David Gans (tnf) Sat 6 Mar 99 10:55
David Walley sent us this: Cultural historian and social critic David G. Walley has been writing about music and American culture since the late Sixties. His authoritative and critically acclaimed biography of Frank Zappa, No Commercial Potential, in print for 25 years, has been re-released by Da Capo Press. The Ernie Kovacs Phile, his second biography, which chronicled the unorthodox life and times of one of television's most innovative electronic comedians, has become a classic text. His work has appeared on the op-ed pages of the San Francisco Chronicle while his modern fables and social commentaries appear monthly in Cosmik Debris, an online magazine devoted to the alternative music scene. David G. Walley lives in Williamstown, MA along with his wife, 4 children and numerous small animals [flying squirrels? field mice? voles? bats, maybe?]
David Gans (tnf) Sun 7 Mar 99 13:19
And from Barry Smolin (firstname.lastname@example.org), who will be leading this interview: Let's welcome to Inkwell.Vue David Walley, author of an insightful piece of cultural criticism entitled _Teenage Nervous Breakdown: Music and Politics in the Post-Elvis Age_. David Walley has previously authored a book about Frank Zappa called _No Commercial Potential_ as well as a study of the comedy of Ernie Kovacs entitled _The Ernie Kovacs Phile_. _Teenage Nervous Breakdown_ is a witty and wise examination of the com- modification of the American psyche over these past 20 or so years. Mr. Wal- ley recognizes much that is true about Americans today, our looking-glass world where the most popular genre of rock and roll is called "Alternative," a world where it's possible to be grassroots and global at the same time, a world where kids are said to grow up too fast and grownups are said to remain kids too long, a culture in which, essentially, everybody is a teenager in- habiting a social milieu that continues to emulate high school long after one's diploma has disintegrated in a forgotten drawer or box in the garage somewhere. From an early age we are groomed to be consumers of products that are in- creasingly tied to our adolescent passions and fantasies, sold to us by a corporate image that is no longer the dour "man in the grey flannel suit" but is instead hip, cool, tapped into the exotic mysteries of the mythic under- ground, the progeny of the counterculture. The CEOs calling the shots in today's corporate climate wear sneakers and go to rock and roll concerts and want their employees to think they're one of the guys, and their products don't, like in the olden days, promise the familiar and the comfortable and the traditional; instead, goods and services are increasingly advertised as "EXTREME!" and "ULTIMATE!" and "DANGEROUS!" and "CUTTING EDGE!" and "OUT THERE!" and "OFF THE WALL!" This is not your father's Corporate America, and David Walley dissects and expresses the disorientation of this new commercial world order with clarity and a great deal of humor and personal charm. The idea for this book had been gestating in David's head beginning back in the 1970s, and now it is finished and published and available for your read- ing pleasure. Welcome to Inkwell.Vue, David Walley.
David Gans (tnf) Sun 7 Mar 99 14:33
I asked Barry to tell us a little about himself: > High School English Teacher at Hamilton Humanities Magnet in the LA Unified > School District, host/producer of psychedelic radio show The Music Never > Stops on KPFK, keyboard player in the band Sea of Green, writer of ex- > perimental poetry, and father of three cute brilliant children.
Barry Smolin (shmo) Sun 7 Mar 99 15:31
I think the best way to start our chat is to ask David Walley to tell us about the birth of the idea, his concept of the "highschoolization" of America. David, when (and under what circumstances) did it strike you that this is what was happening to American cultural life?
David Walley (dvdgwalley) Tue 9 Mar 99 14:46
HI you guys! I just got finished with supper, here on the Left Coast it's 5:25. HOw did I get this idea, huh? It was in the mid Seventies and I was thinking about the "highschoolization" of American culture, writing a piece for Harper's Magazine. Of course they weren't interested in it, but it jsut got me thinking. After all I'd just survived the Sixties and was not getting used to disco. I had decided I wasn't going to write about rock and roll anymore---this was after Bowie came out with Ziggy Stardust and all that Glam stuff---anyway I'd been thinking about it for a while. Flash ahead to the early nineties, actually the middle nineties, and I'm working on an update of my Zappa biography, No Commercial Potential, and my editor is talking to another editor who's interested in doing a book on rock music and my editor suggests me !!---I'd beehn thinking about the idea again after some years time I was already writing it on my own hook---and so I took this editor up on his idea---well it actually became mine although he didn't like my calling the book "Teenage Nervous Breakdown", he wanted to call it "We are the World" and I told him that the book would be remaindered before it got out of the warehouse---and there you are and here I am. Just give me a few responces and my spelling will improve, I promise!
David Gans (tnf) Tue 9 Mar 99 14:53
I like your title A LOT more!
David Walley (dvdgwalley) Tue 9 Mar 99 15:02
I got the idea from a great song by Lowell George off his first album. I thought that it fit the mood. Now here's the joke about that, I got the luyrics from Paul Barrere, called hm out of the shower to get them, wrote them down. They survived all the permutations of the editing until I got to the final version of the book and then somehow the song got dropped. I'm hoping that the next edition will have those lyrics restored---they do add something
David Walley (dvdgwalley) Tue 9 Mar 99 15:14
I wanted to add something before moving on to the avalanche of callers and fans out there in cyberland :-)) 've been always been intrigued by the notion that for some reason, Americans never seem to get out of high school. It's something like Hotel California, a place you can check out from but you can never leave. It just seemed that most of this started in the Fifties with the creation in the advertising biz of the teenage market (there's lots of monographs out there to back me up here). I never understood that bedcause being in high school was probably the most terrible time in anyone's life. You know that old phrase, "if you're not alienated in high school, there's something seriously wrong with you"? It just seems to be getting worse. And I won't even get into what happened for the past year and a half with Zippergate. What shocked me most, well not really shocked me, was that the news media instead of just calling this the bs it was actually jumped on it with both feet (or hands or even zippers) and rode the the story for all it was worth. Saxophone Bill has bad tste in women we all know. Anyway if he was the serial philanderer we all know he is, and Miss Monkeypants showed him her thongs, he could just have easily said to her,'No thanks, I gave at the office" and found something else. The fact that he didn't and the fadt that everyone in the country became involved with the choices he did or didn't make, just proves my point--- but I"m getting off track here of course and you were asking me something serious and thought-provoking (see my typing is geting better)---as I said, you'll have to be a little patient with me until we(whoever happens to be included in this dangling cyber conversation) rolling. Remember again, living on the left coast I have a differnt schedule, it's three hours earlier and I go to be around 7:30 your time and you guys are just getting back from work and into an evening's funa and games. If I was younger and had a better supply of pharmaceuticals, I'd probably try talking to you in real time (whatever in hell that means!). I hope that my babbling amused you, David. Anyone else out there want a piece of this?
Barry Smolin (shmo) Tue 9 Mar 99 16:22
Ah, yes, folks, David Walley is most certainly here among us! David, you identify the appearance of Bowie's Ziggy Stardust as the beginning of your disenchantment with rock and roll. What was it about that release and the glam-avalanche that followed, that soured your taste for Rock Music?
David Walley (dvdgwalley) Tue 9 Mar 99 17:17
It was more a question of the fact that I had my musical/intellectual/cultural "cherry" popped if I can be a mite politically incorrect here. When Ziggy and the Glam boys started making the scene, I said to myself that this had nothing at all to do with rock and roll or revolution or any of that stuff. It all had to do exclusively with FASHION, that music was driven by fashion that it had nothing to do with ideas per se. I was one of those "heads"drawn to the ideas that rock and roll had, for music back in that former era mixed and borrowed and was a protean force. The glam boys were just being bored---it's like Kierkagaard said I thnk in Repetition,"God was bored so man; Adam was bored so Eve was created for him; Adam and Eve were bored ensemble so Cain and Abel were born," etc. etc. etc. Rock and roll had lost its drive---ok, you could say that rock and roll has always been about fashon and teenagers and all that, and to some extent that's true. I didn't have to go for it, I thought rock and roll would become a new art form---boy was I ever wrong about that---and we have those pomp-rockers, Emmerson, Lake and Palmer, and everyone and thei9r cousin was dong "rock operas" too. I was a mixed bag back then I suppose. One of the bands I realluy LOVED back then was The Tubes, they had a song called "White Punks on Dope" which about summed up the whole thing. There was a band who had command of content and form, they could mimic any style, had great chops, put on outrageous stage shows, but they were way ahead of their times unfortunately and they appealed to a small segment of the audience. That's another thing that started to happen, that the rock and roll audience became more and mor splintered and narrow-casted back in the Seventies, thanks to the record business motivational reserearch boys. I should know I worked for CBs in the late Seventiesm, and that's the company that brought you that deathless record slogan,"The Man Can't Bust Our Music" (incidentally put together by Jim Fouratt, a gay activist who used to hang around with Tim Leary, long ago and far away). Record companies employed company freaks to sell product, good, bad indifferent. It was fun while it lasted I suppose, I quit that program too because they wouldn't let me write agbout the groups I liked and understood, wrote ads which were too literatre. Oh the bands LOVED them because with a few words I could describe what they were about, but the product managers, theyw ere the tough nuts to crack. Sure rock and roll changes, and we change with it. I still love the blues, jazz, world music. I try to listen to what my 13 year old daughter likes (not that I do, but at least when she's in my car, she'll allow me to play my music). I just have to have patience and eventually she'll get curious about the stuff I listen to in my studio, and then I'll ahve her hooked. I don't want her to absolutely love my music (the 'old' music) I want her to get an appreciation for all kinds of music. When iw as a rock and roll critic, my genration of criticw who were dodging the draft in grad school, I (I mean we) had to know all forms of music: classical, folk, jazz, blues, ramayana monkey chants, trance music, electyronic music---all of it because the music that was out there was drawing on all of it. Today I think that for the most part, the spectrum is just too closed in, too narrow casted and kids are getting screwed because they don't see how potentially intellectually and aurally liberating real music can be---I guess I got into a rant there, sorry about that---but my typing's better, isn't it?
David Walley (dvdgwalley) Tue 9 Mar 99 17:28
Hi Barry! nice to see you---this is very strange for yours truly because I'm used to talking and lots of that---fpeople don't make talking mistakes but they do make typing mistakes. I mean really, I could jsut rant and rave and you could occasionally stick a word in edgeways, but I understand that there will be a few weeks of this so maybe more people will get involved in this. Not that I don't mind raving into the cyberwinds. Did I mention my website? http:///walleyswitzend.com ? I direct people there to se what other kinds of things I rave about. The Lost Episodes that I wrote (or am continuing to write) with Nigey Lennon who wrote a wonderful book on Frank Zappa called "Being Frank" should also be blamed for whatever intellectual madness we get into. I would submit to any of those crazy enough to be writers, that they should remember that there are better ways to make a living. My father always wanted me to be a lawyer, but to tell you the truth, the electricians and plumbers do much, much better in the long run. You know how it is, everyone wants to be chiefs and nobody wants to be indians. I don't know about that, ever wonder why plumbers drive around in Cadillacs? On the other hand, I don't mind raving a bit, maybe this discussion group is like a chainsaw that needs a few pulls to get started. Myself, I like dialogues, not monologues
David Walley (dvdgwalley) Tue 9 Mar 99 17:29
damn, that's http://walleyswitzend.com
Barry Smolin (shmo) Tue 9 Mar 99 17:49
David, your rants are most welcome here. They are filled with grist and gist and lots of great stuff for participants in this cyber salon to chew on and perhaps to chew on you a bit (or chew you out!). You say that in the early seventies rock and roll became more about fashion than about music, more about image than say, liberation. But hasn't that tension always existed? In every era and in every aesthetic/philosophical/cultural movement, aren't there always those who savor the meaning and those who savor the fashion, those who are there to see and those who are there to be seen, those who seek an effect and those who seek only an "affect," those who actually read the book and those who only want to make sure the book is displayed prominently on their shelf when people come over ( I think of _Gravity's Rainbow_ when I make this comparison)? You make this very distinction when you identify and discuss the two groups of cultural archetypes: "heads" and "beats." In my opinion your discussion of these categories comprises some of the most thrilling writing in _Teenage Nervous Breakdown_. For the benefit of those unfamiliar with terms "head" and "beat," at least in the way you use them, perhaps you could explain the differences between the two.
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 9 Mar 99 17:50
Welcome, and thanks for the rant! Nice site... looked at it briefly. Your Teenage Nervous Breakdown link points to a review whcihs includes these words: " Well, during Elvis' career, rock and roll became a worldwide attitude as well as "a sonic environment for commerce." That is a sad plight ..." Why does this make you sad? Or is that the reviewer's take on it.
Gail Williams (gail) Tue 9 Mar 99 17:52
(I see that Barry slipped in ahead of my post with a more substantive question there.)
Barry Smolin (shmo) Tue 9 Mar 99 17:57
Answer both of our questions, David! Don't go to bed yet! Oh, and, uh, dude, I think you live on the RIGHT coast. You must be reading your mental map upside down or something.
David Walley (dvdgwalley) Tue 9 Mar 99 18:34
first Gail to you---what I'm meaning is that world commerce goes to the rock and roll beat.Is gets down to sneakers, like I say in one of my essays, "When I first heard the Beatles song "Revolution" I never thought it would be used to sell sneakers---that's what I mean about it being a sad plight. Yes I know that sometimes the music is apt, but sneakes and revolution just don't go together for me--- now Barry---jeez, I've got to think about Pynchon and that---you know of course that the book where Pynchon eally spilled the beans was in Vineland? there are somethings he says in there where I'd swear he was reading my mind...but ojk, it's back to "heads" and "beats", we had a go ound on your show (I loved doing it BTW). "heads" were another evolutoon from "beat" consciousness, how's that? Myself, I think that "heads" were less commercialized than beats became, and of course heads wee commercialized and cheese-whizzed into "hippies"---hipopies being a staight media creation of Time/Life and Newspeak, etc. There were only a small percentage of heads out there (and I mean that in moe ways than one), like one could say that ninety-nine percent of the wold is composed of fatheads (jean Shepherd used to say that on radio in NYC in the late Fifties and eraly Sixties). Heads and Beats? that's a tough one, and in the book, I damned nea killed myself trying to pin down the diffeences between the two. What I was getting at in all this (and this is fo the 'boomers" in the audience) is that gentle sliding slope in Ameican cultural histoy which goes like this: hipsters---beatniks---heads---hippies---dopes---yuppies. Yuppies are dopes but with diffeent goods, instead of the peuvian flake, theymight be into BMW's or tank watches, or designer cheeses or cigars---that kind of stuff---I don't know what equivalents there are to heads today because the archtypes ae still in use. I saw this obit of Kubick and Stephen Holden refered to 2001 as the achtypal "head" movie, and this was in the NY Times yet. Funny, I send copies of Teenage Nevous Breakdown to eveyone I could think of at the NY Times (people I used to know way back when when I was in NYC and scuffling around) and I didn't get one eply though I keep seeing myconcepts being used in the press. Oh well, I'm used to getting "borrowed" from. Thee aren't too many heads aound, and just because someone is loosely called a "Boomer" and I pesonally hate that term, HATE!! doesn't mean they ae heads. Just because someone smokes dope doesn't mean they'e a head eithe, it just means they smoke dope---they could be jerks and drink too. YOu see the probolem was that what happened, what the breakdown was with what happened in the late Sixties was that certain kinds of goods became freighted with values: I mean if you were hip, you knew that if youy grew you hai long, smoked dope, you were automatically into the next "club", which was what doper culture, which happened after "hippie" culture came on through. Ideas became reduced to goods consumed, that's what I'm talking about in TNB, how that happened, and what were the signs of the times, and what the signs are today. I mean look at MTV, fo them the Sxities was about dope and rock and roll, and mini skirts. Oh yes, there was activism, but of the bumper sticke variety kind, a pose merely. What can I say, it was like that if you were looking in, and reading Time and Newsweek or Life, butr there were some pretty wondeful things going on that are still going on, but they look a little different. What's that they say,."Jazz isn't dead, it just smells funny"? I don't want to bring back the Sixties because they hjaven't really left, they just look a little different. Just because we have a Boomer in the White house doesn't mean that we have a head---Saxophone Bill may have smoked a little dope, like Newt, and I'm sure like Al Goe (who oomed with Tommy Lee Jones fo fou yeas at Harvad ferchissakes!! think of THAT why don't you), but they weren't heads, they just did what was going on.
David Walley (dvdgwalley) Tue 9 Mar 99 18:38
yeah, I am on the Right coast I suppose, but it also depends on how you'e standing and what you're seeing too, don't forget. OK, the RIGHT COAST
Barry Smolin (shmo) Tue 9 Mar 99 18:51
Man, I have to relax and digest some of this. Fantastic stuff, David. This is probably a good place to post the salient Beat/Head stuff from your book: "Heads were primarily a literate, enlightened, and informed elite who saw a higher spiritual reality beyond the annual homecoming game of fifties team America while they were spectators in it. They kept a low profile, were almost invisible except that they read for a variety of experience: "Steppenwolf," "The Brothers Karamazov," "Waiting for Godot," "On The Road," "The Waste Land," "Howl." Beats suffered and strived in the shadows of "the Lonely Crowd" and "The Organization Man." The distance between Beats and Heads was incalculable: Heads assimilated all their information moving into, not away from, the world, without the uniform: the black turtleneck and all that jazz. "Beats were cool cynics who sneered at the agency schnorrers chained to the monotonous beat of the 8:30 from Bridgeport. You couldn't be cool and dig on your work--that's lame, man. The only thing the Beats dug was their alienation, which they deified. Beats embraced jazz and abstract expressionism to get the most out of jazz you had to be cool, detached, uninvolved. Digging mystical abstract expressionism was like listening to Bird, 'Trane, or Miles--interiors that lead to other interiors. "Beats hiply and coolly manifested their lifestyle as if their appearance and attitude alone would ablow the Squares away. Heads were interior but aware. Beats were exterior and insular. Jazz and folk. Jazz is a metaphor on a metaphor of black alienation. Folk blues is the story of that alienation itself, the struggle, a musical social history. Beats talked too much, reacting against psychoanalysis by becoming their own walking traumas. Heads saw Beat angst as self-limiting and self-imposed and probed their own universal unconscious. "Heads explored interior spaces freely, constrained by no intellectual viewpoint, open to a multiplicity. Intellectual eclectics, they viewed knowledge as a totality of information, a joyous cosmology, a synthesis used to understand the universe, by knowing what things are composed of, motivated by, influenced by. Only when you begin to see the totality of knowledge can you transcend your environment. "Head. Either you were or you weren't. You could spot them on the street since they possessed an inner animation, their brains radiated energy. Heads were not cool--cool was a hipster affectation. Cool was the Beat form of transcendence: but it was pur selfishness, a self-image, an attitude you struck, a pose. Hipsters and Beats were forever concerned about their cool, it was their religion--like Pynchon's Stencil in _V_, whose motto was "Keep cool but care," only the Beats never did care. To be cool with yourself meant being largely uninvolved with the world at large. Heads were never uninvolved: though they may have possessed cool heads, it was their manner. "America is one big commercial wasteland, T.S. Eliot without the footnotes. The Beats called it the Square Life; solipsistic Steppenwolves, they fled on the road, to North Beach, Greenwich Village, Seattle, come on, let's go, they said. Beats thought if they ignored time it would cease to exist; the gray fifties would vanish like cigarette haze in the Five Spot. Heads knew it wouldn't. Why run? One builds and lives within an everl- expanding continuum; besides, awareness is immanent for everyone, in time. America was waiting for awareness, had been since creation "Head consciousness was self-reflexive and universal, while the Beats deified the addict. Heroin was the ultimate Beat trip, a chemically induced existentialism, and the junkie was Christ crucified and grooving on the celestial oblivion of smack. The Square Life could be shut out for good that way. Get back, get back under, get out of it; later for that they said. No wonder Bird lived in Beatsville. "Drugs were not a necessary part of the Head cosmology, though they later assumed preeeminence when Head culture was debased, brokered as a commodity, media-eclipsed to 'hippie.'"
David Walley (dvdgwalley) Tue 9 Mar 99 19:33
why thankee---that's Teenage Nervous Breakdown: Music and Politics in the Post-Elvis Age (Insight Books, 1998)---it's on Amazon.com even if I'm not getting the full price, you will enjoy it---it's getting late fo us RIGHT coasters. I've gotten my head wet with this, there's a lot of information in your last post, Barry, and who was that writer who said all that good stuff? Anyway, I'm going to toddle off to beddies because I'm up at 6:30. Now I'm going to change my keyboard up heree in the house so that tomorrow I won't make as many mistakes. I have enjoyed yakking but then again, I always do. It is hoped that more people will come on board and I'll try to be amusing. Just emember that thinking is a subversive activity, and there's not enough subversion in this county, don't you think? pieces,
Barry Smolin (shmo) Tue 9 Mar 99 21:17
David, please don't feel like it's your obligation to be amusing for us, though you seem to come by it quite naturally. I'm hoping too that some other folks will jump into this melange of ideas and stir it up some more. The Head/Beat dichotomy at once appeals to our Aristotilean love of categories and our equally strong passion for finding exceptions to all such categories. I find myself torn in both directions. These cultural "types" though are a continuing presence, and a discussion of them is a good place to start as we work our way through the multifarious observations you make in TNB.
David Walley (dvdgwalley) Wed 10 Mar 99 06:53
It's Wednesday morning and I'm in the studio---you guys on the Left Coast aren't even up yet--- so ok, Barry, I'll follow your lead and see how things develop. After all you're more used to this form of conferencing than I am (oh I have a better keyboard which is a good thing when all aspects of the technological conundrum are factored in). So I'll rest easy and see how things develop here. Let my fingers do the talking and hope that my tyuping improves as we continue this fdangling conversation, I guess I'll see you later this day and now I"ll go do some work--
Erik Van Thienen (levant) Wed 10 Mar 99 07:10
Of course, there is allways us Europeans listening in ... :-)
David Walley (dvdgwalley) Wed 10 Mar 99 08:32
that's fine with me you European guys, I['m game to talk with anyone. What's on your mind?
Cynthia Heimel (plum) Wed 10 Mar 99 09:46
We don't care about your typing! You are at least legible which cannot be said of others here on the Well. I remember Arlo G. saying that early in the whole sixties thing you could walk down the street and just KNOW who had a roach on him, but later the possession of pot became meaningless and people did it just because with no ideological underpinnings. It's hard for me to remember way back then when it was, like, all meaningful. But I vaguely remember seeing a Presskit for Moby Grape. THe first press kit I ever saw, and I remember thinking "Uh-oh." David, did you go to Woodstock? David did you like punk music? Hi david!
David Walley (dvdgwalley) Wed 10 Mar 99 10:04
Delighted to be chatting with you, Cynthia, I've been a fan for years. No I didn't make it to Woodstock though I had press passes from Jazz and Pop Magazine. I knew it was going to be a disaster, I knew the pomoters, didn't trust them very much. My personal take on the whole Woodstock phenomenon was that I didn't need a mass movement to pove what I aleady knew about "head" culture: ie. you could go anywhere in the county, nay in the wold and find people who thought about the same things that you did, listened to the same music and got off of reefer the same way. And Alro was right, you COULD walk down the steet and know who was high and who wasn't. The point was like Dylan said, "To live outside the law you must be honest", ie. you didn't have to have long hair or indeed smoke dope to be a head. Beuing a head was a way of looking at the world. Anyway, by 1969, a few years after people were wearing flowers in their hair (!!) in the Haight the uniform was accepted as the sign of hipness. Anyone who could buy an oz of weed, grow their hair long was considered pat of the Movement. And since we'e talking of nostalgia here, do you remember Alo and David Bromberg doing Alice's restauant on WBAI when they were both very wasted? I have a tape of that. Punk music, now here's where I'll get into touble. I thought punk was another fashon statement picked up on by the musicians in NYC that were looking fo a handle up on disco in the Seventies. I lived down the street fom CBGB's. Myself I just thought it was a manufactured trend. Punk had a legitimate English roots, but it seemed at least to me, that it was just too much play acting fo my tastes. Anyway, in Teenage nervous Breakdown, there's a chapter called "Who Stile the Bomp from the Bomp Sha-Bomp" which ansers that questions more extensively. Punk doesn't do it for me, never did, it reminded me a bad performance art (and there was a lot of that in the mid to late Seventies). Please don't write me off as a lame old F#@k. As I've gotten older, my tastes tend to Wold Music, jazz, blues, etc. I don't watch MTV with good reason. I think the best part of me getting out of rock and roll criticism was that I was able to actually listen to a piece of music and not wory about having an opinion about it. My 13 yea old daughter keeps me in that headspace, though when I was her age I was listening to classical, jazz and folk and blues---as a teenager back in the late Fifties, music was going through its training bra stage: Frankie Avalon and Annette, etc--it was there and I listened---oh yeah, I remember surf music from that early period. But nah, punk music never did it to me. I think I was passed it when it became fashionable---how's that, Cynthia!
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