Here are some excerpts from Sir Paul's interview with Fresh Air host, Terry Gross:
What or who was the inspiration for the song Blackbird?
"Well, "Blackbird" was something I wrote in the '60s and the music came from--I used to play a kind of version of a Bach piece. Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da- da-da. I used to play a little kind of finger-picking thing on that. And so the music was inspired by that. And then the words were actually to do with the civil rights movement. I was imagining "Blackbird" being symbolic for a young black woman living in America at the time, experiencing the injustices that were going on then, particularly. And this was hopefully to be an inspirational song where, you know, even though she was going through all these terrible times, she'll be able to look and listen to this song and be inspired by it to continue to fight against the injustices."
And who was Ivan Vaughn for whom the poem "Ivan" was written?
" Well, Ivan Vaughn was one of my best friends at school, who was born on exactly the same day as I was in Liverpool. So when we discovered this fact in the playground chatting, we became instant good mates. And he was a really lovely man. He turned out to be a classic scholar. He went to Cambridge to study Greek and Latin. And the other important thing was that he actually introduced me, one day, to John Lennon because he was very good friends with John, part of John's crowd. And Ivan said to me, 'Come along to this village fair.' That was in the village of Walton where John and Ivan lived. And he said, 'Why don't you come along? It'll be quite a bit of fun,' you know. He said, 'And my friend's playing in one of the bands.' So I arrived there and saw John, and so I was introduced. So it was Ivan who actually introduced me to him.
"And so we knew each other for a long time and had this sort of mad sense of humor, so some of the references in the poem--there's a little line goes: 'Cramlock navel, Cramlock pie.' That would be the kind of thing Ivan would say and wouldn't explain it because that was his sense of humor. So he was a lovely friend of mine, and he actually contracted Parkinson's disease at a very early age, in his 30s, which is quite unusual 'cause he was so bright, a very intelligent guy. He understood exactly what was going on and he could keep up with all the research on it. So it was particularly sad that he died at an early age. So I then was moved to write a poem, and that really then started me on the path of writing the other poems that you find enclosed in this poetry book."
He was a bass player?
"Yeah. In those days, they had these things called skiffle groups, which is the beginning of the rock 'n' roll craze for us. None of us could afford real instruments. The one or two guys who would have these guitars which were guaranteed not to crack, that you found in the back of magazines, very cheap. But most of us couldn't afford that kind of thing, and so Ivan had a tea chest, one of the kinds of things that the tea used to arrive in at the docks. And these things, once they'd taken the tea out of them, they would go in spurts. And people used to use them for storage and things like that. And our crowd used to attach a broom handle and a piece of string and knot the string through the tea chest, the top of the tea chest base, and then stand the broom on the top. And then, with the tension on the string, you could get various notes. You could dup, dup, dup, dup, dup, dup, dup, dup, dup, dup.
"So an ace bass player then would have his tea chest and Ivan had drawn on the side of it 'Jive with Ive, the ace on the bass.' And he would play a sort of dup, dup, dup, dup, dup, dup, du-du-du-du dup, dup, dup. And you
didn't have to be very musical to do that, but he was great and he was in the spirit of things. So, of course, it didn't last long. Once we got actual professional equipment, I'm afraid he was out."
The first time Sir Paul heard The Quarrymen, what were they playing?
"They had a repertoire of kind of folksy sort of bluesy things mixed with early rock 'n' roll. And John and the band were playing a thing called Come Go With Me, which was a record for a group called the Del Vikings. It was an early rock 'n' roll record. But John obviously didn't have the record, and he probably heard it a few times on radio. And being so musical, he just picked it up. And so he was doing a version of it. But what impressed me was even though he didn't know the words, he would make 'em up and he's steal words from sort of blues songs. So instead
of the real words, which I don't know, but he was singing 'Come go with me down to the penitentiary,' which was more off Big Bill Broonzy or somebody, you know. But I thought, you know, that's inventive. That's ingenuous. So I warmed to him immediately hearing that.
"Well, they were doing two sets. There was one in the afternoon when I first of all saw them, which was outdoors, and then there was to be one in the evening. And meantime, they had all this time to fill, so they went into the village hall where the evening gig was to be. And they were sitting around, and with all this time on their hands, John, who was one and a half years older than me, had got hold of some beer from somewhere and was having a little drink. And we were sitting around and just playing various songs. And even though I was left-handed, I kind of learned to turn the guitar upside-down and just about play songs 'cause my friends wouldn't let me retune their guitars, obviously. Too inconvenient for them. So I had to learn this left-handed method. So I turned the guitar around--I think it was his guitar--and I played a song, an early Eddie Cochran song, which was called Twenty Flight Rock.
"And I must have done quite well because a couple of days later I was cycling around Walton, which was the area where I met John, and one of the friends, a guy called Pete Shotton, cycled up to me and said, 'Hey, we were talking about you. You know, we enjoyed that Twenty Flight Rock. And Would you like to be in the band?' you know. So I said, 'Well, I'll have to consider this, you know. This is a big move to me. I've never been in a professional outfit before.' I'd never actually even hardly sung on stage before. I think I'd just done it once, sort of holiday camp somewhere. And so I said, 'I'll get back to you on that.' Well, then a couple of days later I did and said, 'Yeah, you know what? That wouldn't be a bad idea'."
In fact, he missed his first The Quarrymen gig because he opted to go off on a Scout camping trip:
"Well, I mean, you've gotta have priorities, haven't you, in life. Well, exactly, you know. I mean, you know, come on. No, you know, the Scouts was kind of an official thing I took part in. And so if you missed it, you know, there was problems, whereas this was a new venture, you know, the band. And let's face it; none of knew it was going to lead to any of the heights it did lead to. So it was the kind of thing I was likely to pass up the band in favor of an important Scouting gig. So that had to go, I'm afraid."
When was the "Here Today" written?
"I wrote that shortly after John died, and I wrote it in the upstairs room of what is now my recording studio. I seem to remember we had some time off in Key West, Florida, and it was because there was a hurricane and we'd been diverted I think from Jacksonville. We were supposed to play a gig in Jacksonville and we couldn't get in 'cause there was some great hurricane. So we had to spend a night or two in Key West. That's where we ended up anyway. And at that age, with that much time on our hands, we didn't really know what to do with it except get drunk. And so that was what we did. And we stayed up all night talking, talking, talking like it was going out of style. And at some point early in the morning, I think we must have touched on some points that were really emotional, and we ended up crying, which was very unusual for us because we members of the band and young guys, we didn't do that kind of thing. So I always remembered it as a sort of important emotional landmark."
What were they talking about?
"Probably our mothers dying because John and I shared that experience. My mother died when I was about 14 and his died shortly after, about a year or so after, I think. So this was a great bond John and I always had. We both knew the pain of it and we both knew that we had to put on a brave face because we were sort of teen-age guys, and you didn't talk about that kind of thing where we came from."
John wrote some very emotional songs about the loss of his mother, but Paul never really did?
"Well, no. Mine's veiled. My style is more veiled. And also, at the time the songs were written that you're talking, like Mother, John was going through primal scream therapy ... And, you know, that's going to get it out of you... I didn't actually go through any of that. I had my own sort of more private scream therapy. So my stuff tended to be more veiled, or I would tend to talk to friends, relatives, loved ones about it in private. Mine would emerge, I think, probably in songs like "Yesterday." It's been put to me, although it's kind of subconscious, that the song "Yesterday" was probably about my mother. 'Why she had to go, I don't know. She wouldn't say. I did something wrong. Now I long for yesterday. That's yesterday, all my troubles were so far away.' I'm sure that was to do with
my mother dying. But as I said, the kind of age group we were then, it wasn't a done thing to talk about things like that. And it was much later, when John got into therapy in America, that he wrote some songs that directly dealt with it."
Musically, hat did he have in common with John Lennon?
" I think, in common, we both loved music. We both loved the same kind of music, and it was a very large spectrum. People often think of John as quite a hard guy. Natural fact, he had a very soft center. And I was privileged to see that, particularly in early days of our relationship. So he would love songs like "Little White Lies," which is an old song. [Walter Donaldson?] Yeah. It's a very beautiful song, with some beautiful chord changes. And it's not the kind of thing you'd associate with John. He was quite a sentimental guy. And I think he had to cover it up more. I was very lucky. I had, and still have, a very large supportive family. I've got relatives who are breeding as we speak. But John had quite a small range. He had a very strange upbringing, actually, which didn't help his emotional profile. He didn't live with his mother. He was brought up by his auntie. And then his Uncle George died. And John I remember telling me once that he felt he was some sort of jinx on the male side of his family 'cause his father had left home when John was three. So I think John always felt somehow guilty about that kind of stuff. So I'd always had the strength of my family. I had people to talk to. So I think I'd be more open about that and John wasn't able to talk about that quite so well, I think, until he was much older and therapy helped him.
"So what did we have in common? We had a deep love of music, a love of song writing, which stretched from very early old songs that were beautifully crafted to much later rock 'n' roll songs, through people like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, through a lot of Elvis Presley stuff, through Chuck Berry, who to us was a great poet. I think Chuck is a great American poet. Bob Dylan is another who we both loved. So we had a love of music.
" As to what our differences were, I don't know really. I don't really think about our differences. I prefer to think about what drew us together."
Did he write poems when he was a child?
"Not really because in school we weren't really encouraged to write poems so much as essays. So there was a lot of prose involved. I wrote a lot of prose. But I did once--as I say in the introduction to this poetry book, I did once have a goal and wrote a poem that I was hoping would get in the school magazine. I wanted to be published, like everyone. But it was turned down flatly. And I didn't like that at all, so I've been trying to get my own back."
Is it true that most Lennon-McCartney songs were not actually collaborations?
"Yeah. Well, what happened was in the early days, they were pretty much--the very earliest days were separate. We wrote one or two songs separate before we actually got together. But when we got together and actually started writing, the earliest Beatles' stuff, everything was co-written. We hardly ever wrote things separate. But then after a few years and as we got a bit of success with The Beatles and didn't actually live together, or weren't just always on the road together sharing hotel rooms, then we had the luxury of writing stuff separately.
"So John would write something like "Nowhere Man" sort of separately in his house outside London, and I would write something like "Yesterday" quite separately on my own. And as you say, we would come together and check them out against each other. Sometimes we would edit a line of each other's, but more often we just sort of say, 'Yeah, that's great.' And very often, a line that one of us was going to chuck out, we would encourage the other not to chuck out because it was a good line.
"I had a line in "Hey Jude" much later that said, 'My movement you need is on your shoulder.' And I thought that was me just blocking out the line, and I said, 'I'll change that.' And he said, 'You won't, you know. That's the best line in it.' And similarly I would encourage him to keep lines in his songs that he didn't think were very good. And I'd say, 'No, that's a really great line.' There was a song of his called "Glass Onion" where he had a line about the walrus, 'Here's another clue for you all, the walrus was Paul.' And he wanted to keep it, but he needed to check it with me. He said, 'What do you think about that line?' I said, 'It's a great line. You know, it's a spoof on the way everyone was always reading into our songs.' I said, 'Here we go, you know. We give them another clue to follow.' So we would check stuff against each other, and it was obviously very handy for our writing to be able to do that."
Was he ever sorry that his songs were co-credited?
"Well, it was an arrangement we made in the early days, very early days. And of course, you know, a lot of people don't realize that we--our admiration goes back to people like Rodgers and Hammerstein, Rogers and Hart. We loved a lot of the work of those people. And so we were looking for something similar, so Lennon-McCartney grew up so that we would be a song writing team in the tradition of those people.
"For the first few years, it was fine. And it never bothered us. But more recently I must say it started to bother me because the kind of thing that would happen, in actual fact, to do with the poetry book we're talking about here, although we veered off into Beatle territory, Terry. Let's veer back soon. What happened was the kind of thing that would spark the feeling that they, maybe, should be better credited the songs was that Adrian Mitchell, who helped me edit my poetry book, did an anthology of verse where he had my poem, "Blackbird"--my song or poem, "Blackbird" in it. And, of course, it was credited '"Blackbird" by John Lennon and Paul McCartney,' which was just not true. John hadn't had anything to do with that. So I started to think, 'You know, this is a bit of a nuisance because I don't want any credit if John's stuff gets separately put in something like a poetry anthology,' you know. 'And I don't want any credit for "Give Peace a Chance," even though I am credited on that. Some of John's stuff was purely John. And I'd rather it be that.
"So that kind of started me thinking. And then when we had -- The Beatles, Anthology record came out, I actually did request that on the song Yesterday, which was solely penned by me, that, for the first time in 30 years, I be allowed to actually have my name in front of John's; not remove John's name, but that we credit it, 'Yesterday by Paul McCartney and John Lennon.' As I say, John didn't actually have anything to do with the song at all. He didn't sing on it or play on it or write it. So I thought that was fair enough. And, in actual fact, I wasn't allowed to do that. That was vetoed. And it started me thinking that, you know, with the computer generation coming in and data being stored for the future, that there probably is a scenario in the future where someone will think that "Hey Jude," "Let It Be," "Long and Winding Road," "Blackbird" were written by the guy who came first, because you know the way computers often knock off the ends of sentences ...
" I mean, I just went to see "Miss Congenea" the other night. Do you know that I mean? On the ticket it didn't have time...It didn't have time for the 'lity.' So this kind of thing happens. And I was actually in Italy and I was looking at a pianist's songbook, the fake book that the pianist was using. And I--you tend to flick through and look for your own songs, you know. You see, Fly Me to the Moon, very, very nice. You see Moon River; lovely. You see, Hey Jude, you go, 'Wait.' And this was credited 'Hey Jude"by John Lennon' just because his name comes first. So you've hit on a sore point of mine, there.
" I don't want to remove his name, but I must say just for kind of Trades Descriptions Act, as we call it over here, I wouldn't mind on the songs that I just did without John to have my name first. I think it would inform future generations as to what was happening. And it all began with my poem, Blackbird being, as I thought, miscredited."
Why didn't he include some of his early song lyrics in the new collection, such as Love Me Do or She loves you, yeah, yeah yeah?
"As my father would have said, 'Paul, there's enough of these Americanisms around. Couldn't you write She loves you, yes, yes, yes.?' Even though he was very working class, he was fussy about his words.
"But, no. You know, Love Me, Do sounded good the way you just did it, I thought. So you know the truth of why it wasn't included was I actually--Adrian--my editor on the book, Adrian Mitchell, actually chose which lyrics he wanted in it. And so I allowed him that decision. I didn't want to have to choose between my lyrics, actually. So I just said to him, 'Which ones do you think will work best on the page?' And he included them even down to Why don't we do it in the road? Why don't we do it in the road? No one will be watching us. Why don't we do it in the road?, which, I thought, it's made to include that. But I actually did a poetry reading in Liverpool the other night, my first ever in the universe, and, you know what? I ended with that and got the audience to join in. And we had a ball."
What inspired that song?
"That was inspired by Lord knows what; probably sexual feelings, Terry... For such a nice guy. Yeah, you know, but I have my lewd moments. Don't we all?"
Dinner Ticket had no life as a song?
"That's right. That's just a poem, yeah. I'll do what I did at this poetry reading the other day. As I look it up, I'll tell you something about it. The story was the we used to have these things called dinner tickets where you used to get five a week; one for each day of the week. And they cost a shilling, English money, each. And sometimes, for one reason or another, you wouldn't use them. So my mother used to go through my shirt pocket to see if I had any leftover dinner tickets. And, unfortunately, one day she discovered a drawing which I had done--speaking of lewd moments. We've segued right into it. I used to do--I had a knack of doing these drawings which, when they were folded up, it was a fully clothed woman. When you opened the drawing--opened the paper, she'd leapt out of her clothes and now she was naked. And for teen-age Liverpool guys, this was a great talent and much appreciated by the other lads. They used to get me to draw them for them.
"Now, unfortunately, I'd put one of them in my school shirt pocket and my mother found it. Well, the shame of it was just terrifying and she couldn't talk about it. She got my dad to talk to me about it. And I couldn't admit to it. It took three days before I'd admit. And I said, 'No, it wasn't me. I have no idea how that got there.' I lied through my teeth for three whole days and then, eventually, broke down.
"And so I ended up doing a poem about it. And when I thought of the poem, it was one day when I was working out in the woods, which is one of my hobbies. So the poem is intercut with scenes from me out in the woods. It
goes like this:
(Reading) "Dinner Tickets." 'My mother always looked for dinner tickets in the breast pocket of my gray school shirt. Dried mud falls from my work boots. Zigzag sculptures leave a trail as I head for the woods. She found a folded drawing of a naked woman. My father asked me about it. Chain-saw makes easy work of young birch blocking my path. For days I denied all knowledge of the shocking work of art. Resting on a fallen log, I wiped the sweat from my brow. Admitting I had made the drawing, I wept.'
"It's a true story."
Since his father was an amateur pianist, were there a lot of records in his house?
"No, not so much records. We didn't. We listened to the radio and he played piano in the house. But in actual fact, I can't remember him having one record, let alone lots."
Did the songs he heard when he was growing up affect his song writing?
"Yeah, very definitely yes. I loved listening, as a kid, to him play the piano. I can still remember now, sort of lying on the floor with my chin cupped in my hands listening to him play. He played from another era--songs from another era. One of my favorites he played was a song called Lullaby of the Leaves. He used to play things by Paul Whiteman and his orchestra. He played Chicago --(singing) Chicago, Chicago.
"So I loved all those songs. You know, I loved hearing him and he would actually take me and my brother and he would educate us in his own primitive way, because he didn't know how to read or write music. He'd learned by ear, but he was very musical. And so we'd be listening to the radio and he'd say, 'Can you hear that deep noise, there?' He'd say, 'That's the bass.' So he'd pick out things for us to listen to. And he would sometimes show us how to do a harmony. He'd say, 'Now here's a tune and this is the harmony to it.' So in The Beatles--in the early days of The Beatles, I was very keen on us doing harmonies and I would have to put that down to him."
The vocal harmonies?
" Yeah. I would always encourage The Beatles to do harmonies or, if John had a song, I would immediately harmonize to it. And you can hear that right the way through The Beatles' career. I'm often harmonizing a third above John or we're often harmonizing as a group. So I think my love of harmony came from him actually sitting my brother, Mike, and I down and saying, 'This is how it goes'."
It seems The Beatles loved the energy of the harmonies?
"We did, you know. We loved it. I still do, you know. It's something I always say to people that if someone sacked me and I wasn't allowed to do this again, I'd still do it as a hobby. I love it so much, you know. I--you know, whenever I'm on holiday, I'm always picking up a guitar or playing a piano. In fact, I can't go through a room that has a piano without having to tinkle on it, even if it's just 'ting.' I just can't resist it, you know, much to the embarrassment of some of my friends."
Yesterday is the rewriting of his first song I Lost My Little Girl?
"No, that's not quite true. The--my very first song was called I Lost My Little Girl. And that was written at the age of 14, but where, I think, the confusion is is that Yesterday was a rewriting of the original lyric of Yesterday because the song Yesterday, the tune of it, came to me in a dream. I just woke up on morning and I had this melody in my head. And being, by then, a professional musician, I thought, 'I wonder what that is?' And I had a piano by the side of my bed, so I actually sort of got some chords and put this tune to it. But I didn't have any words, so the original words to Yesterday were (singing) 'Scrambled eggs; oh, my baby, how I love your legs, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. I believe in scrambled eggs.' And I thought, 'You know what? The tune's too nice to have those as the lyrics.' So Yesterday is a rewrite of "Scrambled Eggs."
Ira Gershwin and other great lyricists used to use fake lyrics to give them the rhyme scheme for the melody.
" Well, that's it. Yeah. I call that blocking in. It sometimes happens as you're doing a song, you get a tune and it feels sort of silly going, 'Bah, dee, dee, bah, dee, bah, doe, dee, dee, doe, boh, bah, dah.' So you just go, 'I've a girl, dah, dah, dah, and somebody, bah, do, bah, day,' and you find words just come to you, some of which you keep; some like 'Scrambled Eggs' you lose quickly."
So did he mind when performers added Yesterday to their nightclub acts.?
"No, it was very nice. It was very nice to have that because, you know, we thought what we were doing was quite good and we were proud of it. And there was this sort of backlash, particularly >from the elder generation. People tell me stories now. They say they were watching that first Ed Sullivan Show and it's always the dad in the family who sort of says, 'Well, them The Beatles, yeah.' He never likes us. And he always says, 'You know, those are wigs.' They always thought--the dads always swore the kids--yeah, the kids say, 'We knew they weren't. We knew they weren't.' So it was always the problem; the dad was always the problem. So I suppose he was symbolic of the problem. So that when people started to like anything out of our repertoire--it was a certain victory. And Yesterday was a personal victory of mine.
"I mean, for instance, the great clarinetist Benny Goodman, who we had loved and thought was great talent, started with some reason--and maybe it's just a journalistic thing--but he came out against us. He said, 'Oh'--you know, I can't remember what he said, but of course we hated him from then on. And we started saying, 'He's a lousy clarinetist. I mean, what does he know?' you know. So there was this sort of group that didn't like us that thought we weren't very good. So when Yesterday came out I think a lot of them had to change their tune. And it eventually got recorded by way too many of them."
Does he remember the lyrics to his first song I Lost My Little Girl, that he wrote when he was 14?
" Yeah. Sure. I got to remember it now. This is a memory test. 'I woke up late this morning, my head was in a whirl. And only then I realized I'd lost my little girl. Her clothes were not expensive. Her hair didn't always curl. Duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, duh, I lost my little girl.' Oh, my God, you would have to go through that, wouldn't you? I'm trying to look grownup and poetic here, and you're taking me back to my worst memories. No, no. It was the line, 'It made my toes curl,' and that perhaps should have been a line in it, 'She never made my toes curl.' Was her hair--'her hair didn't always curl,' which always got grimaces from my friends. But, hey, you know, I was 14. It's not bad for 14."
Does he remember the melody, too?
"Yeah. I'm not singing it on your program, Terry ... Buy the record."
Sir Paul was asked to read his poem Lost, a poem he wrote for Linda.
"Yeah. OK. One of the things about poetry for me is that it seems a good way of dealing with grief. And when I'm feeling low--when I was feeling low particularly after Linda died, words came to me in the form of poems. One of the two came in the forms of songs. But mainly they were just words and things would happen that I felt I had to set down, so quite a few poems, as you said, at the end of this book were words that occurred to me then. And this one is one of them, called Lost:
'I lost my wife. She lost her life. Until then, the luxury of no responsibility chopper wouldn't fall that night as clinched inside a glove we sucked each other's energy'."
And the line"'until then, the luxury of no responsibility"?
"You know, I was married for 30 years, and in a good marriage you've got plenty of responsibility, but if you're lucky, you don't feel like you've got any. So even though I had a lot of responsibility, obviously with the kids, Linda was cool enough to make me feel like I didn't really have any. I had the freedom; all the freedom to do whatever I wanted. So that's really what that line is about. It should perhaps be the luxury of feeling I didn't have any responsibility. But it came out in that shortened version."
The fact that his mother had cancer was hidden from young Paul until after she died. Did he learn something from this when he had to face Linda's cancer?
"Yes. Oh, you know, we just have to face up to it by then because it was a different era, a different civilization. We knew that for instance we would have to talk to the kids about it whereas in the era I was brought up in, post-war Britain, it wasn't the kind of thing that women talked about. And there were a lot of things that women didn't talk about. Periods, for instance, were completely forbidden for a mother to talk to her sons about. I think there are still a lot of people like that, but it was particularly that way. So when she got ill, she just got ill. And when she went to hospital she was just in hospital for a short while. And it was all not spoken about it. And it wasn't until much later that I learned that she had in fact died of breast cancer. So it's particularly chilling when
Linda contracted it. And there were plenty of echoes that I actually tried not to notice."
What kind of echoes?
"All sorts of things. I mean, my dad--I remembered my dad saying to my mom when she would get tired, because of her illness, 'Why don't you go upstairs and have 40 winks?' So that was something that I was very careful never to say to Linda out of sort of superstition, you know. I just thought, 'No, don't ever say that. Whatever you do.' So I would say, 'Why don't you take a nap?' You know that kind of thing. So there were all sorts of echoes. And obviously we were hoping that she would pull through and she would conquer it. We didn't realize how serious it was. So we stayed very optimistic and very positive right up until the end."
After being thanked for the interview and for reading >from his poetry book, Sir Paul responded:
" Good. Thanks, Terry. I'm glad you enjoyed the book. It's been really sober here in England, as we speak. And it's doing amazingly well, which is great. It's lovely for me just to have a poetry book, because I think it's the kind of thing a lot of people fantasize >from the very early age about, particularly if you like your literature. So it's lovely to have a book. And it's lovely to talk to you."
(kindly submitted by PLUGGED correspondent Joan M. Hopkins)
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