No, Really: Jeff Beck is God (Revisited)

beck

6/15: Happy 71st birthday to the great Jeff Beck.

 

3/11: Since it happened to be Keith Relf’s birthday, it seemed appropriate to pay tribute to him on Tuesday. Plus, as I attempted to articulate in that piece, he warrants celebration as a unique and influential singer (and harmonica player).

That said, the issue of the guitar players in The Yardbirds still necessitates elaboration. For perfectly understandable reasons, people assume or don’t realize they are wrong to think Eric Clapton was the primary –and most important– guitarist in that group. Simply put, this is not the case. Clapton was there for the very early blue-sy recordings and Page was there for the short and sloppy swan song, but it was Jeff Beck who played on all their essential songs. Put simply, Jeff Beck was The Yardbirds, with all due respect (and I offer tons) to the other members.

Jeff Beck demands more attention, since he’s not gotten nearly enough of it over the decades. Not for nothing: he is the only guitar god who roamed the earth in the ’60s who is still very much active (and in top form) today. He is, pound for pound, the best living guitarist right now. I can’t think of anyone else who can begin to match his proficiency, his gob-smacking ability and his track record. He is an inspiration in terms of integrity and dedication (he does not just naturally get better; he is committed to his craft and treats it like it’s the most important thing in his world, which it clearly is).

Here is a brief career-spanning sampler of his greatness.

“Steeled Blues:

“Jeff’s Boogie”:

“Freeway Jam” (he manages to make fusion sound…cool):

“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” (I can’t think of another, or better way to put this: the original, by the immortal Charles Mingus is one of my all-time favorite compositions –from one of my all-time favorite albums– and I sometimes think Jeff Beck almost takes it to another level. There is no point, or need, to compare –and for the record, Jeff Beck is God but Charles Mingus is GOD– but I only hope to underscore the fact that it takes more than audacity and goodwill to cover uncoverable songs, like this, and make them arguably better. As we’ve heard, Jeff Beck can shred like nobody’s business, but he also can play slow and soulful perhaps better than anyone else who has ever strapped on a guitar. It is, as is often the case when talking about the best of the best, extremely difficult to avoid cliches: but check out the feeling and soul oozing out of every line; this is something beyond sublime):

“Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” (I can’t recommend the recent DVD Live at Ronnie Scott’smore enthusiastically; in addition to being a fantastic concert, it is filmed and produced wonderfully, affording constant close-up action on the magician going to work in a live setting and showing that musical deities can age gracefully and even improve (!!) as they get older):

“A Day In The Life” (Having always been overshadowed by Clapton (and Page), it was wonderfully fortuitous that Clapton was unable to MC the 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert: finally the world had an opportunity to witness –because it could not ignore– the brilliance that has been woefully unappreciated for entirely too long…and speaking of uncoverable songs…getting better? Only Beck could do this once; only Beck could do this twice):

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Five From The Yardbirds To Remember Keith Relf (Revisited)

Keith Relf.

Who?

Exactly.

Quite possibly the best vocalist you’ve never heard of, you still have heard him if you are passingly familiar with rock music. Trust me.

He was the voice of The Yardbirds.

Who?

Come on. You know, that semi-influential band that gave birth to the holy trinity of English guitarists. In order: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Any questions?

Keith was born on March 22, back in 1943. His time in the sun was short, music-wise and otherwise. Once The Yardbirds briefly became The New Yardbirds (prompting Keith Moon to tell Jimmy Page a band with that name would go over like a lead zeppelin, and the rest, as they say, is history), Page broke off on his own and brought in fresh, young blood. Within a year the only band to rival The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, crashed on the scene like a…New Yardbird. Relf lost his band, and that was pretty much the end of it. He died, in unfunny Spinal Tap fashion, being electrocuted in his home (by an improperly grounded guitar, which being neither a guitar player or someone with a 6th grader’s appreciation –or knowledge– of practical science, is somewhat incomprehensible to me).

Getting back to The Yardbirds.

In addition to boasting the guitar rotation of the gods (in Clapton’s case, literally, according to the London graffiti of the time), The Yardbirds were the real deal, understanding and delivering the blues better than any of the other white boys (The Animals, with the great Eric Burdon, came closest). But even in their earliest work they were already straining against convention and concocting sounds that had not been heard before and haven’t been equaled since. Everyone knows the first big hit, “For Your Love” (the big hit from the Clapton line-up), but for my money, it was when the brash and beautiful Jeff Beck came on board that things got heavy (speaking of Spinal Tap, look at a picture of Beck from the mid-’60s and tell me who you think Christopher Guest had in mind when he invented Nigel Tufnel).

The songs made in mid-’65 and ’66 are as close to perfect as anything we got from rock. You can sense the old school sensibility, which had prevailed for decades, of writing a tight, focused hit that was ideally within the two-to-three minute range. But you can also taste the change in the air: within these succinct powder kegs are ideas, feelings and longings that would grow into the more free-flowing and, as the ’70s commenced, sprawling artistic statements (see: prog rock). As such, the sheer weight of stuff packed inside these (again not just the sounds, remarkable enough though they are, but the energy and ambition, like a cocoon waiting to explode) endure as period pieces, but manage to defy the passage of time: they still feel fresh and furious, and they still, somehow, manage to surprise.

“Shapes of Things” (from March 1966: this is the penultimate psychedelic hit single, not necessarily setting the stage of the Summer of Love but anticipating it; Beck’s solo, like a harmonica-wail from hell, is a sound Jimmy Page was more than happy to rip off for “How Many More Times from Zep’s debut):

“Heart Full of Soul” (you need the studio version to appreciate the perfection: that riff, those vocals, that groove, but there is much to be said to see them pull it off, quite convincingly, live):

Nothing else from the time sounded like this. Except maybe some of what The Rolling Stones were getting into. And there is little doubt that Brian Jones was picking up what these dudes were putting down; from the exotic, Eastern vibe (acoustic guitar approximating the sitar) to the almost menacing tempo and vocal delivery. It’s hard to imagine “Paint It Black” (and so many other songs from 1966) without the blueprints The Yardbirds laid down.

“Still I’m Sad” (Gregorian chant? You know it. This trudges along equal parts martial drone and funeral march; once again, the vocals from Relf and the deeper than a ditch backing vocals wash over like a sad wave):

“Over Under Sideways Down” (not many good versions of this on YouTube; the only studio version is the band lip-synching it; below is a live clip with Page doing his best –but not quite good enough– Beck impression):

Then, perhaps their finest –and certainly most remarkably unique– moment, also from Roger The Engineer, “Turn Into Earth”. Infuriatingly, no good videos are available at YouTube, so you can hear it here. If it speaks to you, consider the lack of YouTube clips a blessing in disguise and use it as incentive to pick up their last great album, and one of the very seminal (if criminally overlooked and underappreciated) albums of that decade.

It all worked out the way it was supposed to: Clapton got his “authentic” bad-teeth British blues on with John Mayall which fortunately segued into Cream (another band that died way too soon due to the colossal egos involved). Beck had the capable hothouse for his teeming creativity…and then The Train Stopped-A Rollin’: by late ’66 Beck was fired (and/or quit, as always depending upon which version you prefer) and even with a ready-for-prime-time Page leading the charge, the band slowly fell apart.

Two years and change to make music that changed the world (ask anyone). Not long enough, but more than enough considering the shape of things that came. And as with Syd Barrett, better to have a brief, bright run that is impossible to forget than a long, predictable stroll. Right? It all worked out well enough, all things considered. The problem is that The Yardbirds are typically depicted as the delivery device that gave us Clapton, Beck and Page, all of whom went on to do bigger and better…and with all due respect to Paul Samwell-Smith, Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty, that seems fair enough. But when the group ground to a halt we were deprived of more from Keith Relf, and that seems hard to reconcile. Certainly the man did not stop making music (indeed he was literally making it at the moment of his accidental, absurd death), but without the forum of a supergroup to support him, the world’s ears turned elsewhere. Did he, like Syd, have much more in him? It seems silly to argue otherwise. And yet, considering what we got, and how unsullied it all seems in hindsight, it’s difficult to quibble that however fleeting the glory, the music we got is everything we could ever have asked –or hoped– to receive.

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Five From The Yardbirds To Remember Keith Relf (Revisisted)

Keith Relf.

Who?

Exactly.

Quite possibly the best vocalist you’ve never heard of, you still have heard him if you are passingly familiar with rock music. Trust me.

He was the voice of The Yardbirds.

Who?

Come on. You know, that semi-influential band that gave birth to the holy trinity of English guitarists. In order: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Any questions?

Keith was born on March 22, back in 1943. His time in the sun was short, music-wise and otherwise. Once The Yardbirds briefly became The New Yardbirds (prompting Keith Moon to tell Jimmy Page a band with that name would go over like a lead zeppelin, and the rest, as they say, is history), Page broke off on his own and brought in fresh, young blood. Within a year the only band to rival The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, crashed on the scene like a…New Yardbird. Relf lost his band, and that was pretty much the end of it. He died, in unfunny Spinal Tap fashion, being electrocuted in his home (by an improperly grounded guitar, which being neither a guitar player or someone with a 6th grader’s appreciation –or knowledge– of practical science, is somewhat incomprehensible to me).

Getting back to The Yardbirds.

In addition to boasting the guitar rotation of the gods (in Clapton’s case, literally, according to the London graffiti of the time), The Yardbirds were the real deal, understanding and delivering the blues better than any of the other white boys (The Animals, with the great Eric Burdon, came closest). But even in their earliest work they were already straining against convention and concocting sounds that had not been heard before and haven’t been equaled since. Everyone knows the first big hit, “For Your Love” (the big hit from the Clapton line-up), but for my money, it was when the brash and beautiful Jeff Beck came on board that things got heavy (speaking of Spinal Tap, look at a picture of Beck from the mid-’60s and tell me who you think Christopher Guest had in mind when he invented Nigel Tufnel).

The songs made in mid-’65 and ’66 are as close to perfect as anything we got from rock. You can sense the old school sensibility, which had prevailed for decades, of writing a tight, focused hit that was ideally within the two-to-three minute range. But you can also taste the change in the air: within these succinct powder kegs are ideas, feelings and longings that would grow into the more free-flowing and, as the ’70s commenced, sprawling artistic statements (see: prog rock). As such, the sheer weight of stuff packed inside these (again not just the sounds, remarkable enough though they are, but the energy and ambition, like a cocoon waiting to explode) endure as period pieces, but manage to defy the passage of time: they still feel fresh and furious, and they still, somehow, manage to surprise.

“Shapes of Things” (from March 1966: this is the penultimate psychedelic hit single, not necessarily setting the stage of the Summer of Love but anticipating it; Beck’s solo, like a harmonica-wail from hell, is a sound Jimmy Page was more than happy to rip off for “How Many More Times from Zep’s debut):

“Heart Full of Soul” (you need the studio version to appreciate the perfection: that riff, those vocals, that groove, but there is much to be said to see them pull it off, quite convincingly, live):

Nothing else from the time sounded like this. Except maybe some of what The Rolling Stones were getting into. And there is little doubt that Brian Jones was picking up what these dudes were putting down; from the exotic, Eastern vibe (acoustic guitar approximating the sitar) to the almost menacing tempo and vocal delivery. It’s hard to imagine “Paint It Black” (and so many other songs from 1966) without the blueprints The Yardbirds laid down.

“Still I’m Sad” (Gregorian chant? You know it. This trudges along equal parts martial drone and funeral march; once again, the vocals from Relf and the deeper than a ditch backing vocals wash over like a sad wave):

“Over Under Sideways Down” (not many good versions of this on YouTube; the only studio version is the band lip-synching it; below is a live clip with Page doing his best –but not quite good enough– Beck impression):

Then, perhaps their finest –and certainly most remarkably unique– moment, also from Roger The Engineer, “Turn Into Earth”. Infuriatingly, no good videos are available at YouTube, so you can hear it here. If it speaks to you, consider the lack of YouTube clips a blessing in disguise and use it as incentive to pick up their last great album, and one of the very seminal (if criminally overlooked and underappreciated) albums of that decade.

It all worked out the way it was supposed to: Clapton got his “authentic” bad-teeth British blues on with John Mayall which fortunately segued into Cream (another band that died way too soon due to the colossal egos involved). Beck had the capable hothouse for his teeming creativity…and then The Train Stopped-A Rollin’: by late ’66 Beck was fired (and/or quit, as always depending upon which version you prefer) and even with a ready-for-prime-time Page leading the charge, the band slowly fell apart.

Two years and change to make music that changed the world (ask anyone). Not long enough, but more than enough considering the shape of things that came. And as with Syd Barrett, better to have a brief, bright run that is impossible to forget than a long, predictable stroll. Right? It all worked out well enough, all things considered. The problem is that The Yardbirds are typically depicted as the delivery device that gave us Clapton, Beck and Page, all of whom went on to do bigger and better…and with all due respect to Paul Samwell-Smith, Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty, that seems fair enough. But when the group ground to a halt we were deprived of more from Keith Relf, and that seems hard to reconcile. Certainly the man did not stop making music (indeed he was literally making it at the moment of his accidental, absurd death), but without the forum of a supergroup to support him, the world’s ears turned elsewhere. Did he, like Syd, have much more in him? It seems silly to argue otherwise. And yet, considering what we got, and how unsullied it all seems in hindsight, it’s difficult to quibble that however fleeting the glory, the music we got is everything we could ever have asked –or hoped– to receive.

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No, Really: Jeff Beck is God

Since it happened to be Keith Relf’s birthday, it seemed appropriate to pay tribute to him on Tuesday. Plus, as I attempted to articulate in that piece, he warrants celebration as a unique and influential singer (and harmonica player).

That said, the issue of the guitar players in The Yardbirds still necessitates elaboration. For perfectly understandable reasons, people assume or don’t realize they are wrong to think Eric Clapton was the primary –and most important– guitarist in that group. Simply put, this is not the case. Clapton was there for the very early blue-sy recordings and Page was there for the short and sloppy swan song, but it was Jeff Beck who played on all their essential songs. Put simply, Jeff Beck was The Yardbirds, with all due respect (and I offer tons) to the other members.

Jeff Beck demands more attention, since he’s not gotten nearly enough of it over the decades. Not for nothing: he is the only guitar god who roamed the earth in the ’60s who is still very much active (and in top form) today. He is, pound for pound, the best living guitarist right now. I can’t think of anyone else who can begin to match his proficiency, his gob-smacking ability and his track record. He is an inspiration in terms of integrity and dedication (he does not just naturally get better; he is committed to his craft and treats it like it’s the most important thing in his world, which it clearly is).

Here is a brief career-spanning sampler of his greatness.

“Steeled Blues:

 

“Jeff’s Boogie”:

“Freeway Jam” (he manages to make fusion sound…cool):

“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” (I can’t think of another, or better way to put this: the original, by the immortal Charles Mingus is one of my all-time favorite compositions –from one of my all-time favorite albums– and I sometimes think Jeff Beck almost takes it to another level. There is no point, or need, to compare –and for the record, Jeff Beck is God but Charles Mingus is GOD– but I only hope to underscore the fact that it takes more than audacity and goodwill to cover uncoverable songs, like this, and make them arguably better. As we’ve heard, Jeff Beck can shred like nobody’s business, but he also can play slow and soulful perhaps better than anyone else who has ever strapped on a guitar. It is, as is often the case when talking about the best of the best, extremely difficult to avoid cliches: but check out the feeling and soul oozing out of every line; this is something beyond sublime):

“Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers” (I can’t recommend the recent DVD Live at Ronnie Scott’s more enthusiastically; in addition to being a fantastic concert, it is filmed and produced wonderfully, affording constant close-up action on the magician going to work in a live setting and showing that musical deities can age gracefully and even improve (!!) as they get older):

“A Day In The Life” (Having always been overshadowed by Clapton (and Page), it was wonderfully fortuitous that Clapton was unable to MC the 25th Anniversary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert: finally the world had an opportunity to witness –because it could not ignore– the brilliance that has been woefully unappreciated for entirely too long…and speaking of uncoverable songs…getting better? Only Beck could do this once; only Beck could do this twice):

Share

Five From The Yardbirds To Remember Keith Relf

Keith Relf.

Who?

Exactly.

Quite possibly the best vocalist you’ve never heard of, you still have heard him if you are passingly familiar with rock music. Trust me.

He was the voice of The Yardbirds.

Who?

Come on. You know, that semi-influential band that gave birth to the holy trinity of English guitarists. In order: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Any questions?

Keith was born on March 22, back in 1943. His time in the sun was short, music-wise and otherwise. Once The Yardbirds briefly became The New Yardbirds (prompting Keith Moon to tell Jimmy Page a band with that name would go over like a lead zeppelin, and the rest, as they say, is history), Page broke off on his own and brought in fresh, young blood. Within a year the only band to rival The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, crashed on the scene like a…New Yardbird. Relf lost his band, and that was pretty much the end of it. He died, in unfunny Spinal Tap fashion, being electrocuted in his home (by an improperly grounded guitar, which being neither a guitar player or someone with a 6th grader’s appreciation –or knowledge– of practical science, is somewhat incomprehensible to me).

Getting back to The Yardbirds.

In addition to boasting the guitar rotation of the gods (in Clapton’s case, literally, according to the London graffiti of the time), The Yardbirds were the real deal, understanding and delivering the blues better than any of the other white boys (The Animals, with the great Eric Burdon, came closest). But even in their earliest work they were already straining against convention and concocting sounds that had not been heard before and haven’t been equaled since. Everyone knows the first big hit, “For Your Love” (the big hit from the Clapton line-up), but for my money, it was when the brash and beautiful Jeff Beck came on board that things got heavy (speaking of Spinal Tap, look at a picture of Beck from the mid-’60s and tell me who you think Christopher Guest had in mind when he invented Nigel Tufnel).

The songs made in mid-’65 and ’66 are as close to perfect as anything we got from rock. You can sense the old school sensibility, which had prevailed for decades, of writing a tight, focused hit that was ideally within the two-to-three minute range. But you can also taste the change in the air: within these succinct powder kegs are ideas, feelings and longings that would grow into the more free-flowing and, as the ’70s commenced, sprawling artistic statements (see: prog rock). As such, the sheer weight of stuff packed inside these (again not just the sounds, remarkable enough though they are, but the energy and ambition, like a cocoon waiting to explode) endure as period pieces, but manage to defy the passage of time: they still feel fresh and furious, and they still, somehow, manage to surprise.

 

“Shapes of Things” (from March 1966: this is the penultimate psychedelic hit single, not necessarily setting the stage of the Summer of Love but anticipating it; Beck’s solo, like a harmonica-wail from hell, is a sound Jimmy Page was more than happy to rip off for “How Many More Times from Zep’s debut):

“Heart Full of Soul” (you need the studio version to appreciate the perfection: that riff, those vocals, that groove, but there is much to be said to see them pull it off, quite convincingly, live):

Nothing else from the time sounded like this. Except maybe some of what The Rolling Stones were getting into. And there is little doubt that Brian Jones was picking up what these dudes were putting down; from the exotic, Eastern vibe (acoustic guitar approximating the sitar) to the almost menacing tempo and vocal delivery. It’s hard to imagine “Paint It Black” (and so many other songs from 1966) without the blueprints The Yardbirds laid down.

“Still I’m Sad” (Gregorian chant? You know it. This trudges along equal parts martial drone and funeral march; once again, the vocals from Relf and the deeper than a ditch backing vocals wash over like a sad wave):

“Over Under Sideways Down” (not many good versions of this on YouTube; the only studio version is the band lip-synching it; below is a live clip with Page doing his best –but not quite good enough– Beck impression):

Then, perhaps their finest –and certainly most remarkably unique– moment, also from Roger The Engineer, “Turn Into Earth”. Infuriatingly, no good videos are available at YouTube, so you can hear it here. If it speaks to you, consider the lack of YouTube clips a blessing in disguise and use it as incentive to pick up their last great album, and one of the very seminal (if criminally overlooked and underappreciated) albums of that decade.

It all worked out the way it was supposed to: Clapton got his “authentic” bad-teeth British blues on with John Mayall which fortunately segued into Cream (another band that died way too soon due to the colossal egos involved). Beck had the capable hothouse for his teeming creativity…and then The Train Stopped-A Rollin’: by late ’66 Beck was fired (and/or quit, as always depending upon which version you prefer) and even with a ready-for-prime-time Page leading the charge, the band slowly fell apart.

Two years and change to make music that changed the world (ask anyone). Not long enough, but more than enough considering the shape of things that came. And as with Syd Barrett, better to have a brief, bright run that is impossible to forget than a long, predictable stroll. Right? It all worked out well enough, all things considered. The problem is that The Yardbirds are typically depicted as the delivery device that gave us Clapton, Beck and Page, all of whom went on to do bigger and better…and with all due respect to Paul Samwell-Smith, Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty, that seems fair enough. But when the group ground to a halt we were deprived of more from Keith Relf, and that seems hard to reconcile. Certainly the man did not stop making music (indeed he was literally making it at the moment of his accidental, absurd death), but without the forum of a supergroup to support him, the world’s ears turned elsewhere. Did he, like Syd, have much more in him? It seems silly to argue otherwise. And yet, considering what we got, and how unsullied it all seems in hindsight, it’s difficult to quibble that however fleeting the glory, the music we got is everything we could ever have asked –or hoped– to receive.

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Isn’t Being Irreplaceable The Whole Point?

lb

This weekend I had the chance to hang out with some good friends, some of whom I used to work with (the happy occasion was a party following the baptism of my buddy Tom’s daughter). It had been several months since I’d seen some of these folks, and I noticed a trend that has accompanied similar circumstances: after asking how I was coping with life without my best friend, they wondered if I was in the market for a new pup. It is a question I’ve been asked more than a few times, and I try my best not to recite what has become an almost reflexive (and robotic) response. But in the interest of truth, I invariably provide a reply along these lines: “I am definitely a dog person and I can’t imagine never having a dog again. But…”

And it’s that but that illustrates where I am right now. It’s pretty much where I’ve been since February. And April. And July. The but precedes the following sentiment: I’m not even close to thinking about another dog at this point. Indeed, the loss still feels fresh, almost unbearably so at times. In fact, in some ways (at times inexplicable, at other times obvious) it is harder as more time passes between today and the last day of Leroy Brown’s life. It’s not just that I don’t want to get over the loss –whatever that actually entails– but that I know I never will, and the most useful attitude going forward will be to reconcile that understanding with an appropriate sense of perspective. Put more simply: I remain grateful that I had such a great companion and am humbled that I had the opportunity to share time with him for just under ten years. Also, there is no doubt in my mind that if or when another pup came into the picture, I would love him without reservation. That’s what dog people do. So perhaps it’s at least in part due to this acknowledgment that I am simply not ready, yet. And I’m cool with that. And, if it happens that I never do live with another dog, that is cool, too. For now I’m content to mourn the loss but celebrate the memories. If and when the right time comes, I’m quite certain that I’ll know it, and act accordingly. Just like I did in April 1999.

woobie1

These pictures came to me from my good friends Beth and Jim, who were with me when I picked up LB (we called him Meatball that first day, while I waited for the right name to come, an epiphany that still amazes me, considering how perfect a name Leroy Brown is for a brown schnauzer). They were in the regular rotation for dog-sitting duties, and Leroi (or Le Roi) enjoyed hanging out with his cousins Otis and Quinzy, pictured below. To accompany this series of photos, I thought about “dog songs” as well as famous tributes. Are there any good “dog songs”? If so, how could they possibly avoid being mawkish or sentimental (as I’m painfully aware this particular blog post is edging dangerously close to becoming)? As always, it is a safe bet to turn to Charles Mingus. His masterful tribute to Lester Young, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” (from the immortal Mingus Ah Um, discussed here) could not, in my mind, be a more respectful and meaningful composition to invoke for these purposes. And so, each picture is accompanied by a different version, beginning with the original.

 

woobie2

Mingus, Live in the ’70s:

woobie3

The incredible John McLaughlin:

woobie4

Guitar god Jeff Beck’s homage:

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