit on my couch like so much fish and eat pretzels. I always eat pretzels when I read your letters. I eat said pretzels despite the stupidity of their name and because I like pretzels, and besides they have no fat grams which is good when you are trying to be buff and toned and have abs and buns of steel. And now...On to the letters.
Tiffany writes to say that all may not be lost in the continuing saga of As The Nate Turns. Apparently Nate had a reasonable excuse for not returning Tiff's phone calls. His reasonable excuse was that Tiffany told him she went to bed early and he gets home too late to call her. Anyway, they're chatting. We await more news. Tiffany also found out the shocking news that her new pet Nellie is a boy. But she's not going to change his name. This is fine. There are lots of nellie boys as we all know. And besides, she's going to have Nellie's zubrick cut off. I'm sure this will confuse Nellie as there can be nothing that causes confusion as much as having a sexual organ removed (unless it helps clear up sexual confusion, but that's another story and does not pertain to Nellie's zubrick removal). Tiffany also wants to know if I've been in any movies. I might have been, once upon a time, but I simply can't remember anymore. I think I might have starred in that film Gone With The Wind for whatever that's worth.
Erin just got her Sweeney Todd In Jazz CD. It surprised her that it was just instrumental, but now that she's over the surprise she really likes it. For her final exam in Acapella class, Erin will be singing Not While I'm Around. She also wants all my dear readers to know that if they want to buy the Sweeney video they should call 1-800-367-3765 and order number SKRKO 001002. It costs $29.77. How does someone come up with a price like that? Why not $29.32? Or $29.81? It had to be $29.77? Erin read my last column to her two cats, Patches and Blackberry and now they are fans. She hasn't read it to her dog Wooster so he remains in the dark, column-wise.
Emily tells me her former roommate did not like the word "panties". Which would rule out said former roommate from being The Real A. That's correct, and all I can say is good riddance if she didn't like the word "panties". She just wasn't acceptable as a roommate in my book (Chapter 92 - If They Don't Like The Word Panties They Can Get The Hell Out). And Emily agrees that all panties should be cotton because nylon, tricot and lace are just too two uncomfortable and that the only reason anyone would wear them is so that they can be removed immediately by a loved one.
Jer saw the Paper Mill Follies and notes that Mr. Stephen Sondheim himself was in the audience. Jer can't imagine that a Broadway transfer would be a good idea. I've heard this from several people, but still, it might get one anyway.
Alex wrote to tell me that he thinks that I might be Stephen Sondheim himself. As soon as I finish reading the new bio I'll let you all know if I am indeed he. Alex is a composer and an arranger of Big Band Jazz and he loves Sondheim's music (or mine, if I am he). Alex wrote a long, detailed and heartfelt letter about his love for said music, which I'd print but this column is already the size of the San Fernando Valley.
Sara, a new dear reader, loves this here column and loves this here site where this here column appears. We welcome Sara with open arms. Not literally, of course. Can you imagine being welcomed with a literal open arm??? All that blood and veins and tissue would just be off-putting, don't you think? Sara's favorite actor is Victor Garber, who just happens to have been in the original production of Sweeney Todd by someone named Stephen Sondheim.
Lynn says she too loves Mr. George Orwell's masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four. She also informs me that she is a bath person, not a person from the town of Bath, but a person who loves to take baths. I am, as you all know, a shower person, not a person from the town of Shower, but a person who likes to take showers.
Carlton would like to know where my favorite restaurant Joe Allen's is. It's on 46th Street just west of 8th Avenue. That section of that street is known as Restaurant Row. Joe's is on the south side of the street next to Orso's. Orso's, for those who are interested, is owned by Joe Allen's. Carlton recently converted a friend to Sondheim (is this like converting to Judaism?) by showing the friend the video of Sweeney Todd. The friend really enjoyed it, with the exception of Betsy Joslyn as Johanna, who he thought was like Snow White on crack.
Barb will join us at Joe Allen's if we all have our love fest there. That is good news indeed. She also saw Godzilla and confirms what I've heard from every single person who has seen it: It's horrible. I haven't been able to work up the energy to get off my couch (where I sit like so much fish) and see it yet, but I suppose I'll have to soon.
Whitney thought Ladybug, Ladybug sounded really good (the film I talked about in last week's column) and wants to know if there's any way to see it. Unfortunately, it's not available on video. The source I got it from taped it off of Showtime, so it has been shown recently. This source will run a tape for eighteen bucks. But he's not a legitimate company or anything so I hesitate giving out info. Whitney also just had her 15th birthday party and was very flirty with the fellow she has a crush on. Very flirty. Whit also guessed somersault for the anagram and wants to know if she was right. Yes, but if she'd read the trivia section of last week's column she'd have known that. We must not skip any sections of this here column, because there is always something useless to be gleaned.
Joan also saw the Paper Mill Follies and loved it. She said that Ann Miller told her that it was coming to Broadway. Nothing official has been decided yet in that regard. The cast album, however, was indeed recorded last week.
Spock (yes, Spock) thinks that Barb needs a new dictionary. I think that Spock needs to change the record, as the saying goes.
Anita loves The Road You Didn't Take from Follies, as I do. She also wants to know where I went to college. I can't really divulge that information, because then the sleuths who read this column will be able to go back and check those college records and look up The Real A and find out my Real Identity. That would be heinous (heinous, do you hear me?). I did go to college, however, that much I can tell you. In Los Angeles. That much I can tell you. I ate in the cafeteria and would occasionally order Shepherd's Pie. That much I can tell you. I once stole Anyone Can Whistle from the college library. That much I can tell you.
Nikki is shocked that I only receive 5 3/4% interest. Even she, at 16 years of age, knows I should be receiving 11 or 12 percent. Well, I knew that when I was 16, too. But now, when I think of interest I just can't get interested. All I can think of when I think of interest is, what is it, fish?
Bernardo loves Stephen Sondheim, but because Bernardo is Spanish he needs to see the lyrics in Spanish. Perhaps Senor Mark Bakalor can help us out here. Senor, are there any places one can get translations of Senor Sondheim's lyrics, por favor?
Chuck writes to say that he feels Newsweek is right: Some of the Sondheim obsessed really are spooky. That said, Chuck also feels that it's a fundamental obligation to worship Mr. S. who, in Chuck's opinion, is the greatest working artist of Chuck's lifetime. Chuck feels that because Mr. S. is a well-educated, middle-aged, neurotic, sexually ambivalent urban male American, that he speaks to Chuck. That is quite a mouthful, Chuck, but I understand completely. The interesting thing about Sondheim is, that being all the things you cite above, that he speaks to such a diverse group of fans; old, young, male, female, gay, straight. Art is art, and Sondheim's art is universal.
Very good answers from many folks (most complete list goes to cheshirecat) as to last week's trivia question. Brad and mrsmig pointed out that I should have not used the word "allusion" and they are correct. I should have said "what songs have references to marriage", but I didn't. No, I had to go and say "allusions", didn't I? "Allusions" just did not cut the mustard, did it? Anyway, here is a list of songs, and I'm sure it's by no means complete. The fact is, that Sondheim has probably made more references to marriage in songs than any other lyricist. Does this say something about the man? Hmmmm.
One Hand, One Heart
This week's trivia question is not really a trivia question, but just a question of personal taste. If you were forced to pick one Sondheim song that was your absolute favorite, what would it be? Only one. I know this is hard, but I also know that if anyone can do it, you can, dear readers. I'll start off: My favorite Sondheim song (as I've stated before) is Every Day A Little Death. Your turn. I'll print the results next week.
Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...
Until next week, I am, as I ever was, and ever shall be...
Assassins is about how society interprets the American Dream, marginalizes outsiders and rewrites and sanitizes its collective history. "Something Just Broke" is a major distraction and plays like an afterthought, shoe horned simply to appease. The song breaks the dramatic fluidity and obstructs the overall pacing and climactic arc which derails the very intent and momentum that makes this work so compelling...
- Mark Bakalor
Which is not to say that it is perfect...
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