Category Archives: Music — 1990s

This Used To Be My Playground, Part 18: Never Bring Laundry To A Mud Fight

Two years is a long time…practically forever in Internet-land, but that’s how long it’s been since an entry has been made in this series.

If you’re to new to the site, and/or a shut-in with mobility issues, you can begin with Part 1.

Or catch up on the last few entries here:

This Used To Be My Playground, Part 15: Parker Lewis CAN Lose Or, The Perils of Clinging To Adolescence

This Used To Be My Playground, Part 16: A Fantastic Voyage With Cousin Bob (Loser Chronicles, Vol. II)

This Used To Be My Playground, Part 17: Nine Inch Fails — You Want To What Me Like A What??

When I first started these musical reminisces five years ago, it was intended as a quick skim through a few songs that I felt culturally encapsulated a very important decade in my life. Well…300 songs. The Holy Bee has always been an ambitious blogger. Ambitious…and verbose. The little capsule reviews of ‘90s songs and a few funny/sad memories to go with them swelled into a rambling autobiography, and it stopped abruptly at a particular time — the split between myself and my high school/early college girlfriend, Emily. I now realize that was the point to which I was writing. Once I got there, it was like lancing a boil, or vomiting up something that had sickened me for far too long. The whole damn thing was not about music at all, but about heartbreak. And when I purged, I lost interest in continuing.

Looking back on the first seventeen entries, I am both proud and somewhat embarrassed. I was honest — too honest, sometimes. I included some real names I should have changed, some incidents best left unreported, and some thoughts best left unexpressed.

So I’ve gone back and changed a few more of the key names, including Emily’s. Why? Anyone who knows me from back then knows the real name(s), of course, and those who don’t wouldn’t be aware of who they are anyway. But I’ve just grown increasingly uncomfortable typing those real names, especially the girls (now middle-aged women long past caring, but it still feels intrusive.) The only person guaranteed to keep his real name is McKinney. Leaving his name attached to my memories is my inadequate tribute to his legacy as a genuine character.

I suppose I could stop the whole thing right here, but I feel I should see it through. The web is littered with abandoned blog series, and I refuse to join them. There’s still a few stories left to tell, and even a little music to remember.

One thing that will make it easier for me to continue is that “The Nineties” as an era, not a set of calendar pages, really ended for me in late 1997, and that’s when this series will pretty much end (probably with a quick 98-99 epilogue). Your mileage may vary, but I think unfocused anticipation (fear?) of 2000 shortchanged the last few years of the 20th century. So, if I keep it brief, I can see the end of my Nineties from here.

Decades are much more of a cultural span than a rigid group of numerical ten-year blocks, overlaid with very personal associations for those who experienced them. Culturally, the decade known as “The Fifties” was much more than Jan. 1, 1950 to Dec. 31, 1959 (add one year to each of those for you mathematical sticklers out there.) It started with the Baby Boom and the Cold War just after WWII, and continued well into what the calendar told us was the 1960s. Depending on your point of view, the turbulent “Sixties” began with the assassination of JFK or the American arrival of the Beatles (the two events took place eleven weeks apart). The Sixties “era,” too, lingered into the 1970s. A recent book called What You Want Is In The Limo by Michael Walker made a good case for the cultural “Seventies” starting in ‘73.


The Holy Bee, looking typically morose, late ’94. Form an orderly line, ladies.

…So my Nineties felt a little short. It got rolling only in late ‘91 when Nirvana shook up a bloated and complacent music scene, and ended for me in the fall of 1997, for a few reasons. 1) I discovered I was going to be a father in 1998. I would have to be a grown-up from then on. 2) I began feeling the autumn breezes on the crown of my head a little more than in previous years, and the contents of my hairbrush and shower drain confirmed the physical (if not emotional) aging process had truly begun for me. 3) I lost touch with the music that was on the charts and on the radio. It began targeting a different audience (younger and dumber, in my opinion), and I became [sigh] “hipsterized,” for lack of a better term — interested in digging for the non-mainstream, the obscure. What little was left of the musical mono-culture crumbled into sub-genres and sub-sub-genres, “event” albums that everyone owned (and even albums themselves) would soon cease being relevant, staring as they were down the barrel of mp3s and new ways to consume music. Not necessarily bad ways, just not Nineties ways. The New Millennium was already eating its way backwards. Like the Fifties, I feel the 2000s (“The Oughts”?) began a little early, and lingered a little long. In fact, have the 2010s established an identity — a “feel” — even now?

Where were we? Oh, yes. It was August 1994, and I was a mopey 19-year-old college student and video store clerk who had just been dumped. Wispy early attempts at facial hair came and went according to my whims. I was spending a lot of time holding down a barstool at Mahler’s coffeehouse, where the coffee was gratis thanks to the counterman Caspar (an old high school acquaintance), and fellow regular patrons Audrey (Caspar’s girlfriend) and McKinney were allowing me a semblance of a social life again… Continue reading


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This Used To Be My Playground, Part 17: Nine Inch Fails — You Want To What Me Like A What??

#133. “Closer” – Nine Inch Nails

#134. “No Excuses” – Alice In Chains

#135. “The Day I Tried To Live” – Soundgarden
For some reason, the summer of 1994 was a heyday for particularly grim music. Saturating the air were the negative vibes of “industrial” bands like Nine Inch Nails and Ministry (their 1994 offering was entitled Filth Pig. Indeed.) All the grunge knock-offs and second-generation shoegaze aided and abetted the general ambiance of doom. Which was fine by me. It matched my state of mind. I was in the grips of post-breakup grief, and things like the NIN magnum opus The Downward Spiral (“Help me – I’ve broke apart my insides/Help me – I’ve got no soul to sell/Help me – the only thing that works for me/Help me get away from myselfMy whole existence is flawed…”) gave it a voice.

The gritty Alice In Chains EP Jar Of Flies was also a favorite at this time, thanks to the song that may have summed up my feelings better than anything else. I almost wore out the CD on this one, so it’s worth quoting at length:

It’s alright…There comes a time
Got no patience to search for peace of mind

Laying’ low…Want to take it slow
No more hiding or disguising truths I’ve sold

Everyday something hits me all so cold
Find me sittin’ by myself — no excuses that I know

It’s okay…Had a bad day
Hands are bruised from breaking rocks all day

Drained and blue …I bleed for you
You think it’s funny, well you’re drowning in it too

Everyday something hits me all so cold
Find me sittin’ by myself — no excuses that I know

Yeah, it’s fine…We’ll walk down the line
Leave our rain, a cold trade for warm sunshine

You my friend …I will defend
And if we change, well I love you anyway

Get the picture, skipper? Continue reading

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The Best & Worst of the Solo Beatles, Part 4: Ringo Starr

Part 1: John Lennon

Part 2: Paul McCartney

Part 3: George Harrison

OK, this is the one I’ve been dreading. Most folks who lead normal lives are blissfully unaware that the former drummer for the Beatles has released sixteen solo albums. That is not a typo. But the experience of listening to all of them actually turned out not to be excruciating. Read on…

Starr may have been the Beatle who least matched his public persona, a persona created out of thin air by the early-’60s media (especially the American media, who initially had trouble telling them apart) and reinforced by his “Ringo” character in A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, and especially the ridiculous Beatles Saturday morning cartoon. He was the mascot, the goofy dimwit, condescended to and put upon by the others, but always childlike and cheery. Out of the spotlight, however, the real-life Richard Starkey could be just as cutting and sarcastic as Lennon, as moody as Harrison, and as savvy as McCartney.

He was the oldest Beatle, and the others have all reminisced about how much more cool and sophisticated Starr seemed before he signed on with them. In fact, “Richy” (his spelling) was considered something of a tough customer, rising up from the lowest of the Liverpool slums (a place called “The Dingle”) to become the powerhouse drummer for the hardest-rocking band on the local “beat” scene, Rory Storm & The Hurricanes. He drove a sporty car while his future bandmates still scrounged for bus fare, wore flashy jewelry (hence the stage name, which close friends never referred to him by), and cultivated a cool bohemian beard as early as 1960.

The fact that the proto-Fab Three had coveted him and his drums for years should certainly say something about how his skills were regarded at that time, and the fact that the great Ringo Starr ditched his sweet gig with the Hurricanes and deigned to join these upstarts should say something about Starr’s own musical judgment. [ADDENDUM: I’ve recently (Nov. 2013) read the first volume of Mark Lewisohn’s exhaustive three-volume Beatles biography, and it shed a lot of light on this era. Evidently, the Hurricanes were stagnating — Ringo had already quit them once — and the Beatles, far from being “upstarts,” had been top of the heap in Liverpool for some time, and were clearly poised for bigger things.]

Maybe his role as the “runt” stemmed from the fact that he joined the band at the last moment before they skyrocketed in late ’62. Maybe it was the fact that he was three inches shorter than the others, or wasn’t quite as handsome (that nose, y’know.) What seems clear is that the dismissiveness people sometimes projected onto Ringo as a personality began to spill over to his skill as a drummer, and that’s just plain unfair. Continue reading


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The Best & Worst of the Solo Beatles, Part 3: George Harrison

Part 1: John Lennon

Part 2: Paul McCartney

As a vocalist, he was nothing special. His voice was not as immediately powerful as Lennon’s nor as sweet as McCartney’s. In fact, it was kind of sub-par. Adenoidal and thickly accented, but I suppose he could carry a tune. As a guitarist, he was admittedly unable to improvise on the fly, definitely out of sync with his flashy Sixties peers, and not criminally underrated the way Ringo was as a drummer. (Relax, we’ll get to him in Part 4).  As a songwriter, he couldn’t hold a candle to the great rock poets like Dylan and Springsteen. Harrison’s talents in all these areas can best be described as “modest.”  One gets the impression that if there were no Beatles, Lennon and McCartney would have found another path and still be known to us in some capacity, but Harrison was in dire need of his Beatles background to launch his solo career.

But wait! Let’s examine all this again. Harrison’s voice was certainly distinctive and full of character (and blended perfectly with Lennon and McCartney’s to create that special Beatles alchemy, usually pinning down the tricky middle harmony). As a guitarist, it may not have been a bad thing to be out of step with his flashy Sixties peers. Some of those wanky, Vanilla Fudge-style blues-worshipers soloed like there was no tomorrow, often forgetting they were supposed to be playing a song.

Harrison did not go down the very well-trodden blues path, but played in a much more country & western-influenced rockabilly style, patterned after guys like Chet Atkins and Carl Perkins. His major concession to R&B was a healthy dose of Chuck Berry, which is the one thing he had in common with all other Sixties rock guitarists. (Hell, even the great Keith Richards spent most of the decade recycling Berry riffs, until he discovered open tuning in ’68.) Every Harrison solo was short, punchy, and served the song perfectly. Re-listen to some Beatles songs (“Can’t Buy Me Love” and their cover of the Larry Williams scorcher “Bad Boy” come to mind) with an ear on the solos, and you’ll see what I mean. As a songwriter, neither Lennon solo nor McCartney solo were on par with Dylan or Springsteen, either, and the best of Harrison’s solo material certainly equals the best of Lennon’s and McCartney’s. As far as being unable to improvise, who gives a good goddamn? The Beatles were never a jam band, anyway (thank God.)

And when, on a whim, he decided to join American R&B act Delaney & Bonnie on their British tour in 1969, he finally embraced the blues, but in his own way, rapidly developing an almost Hawaiian-sounding slide guitar technique that became the defining sound of his solo career. I still doubt there would have been a George Harrison music career without the Beatles, but luckily for everyone, there was a Beatles. And there’s some great stuff in the Harrisongs catalog…and also some turkeys. That’s why we’re here.

Anything else I have to say about Harrison, I said in my 2010 essay “The Quiet One.” In fact, I’ve probably already repeated myself somewhat, so let’s get on with our examination of the solo Harrison. Continue reading


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The Best & Worst of the Solo Beatles, Part 2: Paul McCartney

I have a little theory: Paul McCartney is insane. Batshit nuts. I don’t know quite when the cheese slid off his cracker, but I’m guessing about twenty-five years ago. Yes, he’s always been a little goofy, but lately? From his bizarre hair-dying experiments to the interviews that are about equal parts inane platitudes, vegetarian propaganda, and total gibberish accompanied by a cheery thumbs-up, he’s been leaving a trail of crazy wherever he goes since the mid-1980s. It’s not train-wreck, flame-out crazy, like Martin Lawrence wandering through traffic with a  handgun. It’s a subtler crazy, as if during the recording of Press To Play, alien beings had made off with his brain and attempted to replace it with an exact replica, but assembled it from poorly-translated instructions.

That’s not what happened of course. What happened is that his ownership of many valuable song publishing rights kicked in about then, he became a multi-billionaire instead of a multi-millionaire, cut himself off from anything resembling reality, and has been living in a totally self-generated bubble-world ever since. And I don’t blame him. If I became a multi-billionaire, I would reach foaming heights of crazy that would make Andy Dick look like a Presbyterian deacon.

For reasons directly related to his billionaire-induced craziness, Paul has become the most-maligned Beatle. With every misfire album and every cringe-worthy quote, his light dimmed a little more. But make no mistake — he was the driving creative force of the Beatles in the second half of their career, and that’s no small thing. He always valued the concept of being in a band more than the others. Lennon gets credit for being the witty, rebellious iconoclast, Harrison gets credit for being the quiet mystic, and let’s face it, both of them get double-extra-credit for being dead. Everyone loves a corpse, because they never disappoint. They’re not around to release mediocre albums anymore. But both of them tired of the “band” concept long before Paul did. In the 70’s, Paul tried to keep the idea alive by putting together a bunch of hirelings and calling it “Wings,” but even he knew they weren’t a real band — they were his employees, and various members came and went like the clock-punchers they were.

(At the start of his solo career, he followed the example of Lennon and installed his wife as full creative partner. His second solo album is officially credited to “Paul & Linda McCartney.” On John & Yoko’s joint albums, Yoko contributed full songs. Horrible, horrible songs. But songs, nonetheless. Linda’s contributions consisted of 1) hilariously flat backing vocals placed super-high in the mix, and 2) helping to write some lyrics. The conceit fooled no one, but co-crediting songs kept their royalties from becoming “frozen assets” in the morass of the Beatles break-up lawsuits going on at the time.)

At times, Paul seems to be resented by fans for simply still being alive and somehow tarnishing the image of the Beatles by his very existence as a living, breathing doofus, which can’t be helped. This can result in some unfair treatment. (There’s a song buried in the second half of Off The Ground — if you make it that far– called “Winedark Open Sea,” a kind of sparse, dreary piano ballad that I suspect would be hailed as a “classic” if it came from Springsteen or Neil Young. Those guys can get away with almost anything.) Other times, it’s entirely his own fault. The parallels with George Lucas become obvious if you’re petty enough to examine them (which is my stock in trade). The younger creative genius gives us several gifts we all cherish, things that beyond providing hundreds of hours of entertainment, may even have molded us as people. He then ages into the older billionaire crank and starts doing stupid shit, such as going back and futzing with the legacy. McCartney’s bone-headed attempt to change the songwriting credits on “his” Beatles songs from “Lennon-McCartney” to “McCartney-Lennon” a few years ago is the musical equivalent of Greedo shooting first. Continue reading


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Tales From the Apple Box, #2: “Soul Rotation”

The second installment of my “Forgotten (Unjustly — or Sometimes Justly) Albums of the 90’s” series.

“There’s a little man in my head, and he’s drunk all of the time,” the poem began. “He sits there on a bench holding a monkey wrench, sometimes he beats it against my mind.” I was utterly captivated as I sat in my high school creative writing class, listening to a classmate of mine reel off this poem of such humor and surrealism. I looked down at my own stupid teen-angst poem, and was ashamed. I wish I could write like that, I thought. As it turned out, my classmate wished he could write like that, too. He cheerfully admitted later that he had lifted the poem (and several others) entirely from the lyrics of a band called the Dead Milkmen. This tactic quickly bored him, and in short order he discovered marijuana and began stealing Pink Floyd lyrics instead, but I was hooked on the Dead Milkmen.

After years of circulating self-released cassettes, Philadelphia’s Dead Milkmen were finally signed by indie label Restless Records, and put out their official debut, 1985’s Big Lizard In My Backyard. With nary a song lasting over two minutes, and titles like “Veterans Of A Fucked-Up World” and “Takin’ Retards To The Zoo,” BLIMB was the only record in the Milkmens’ catalog that could be defined as truly punk, although that label continued to be applied to them. Over the next three albums, their sound became gentler and more jangly as their musicianship improved (the squeaky-clean guitar lines of Joe Genaro were a favorite element for me), and their snotty childishness grew less aggressive and more whimsical, even adding a touch of melancholy. Fans came to expect certain elements to be included on each album, and by the time of their final release on Restless, 1990’s Metaphysical Graffiti, this had hardened into a formula: A humorous ranting monologue (or two) from lead singer Rodney Anonymous, some sophomoric scatological stuff (“Do The Brown Nose”), some retro pop-culture stuff (“I Tripped Over The Ottoman,” the best Dick Van Dyke Show tribute song you’ll ever hear), and some more “serious” stuff with a light sprinkling of social commentary (“Dollar Signs In Her Eyes”) all played impeccably with a light pop-punk touch. But by Metaphysical Graffiti, the schtick had worn thin, for the band if not their audience. For the first time, the Dead Milkmen sounded a little tired. Continue reading

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This Used To Be My Playground, Part 16: A Fantastic Voyage With Cousin Bob (Loser Chronicles, Vol. II)

“I have thought of fifteen hundred or two thousand incidents in my life which I am ashamed of, but have not gotten one of them to consent to go on paper yet. I think that that stock will still be complete and unimpaired when I finish these memoirs, if I ever finish them.” – Mark Twain.

It was one of those rare three-cigar afternoons of the early spring, and I sat mulling over my Great 90’s Playlist. It dawned on me that I seem to spend as much time thinking/writing about “This Used To Be My Playground” as I do crafting the content itself…

#127. “Selling The Drama” – Live

Every once in awhile, I am confronted with the question what it is, exactly, I’m trying to do with this particular blog series. It has taken an unplanned drift from pop-culture commentary to almost pure autobiography, and the songs that are ostensibly under review have an increasingly tenuous connection to the life events I’m writing about. If all of these musings and reminiscences were scribbled down in a personal journal, the question of purpose wouldn’t be raised. But I’m throwing all of this out there in a public forum, and for some time I didn’t have a satisfactory answer to my own question of “why.” What is the point of an autobiography of a non-noteworthy person? I am the opposite of the guy in the Dos Equis commercial…

…He has two kids…he drives a ten-year-old Corolla…he teaches middle school and watches Top Chef…he is…The Most Boring Man in the World. “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do…I prefer…whatever’s on sale. Stay thirsty, my friends.” Continue reading

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Tales From The Apple Box, #1: Voodoo Lounge

Alternate title: Unjustly Forgotten Albums.

In compiling the creepily self-indulgent and onanistic blog series known as “This Used To Be My Playground” (Alternate title suggested by the ex-wife: “How Dare They Not Like Me”), I have been listening to a lot of old favorites from the one decade that seems doomed to inspire almost no nostalgia at all. According to the annoyingly still-prevalent Baby Boomers, the 60’s were the pinnacle of Western Civilization (can we unplug their feeding tubes, soon, please?), the 70’s garner a certain shameful, shaggy-dog affection for their hideous aesthetics in all things, the 80’s are now the super-cool decade for the new generation too young to really remember them, but the 90’s are passed over with a few grunge-flannel-Monica Lewinsky references. Maybe not enough time has passed for true nostalgia to really set in, but since VH1 has already trotted out their “I Love the 90’s” series a couple of years ago, it seems they’re fair game for a little “remember when” encapsulation.

Music buying has come full circle since the 1950’s and early 60’s. Once again, thanks to iTunes, “singles” are the dominant format. Only instead of a flat ring of vinyl that spun at 45 revolutions per minute on a record player, we have audio files that can be downloaded at a buck or two a pop. Budget-friendly and hook-heavy, the single was – and now is again – the go-to. But for at least two generations, beginning in the mid-60’s, the album was primary format of music consumption. Which places the 1990’s in the final quarter or so of the “Album Era.”

Some albums are immortal. The Beatles’ Revolver. Led Zeppelin’s IV. Michael Jackson’s Thriller. U2’s The Joshua Tree. And they’re immortal as albums — that is, entire collections of songs, even if certain individual songs from the albums may not be up to scratch (anyone waxing rhapsodic over Thriller’s “The Lady in My Life” or Joshua Tree’s “Trip Through Your Wires”? Didn’t think so.) But as recently as ten or twelve years ago, the album was still the thing, and if you were interested in an artist, by God, you bought their album. Vinyl was (temporarily) dead, so singles existed in the form of “cassingles,” which were for twelve-year-old girls with lots of jelly bracelets, or “CD-singles” which were for no one. If a song or an artist interested you enough to want to own it, you tended to go with full commitment – shelling out fifteen bucks for a dozen or more songs. (Usually more than a dozen. Albums got longer in the CD era. Value for dollar aside, this was not always a good artistic decision.) Continue reading


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This Used To Be My Playground, Part 15: Parker Lewis CAN Lose or, The Perils Of Clinging To Adolescence

“Alternative” music had become mainstream. What was the alternative to the alternative? Acts that were far more edgy than those that the record labels had decided were “alternative” began emerging into earshot around this time. The loopy, acid-fried Flaming Lips were not yet the untouchable critical darlings they would become in the next decade, but were rather a minor annoyance with this deliberately abrasive ditty that garnered them one-hit-wonder status in the MTV Buzz Bin. And there are those that will tell you they bought Pavement’s landmark Slanted and Enchanted the day it came out, but don’t believe them. About 50 people bought Slanted and Enchanted the day it came out, and you’re not one, I’m not one, and neither of us know any of them. I first heard Pavement the same way a lot of people first heard Pavement — observing their video for this song get shit on by Beavis and Butthead.


Adolescence – even the late adolescence to which I was clinging at 19 – imparts a certain degree of emotional masochism. Sometimes it feels so good to feel bad, to paraphrase John Hughes (again). But in the early spring of 1994, I had very little to feel bad about. Hindsight tells me I must have had some subconscious inkling of a train wreck ahead. I created, and spent a lot of time listening to, a bizarre mix tape: An unholy mélange consisting of key tracks from Derek and the Dominoes’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Pink Floyd’s The Wall – and, uh, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Continue reading


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This Used To Be My Playground, Part 14: Bitten By Reality

#115. “Streets Of Philadelphia” — Bruce Springsteen
The Holy Bee used to love going to movies. In the early nineties, a typical evening-show ticket was between five and six dollars. Matinees dipped as low as $3.5o. I probably watched two movies per week in a theater (and that total increased in late 1995, when I began working at a theater and could watch films to my heart’s content free of charge. More on that later.) Whatever the “big” movie was in any particular week, I was most likely in attendance. December/January was especially busy, what with all the Oscar-bait. (The weeks just before and just after the “summer blockbuster” season are probably the worst movie months. I was one of the maybe two dozen unfortunate souls who saw Folks! in the theater, just because I wanted to “go the movies” that night, and had already seen the other seven films playing at the Cinemark Movies 8.)

Tombstone was the movie I was excited about around this time, and I made a point of seeing it on Christmas Day, but Philadelphia was the big, prestigious Oscar-bait movie of the December ’93/January ’94 season. Like many “important” movies of that era, I let it wash over me without forming any strong opinions one way or another. I was a “movie-goer,” not yet a true film fanatic. That’s one of many evolutions the Holy Bee would undergo through 1994-95. These changes also included moving from a detached admiration for the work of Bruce Springsteen to full-blown fandom. Bruce was going through a rough patch at this time. The E Street Band was on hiatus, and the reviews for his ’92 double album release were middling. The muted, synth-heavy ballad “Streets of Philadelphia” won the Oscar for Best Original Song and put Bruce on the road to revival. (I still like Tombstone better than Philadelphia, and you know you do too.) Continue reading

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