Archive for the ‘Steve Martin’ Category

SOUNDTRACKJUSTIN BEIBER-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #182 (March 17, 2021).

When Taylor Swift did a Tiny Desk Concert it was HUGE news–the biggest pop star in the world at the Tiny Desk?

I assume at one point Justin Beiber would have made a similar big deal (even if this one is a home show and just a stream like any other). I didn’t even know he was still making music.  So imagine my surprise to hear that the album that these songs come from went to number 1 and that he is the youngest artist to have 8 number one records.  Who is buying Justin Beiber records?   I have no idea.

Especially now that he’s all tattooed up and sleazy looking.

Of course, it’s very likely that I don’t know anything he has done, because I really didn’t know what he sounded like.  He plays four songs here.

“Holy,” another song from Justice, opens this set without the presence of guest Chance the Rapper.

“Holy” is a slow acoustic song (the acoustic guitar from Julian McGuire sounds great).  His musicians are from We the Band.  This is a catchy pop song for sure–the holy holy holy, hold me hold me hold me part is a nice touch.  I like the addition of the record scotching from DJ Tay James in the middle.

But why is he always grabbing his crotch?  Especially the way he grabs it, like he has to pee.  It’s really disconcerting and seems like an unconscious reflex at his point.  It looks particularly weird with his big baggy clothes on.

For “Peaches” he heads over to the keyboard.  Julian McGuire picks up the electric guitar and shows how good he is.  The opening piano melody is slow and pretty.  I really like this song except that the lyrics are so unnecessarily crass.  Why have such a pretty song and yet have your call and response lyrics be so rude

I got my peaches out in Georgia (oh, yeah, shit)
I get my weed from California (that’s that shit)
I took my chick up to the North, yeah (badass bitch)
I get my light right from the source, yeah (yeah, that’s it)

And good lord he repeats the chorus so many times.

Bieber plays the slow piano solo as the scotching begins and then keyboardists O’Neil “Doctor O” Palmer takes over and plays a really groovy melody as the outro to the song.

“Peaches” will exist in a significantly different form when Bieber drops his new album, Justice, on Friday — the track will feature guest vocals from GIVEŌN and Daniel Caesar

For “Hold On” he moves away from the keys.  I prefer him standing in front of the keys because he looks so awkward when he’s just standing there, hunched over and crouching.

The song has pretty echoing electric guitar (Mcguire again).  This song starts out quietly but when it kicks in, what a super catchy song!   It’s got a killer bass sound from Harv and is just  full on bouncer.  This should be huge.   In the middle of the song the band take a verse or two to totally rock out with crashing drums from Robert Taylor as well as ripping guitars and bass.

“Anyone” ends the set as a big old ballad with satisfyingly quiet synths and backing vocals.  This is a really pretty song, but it would work so much better if he didn’t look so scuzzy.  But once again the band totally rocks the end–a big jam that is really awesome once JB stops singing,  McGuire get a ripping solo and the band turns the song into a funk jam with some cool bass and drums and the samples kicking in.

[READ: March 31, 2021] “Seventy-Two Virgins”

Comedy pieces are often funny when they are timely.  I’m not sure what was going on in 2007 that Steve Martin wanted to make a joke about Muslim martyrs enjoying 72 Virgins.  I do recall hearing about that closer to 9/11, but maybe something else new had happened?

I’m not willing to look this up.  How does one even searching for 72 virgins?  But the context is that it was widely believed that Muslim ‘martyrs’ enjoyed rich sensual rewards on reaching paradise.

So without having 72 virgins in the zeitgeist, what’s it like to read this?

Well, this is basically a kind of play with every virgin getting a line.


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download (59)SOUNDTRACK: TOM ADAMS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #53 (July 21, 2020).

download (60)I had heard of Tom Adams from Bob Boilen, but I guess I hadn’t actually heard him before.  This performance is otherworldly. It reminds me in some ways of Sigur Rós, although only in the ethereal moments.

Tom’s 2017 album Silence features Tom singing and playing minimal piano.  But here

what we have is Tom Adams at his home in Cornwall, England, playing four brand-new songs with minimal electric guitar and an enthralling mix of tech-altered sounds.

For the basis of this performance Adams is playing a subdued and lovely electric guitar (finger-picked).   He sings some fairly simple folk melodies, but it’s when he starts “oohing” and crooning high notes that things transcend the familiar.  Because even though his singing voice is fairly deep, he has an amazing falsetto.   And it’ s that falsetto that he manipulates in fascinating way.

That box with all the wires in the foreground is a Eurorack modular synthesizer which, in real time, processes his majestic voice in ways unpredictable even to Tom. He wrote to tell me that, “Once the system is set in motion, you never know exactly what will happen next… I like to think of it as being a bit like the waves on the beach; to some extent, they are all predictable, yet each wave is still unique.”

“The Turning Of The Year” is a delightful folk ballad with delightful lyrics

What a day / What a day / to share with these good friends
We sing the songs we always sing until / we’ve sung them all
and through the evening our voices ring / in the rafters of the hall.

But when the Eurorack takes over, that simple trip with friends feels very different.

“A Flower Disappearing” is a slower song with a deeper guitar sound.  It’s easy to forget about his falsetto and the electronics until he throws them briefly in after the verses.

I wondered though if all of the songs would be manipulated–would his regular voice hav a chance to shine?  It does on “If My Love Was A Guitar.”  He sings some delightful ooohing without any electronics.  His songs and vocal style reminds of Nick Drake, and this song in particular fits that bill (except for the falsetto, of course).

If my love was a guitar / it wouldn’t matter where you are
you could just take me in your arms / and hear the music in my heart
…playing gently

And if I was a melody / then you could take me when you leave
and anytime you felt a need / you could just sing along with me
…in perfect harmony

His amusing reaction at being out of tune is a nice moment of levity in this otherwise mellow performance.  “Postcards From The Road” features an entire section in beautiful unaltered falsetto.

all the friends you still miss / you kept in touch but cast adrift / you walked away but now you’re looking back

all the stories left behind / but when you read the final lines / turn a page and start to write something new

because all the choices that you make / these are not regrets to take / with you they’re just postcards from the road.

I love the cool effects that the Eurorack provides, but it’s great to hear him sing without it as well–his voice is really great.

[READ: July 24, 2020] “The Ethicist”

This is a Shouts and Murmurs piece that is a series of questions.  Typically I think this style works better than trying o stretch out a joke to a full page.

So in this one, people are writing in to The Ethicist with their problems.  The Ethicist is a real column in The New York Times Magazine and people write in with serious ethical issues.  Some people really like reading this column.  It was started in 1999 by a humorist, Randy Cohen, who did take the ethical questions seriously.  he stepped down in 2011 and others have run the column in his stead.

So this piece was written after the column had been around for two years or so.

Martin is his delightfully absurd self with his questions: (more…)

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martinSOUNDTRACK: KIRBY-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #32 (June 11, 2020).

kirbyWith recording equipment as easy to get as it is it seems like every person on earth might have a record out someday.  How else to explain how these Tiny Desk (Home) Concerts are just chock full of people I’ve never heard of before.

KIRBY has a really nice voice.  These renditions are wonderfully low-key.  It’s just Justus West playing a simple but effective guitar and KIRBY singing in a restrained style.  This is at least the fourth time I’ve seen Justus West in a Tony Desk Concert (Ty Dolla $, Leikeli47, Logan Richardson) and I think he’s pretty fantastic.  I’d like to see him features more.  I’m pleased that she doesn’t do any histrionics, she just sings prettily.

.KIRBY’s panache here, bolstered by a yellow bodysuit and blonde afro, is infectious and — just like the sunny backdrop of her manager’s LA home — her vocal runs radiate a soft power.

She plays three songs from her debut album Sis.

The first track is “Kool Aid” and with a dose of millennial spunk she sings “New hair, new braids / Nina Simone with a touch of ‘Yonce,” 

For the final song, the guy who has probably been on the most Tiny Desks in the shortest amount of time, Lucky Daye comes out to song with them.  It’s a little upsetting that they don’t seem to be fully social distancing, but they don’t touch, so that’s good.

“Velvet” is another song on the show Insecure which I’d not heard of until yesterday’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concert. Wins my heart for her improv first line:

“If I was a president I would tax it [No trump].”

Lucky Daye adds a high vocal R&B line that is almost the same range as her, although she does eclipse his high notes at the end.

[READ: June 19, 2020] “The Grand Old Opera”

This is one of those rare Shouts and Murmurs pieces that actually has a punchline–it sets itself up and pays itself off.  Most of them tend to be a joke that plays off of iterations of itself, so it was nice to have a conclusion.

The starting point of this piece is from a hilarious complaint from John Ashcroft (remember when he was the worst we had to worry about?).

Ashcroft complains that the opera gets funding from the NEA but people like Willie Nelson and Garth Brooks don’t. He then has the preposterous comment:

Those of us who drive our pickups to those concerts don’t get a subsidy; but the people who drive their Mercedes to the opera get a subsidy.

This piece centers around a discussion between the chief troubleshooter and the company director of the Metropolitan Opera House .

The troubleshooter is very concerned because there are people coming to the Met tonight on a Ford Taurus.  Worse yet, they are planning to arrive early to get a good parking sport. (more…)

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june8SOUNDTRACK: KAWABATA MAKOTO [河端一]–Sunday Morning (1978-83).


Recently, Kawabata Makoto [河端一], mastermind behind Acid Mothers Temple, revealed a new bandcamp site for some newer solo recordings.

This is Kawabata’s first musique concrète works. He played 2 cassette decks, a half-broken radio cassette-corder, tapes of field recordings and something else and a synthesizer.

This album has been reissued on CD-R as a part of “Kawabata Makoto’s Early Works 1978-1983 : Learning From The Past – R.E.P. Reissue Series vol.1” (11CD-Rs + 1 CD) box set in 2012.

There are two parts.  Part 1 is 24 min.  It sounds like short wave radio with lots of static. It’s a very mechanical, earthy sound which by the middle feels like a vacuum cleaner.  This one was particularly headache inducing.

Part 2 is 21 minutes long and feels a bit more musical with tape sounds and synthesizers but all under a gauze of hiss and static. There are musical notes –ringing harp-like notes buried beneath the fuzz–and echoing vocals.  At around 18 minutes the piece slows down with thumping “drums” that slow the pace.

These first two releases are very abstract.

[READ: June 9, 2020] “Breaking Stride”

This issue of the New Yorker has four one page essays called “Close Encounters.”  Since I like all of the authors, I was looking forward to reading them all.

This piece is fascinating to me because of two things.  The first is that Matthew Klam and his oldest friend managed to stay reasonably good friends for all of their lives.   And second because both of them went on to be creative.

In 1978 Matthew and David were in eighth grade.  They are not particularly popular but they both love Steve martin’s Let’s Get Small (this is right out of Freaks and Geeks). (more…)

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deceSOUNDTRACK: LOS LOBOS-“The Circus Comes To Town” (1992).

indexI have heard Phish play this song many times.  I never would have guessed that it was Los Lobos.

The original is a gentle folk song, with a delightfully strained vocal.

For all of the multicultural musical approaches that Los Lobos takes, this song is really quite straightforward.  It’s simply a well written and beautifully sung song.  This whole album is full of songs just like it.  Highly recommended.

[READ: September 10, 2019] “‘The Book of Directions'”

This is a short Shouts & Murmurs piece which is pretty funny.

It begins by saying that the new publication, “The Book of Directions,” looks at the oral tradition of direction-giving.  Examples include: “Go two block down the street, make a left, turn right at the light, and you’ll see the sign.”

The author of the book is “the French hothead Pierre Trout.”

So really this piece is about making fun of the French for their desire to not be helpful when tourists are lost. Trout finds American direction-giving to be amazing, elegant and, of all things, helpful. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: UraShimaSakataSen (浦島坂田船)-Shoutër (2016).

When I looked up “Shouter” I found this song (I love the umlaut).

I’ve never heard of UraShimaSakataSen (浦島坂田船), or USSS for short.  But I love that this is their description:

USSS is a 4-unit indie pop boy group consisting of Uratanuki (Green), Shima (Purple), Sakata (Red) and Senra (Yellow).

I didn’t spend a lot of time researching this band, but every image of them seems to be manga.  And the video for this song is entirely manga (hilariously only four still images recycled).  Each singer is a color and each singer has a background of that color.  And each time that singer sings the screen turns that color.

I particularly like that Green has a cuddle creature on his shoulder implying some kind of fascinating back story, I’m sure.

Most of the lyrics are in Japanese, but there is an occasional English section like the one that mentions the title:


For a pop band, this song doesn’t quite sound as poppy as I’d have thought.

It starts with a flute and loud electronic drums as the soft vocals come in.  The flute returns and it segues to heavy guitars and kind of rapped section as the song bounces along.

The chorus has heavy guitars and a grungey stomp before all four sing whatever it is the chorus is.

The melding of heavy metal guitars, traditional sounding flute, dance drums and pop melody and fast singing is (at least for 2016) so uniquely Japanese.

Babymetal has released their first album two year earlier.  While this is in no way a heavy metal song (and sounds nothing like Babymetal), the use of the really heavy guitars in this song has to be attributed to Babymetal’s success.

Then I had to check out the lyrics.  Someone has spelled out the English lyrics online.  Holy cow this is a really dark song.  And, how many pop songs name check Joan of Arc, Aristotle and Nietzche?  Is UraShimaSakataSen some kind of existential anime boy band?  The plot thickens.

Maybe we cry while we’re born
And smile when we die because we’re happy
All our words pile up
Our voices continue to reach its limits as we search for the meaning of shouting
Input, Verify, Accept, Start.
Being raised in a made-up and empty pitch black world
I play alone
A little light shines from the window like a lamp
One or two texts stand out
I wonder what I should play tonight.
Should I talk, dance, or draw…
Walk out to spaces and change
Going back and forth from reality and delusions
All ya flags throw away; struggle through it.
After spending extra time eating dinner and taking a bath
I say the magic words.
Listen to my voice
What should we shout in an empty world?
The people who “encourage” us, like a gallant figure Jeanne d’Arc
What should we shout in an empty world?
We chase after people who cause “conflict”, and want to be like Einstein…
Shout! Yeah Yeah Yeah
Until our voices continues to reach its limits
Stopped, Reload, Reenter, Restart.
I see. It’s because I wasn’t taught to be a good loser?
I only keep on losing my way
So I wonder what I should do with my future?
Right hand, left hand, you, and a survey
Let’s talk more; it’s prolonging the battle
Really, thank you for everything.
Shocking sound and tonight; you’re the guest of honor
Here, so to say, is the electronic secret base
Enjoy tour and travel; I’m the guide
It’s the era for minority groups and puffing out your chest.
These are words to destroy weapons
Listen to my voice
What should we shout in an empty world?
We “petition” to understand people, like the unfortunate Alan Turing.
Comforting people in lamentation about Friedrich Nietzsche…
Shout! Yeah Yeah Yeah
Until our voices continue to reach its limits
If the us that cry while we’re born
Smile when we die,
Then, y’know
I’ll make noise with you all every night
Until our voices reach its limits.
That’s the answer I got from shouting daily.
The empty world disappears and returns to normal.
Each person lives together and waits for reality in a faraway place
In an empty world, I wonder what’s left?
I want to play here one more time.
Please listen to my voice
What should we shout in an empty world?
“Confessions” tie people to the truthful Aristotle.
What should we shout in an empty world?
“Promises” tempt people like Shakespeare…
Shout! Yeah Yeah Yeah
Until your voice reaches its limit

[READ: June 20, 2019] “Shouters”

I think it’s fascinating the way that Shouts & Murmurs tends to make funny people… less funny.  Is it the nature of the New Yorker, that the comedy is such that it’s at a different wavelength?  (Not higher or lower, just different).

Or maybe these pieces aren’t really supposed to be all that funny.

Steve Martin is one of the funniest people ever and yet this idea is so blandly unfunny, that I don’t understand why he wrote it.

I enjoyed the opening… (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK BELA FLECK & ABIGAIL WASHBURN-Tiny Desk Concert #741 (May 11, 2018).

I know and like Bela Fleck.  I know and like Abigail Washburn.  I had no idea they were married.

A very pregnant Abigail Washburn points to Bela Fleck at the Tiny Desk and says “and just so you know, this is his fault.” I won’t spoil the video by telling you his response.

Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn are two American musical treasures. This husband-and-wife banjo duo write original tunes steeped in the roots of folk music. Their playing is sweetly paced with melodies interweaving through their intricate, percussive picking all while Abigail soars above it all with her discerning, yearning voice.

I also had no idea how political they are.

Their first tune, “Over the Divide,” was written at the height of the Syrian Refugee Crisis. They’d read a story about a Jewish, yodeling, Austrian sheep herder who helped Syrians out of Hungary, through the backroads that likely only sheep herders know.

Lyrical content aside, the music is just stunning.  The banjo is oft-mocked for its twang, but these two play such beautiful intertwining lines, it is just magical.   The opening melody is just jaw-droppingly lovely.

They each switch banjos to rather different-looking ones–deeper more resonating sounds

The second tune, “Bloomin’ Rose,” is a response to Standing Rock and the Dakota pipeline that is seen as a threat to water and ancient burial grounds. The intensity and thoughtfulness in Bela Fleck’s and Abigail Washburn’s music is why it will shine for a good long while, the way great folk tunes stay relevant over the ages.

But Abigail isn’t just banjo and vocals,

For the third tune, Abigail waddled over to a clogging board. And before she began her rhythmic patter, told us all that “my doctor said that what I’m about to do is ok! I have compression belts and tights on that you can’t see.” [Bela: so do I].  They then launched into “Take Me To Harlan,” another one of their songs from their 2017 album Echo In The Valley.

She says that they met at a square dance in Nashville, and she loves dancing and movement.  Bela plays and Abigail sings and taps for this jazzy number.  The middle of the song features a call and response with Bela on banjo and Abigail tapping [“Eight month?  No problem.”].

For the final song, “My Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains,” Abigail says it’s usually done in a perky bluegrass country style but they listened to the lyrics and decided it was not perky at all.  So they turned it into a different thing.  It’s a somber song with Bela on a relatively slow banjo (with a slide that he sneaks on near the end) and Abigail singing mournfully (she can really belt out a tune).

Although as Steve Martin pointed out, with a banjo almost everything is upbeat.

The parties at their house must be a hoot.

[READ: January 21, 2018] “Active Metaphors” and “Death By Icicle”

“Active Metaphors” is one of Saunders’ funniest pieces that I’ve read.  And whats strange about that is that it was an essay published in the Guardian newspaper.

There are two headings: “Realistic Fiction” and “Experimental Fiction”

“Realistic Fiction” begins with the narrator in a biker bar.  He overheard two bikers, Duke and StudAss discussing these two types of fiction. –they’d purchased their “hogs” with royalties from their co-written book Feminine Desire in Jane Austen.  There was some verbal sparring during which they threw Saunders out a window “while asking questions about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fallen American utopia.”

The narrator explained his theory of realism to them–everything happens the way it actually would and then suggests that maybe a central metaphor would help define things.  There’s an impotent farmer and every time he walks past the field, the corn droops.  An active metaphor like this helps the reader sense the deeper meaning of the story.

As they ride off with him on their hog, the bikers use some great professorial language–the end is hilarious. (more…)

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We watched this Steve Martin performance on Austin City Limits last night.  Who knew that Steve Martin (yes, that Steve Martin) won a Grammy in the bluegrass category!  I’m not a huge fan of bluegrass–basically I like it enough for a few songs, but a half an hour is a bit much.

Nevertheless, Steve Martin is an amazing banjo player.  Anyone who has his comedy albums from the 70s knows that.  He used to play banjo between jokes (“Oh…death and grief and sorry and murder).  Now he tells jokes between banjo songs (the joke about the Grammy is very funny).

This song does not feature his amazing banjo playing but it is very funny indeed.

I just love the crazy notes that Martin hits near the end, which sounds so out of tune and yet fit very well together.

[READ: July 27, 2011] Five Dials 18b

The bulk of this short special issue is the five poems by Michael Robbins, a poet with whom I am unfamiliar.  The only other items included here are Craig Taylor’s Letter and Laurence Scott’s Currentish Events about Galliano and Gaddafi.  Since Five Dials issues are of varying sizes to begin with, it was unclear why this issue was a “b” and not the next issue, but Taylor sets us all straight.

CRAIG TAYLOR-A Letter from the Editor: On Spring and Robbins
They got into the publishing gig to be able to comment on things as they occur.  So this special issue is designed to usher in Spring and to introduce the world to the new poet whose title “Aliens v Predator” so impressed them that they asked him for five more. (more…)

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I loved Luther’s Rebuild the Wall, and I kind of thought of him as country, but not really country.  A sort of punky country (his song “Broken Fucking Heart” lead me in that direction, too).

But this album is all instrumentals (hence the title) and it’s very traditional bluegrass/banjo-fueled tracks.   Eleven tracks in all (totaling about 22 minutes).  There’s even a cover of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”  Listening to this I realized that I like banjo music (not as my favorite type mind you, but certainly more than a little).  Steve Martin (an excellent banjoist himself) once said:

“You just can’t sing a depressing song when you’re playing the banjo. You can’t go– [grins, plays and sings] “Oh, murder and death and grief and sorrow!”

And there’s something to be said for that.  With this fun collection of mostly 2 minutes songs, you’ll smile for twenty minutes or so.  (And the playing is top notch, too).

[READ: September 11, 2010] Handle Time

When I wrote about One Night @ the Call Center, several readers said I must read Handle Time, that it was the consummate Call Center novel and that it was much better than One Night.  So I tried to find it.  No libraries in New Jersey carried it.  And although I could get it at Amazon, there was precious little other information about it.  Well, I finally decided to add it to our library collection (so I didn’t have to pay for it) and to read it for myself.

My first surprise came when the first line of the text has the word embarrassed written in a super large font.  The font is so large in fact that it put a pretty sizable space between the lines of text (that’s called leading).  My second surprise came when I saw that littered throughout the text were a whole bunch of large words and crazy fonts and a bunch of clip art pictures that showed what was happening.  (I was especially surprised when one of them turned out to be Mr Burns from The Simpsons!).

So it turns out that there are different fonts throughout the book, some of them large and crazy, others fancy and scripty.  But the long and short of it is that this book is really only about 50 pages long (I mean I read the entire 188 pages in about 2 hours).

Okay, but what about the content.  Well the plot itself is fairly brief.  Chase gets a job at a call center.  She sits through orientation, begins working, gets demoralized and has a panic attack about her job.  That’s pretty much it.  But really what you read the book for is for the side bits, the comments, the snark, the sympathizing with call center workers.

Except that I’ve never worked in a call center and yet I have experienced many of the things in the novel.  So, this book, much loved by call center workers, could be about pretty much any shit job (except for the part about keeping your numbers up (and the part about not actually helping people because it skews your average handle time)).  But bad cafeterias, microwaves, bizarre HR nonsense, stupid powerpoints, they’re part of any corporate job.  And she does a good job in skewering them, they’re just not specific to call centers.   (more…)

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I am probably the only person in America to see this book: elton1.jpg

and get excited because I thought it was about Ben Elton. bene.jpg It didn’t even cross my mind that it would be about Elton John (nevermind that it doesn’t LOOK like Ben Elton, I only saw the title…plus he has sunglasses on and everyone knows that once you put on sunglasses no one ever recognizes you!). Now, clearly this is my own bias, but OH, what a disappointment.

This reminds me of days long ago (the early 90s) when I saw books by Steve Martini martini.jpgand thought they were by Steve Martin. stevem.jpg Just as I began to convince myself that I would never see a book by Steve Martin, he started writing books… (even though they don’t look like Martini’s books).

Does anyone else recall hearing the opening riff to the Smiths “How Soon Is Now?” (more…)

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