Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson (1958-2009) A Legend Remembered: Life, Death and The 80’s

On June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson died.

In 1983, I was a 9 year-old watching Michael Jackson capture lightning in a bottle and share it with the world on the Motown 25 TV Special.

Back then, I, or no one else for that matter, could have predicted his untimely death over 25 years later…or the frenzy it has been since he left us from this, sometimes, cruel world.

The following are just tidbits of thoughts, points made, memories and recollections of the man many idolized and wanted to duplicate in dance moves and talent.

Michael Jackson: The Artist

As an artist, I have always appreciated Michael’s hard work and diligence. I appreciated his quest for perfection. I appreciated and admired, his dedication to his craft.

It takes becoming an artist to yourself before becoming an artist to the masses…to the public…to others.

Michael was able to see past those who didn’t believe he could pull off a solo career, let alone, a massive selling album.

People, who can remember, and some who do not, must realize that Michael Jackson was under enormous pressure and written off as another child star from the 70’s along the likes of Donny Osmond and Shaun Cassidy. Not only that, he also had to face a very prejudice industry, particularly the Rock & Pop music companies, producers, artists and fans. Some of them were still mad and angry at Disco Music and The Bee Gees, Chic, Donna Summer and anyone else that produced dance music that continued to top charts, make money and regulate them to the back of the music store racks for over 2 years. The heads of MTV anyone?

Michael Jackson faced a lot of opposition. At any point, he could have given up. At any point, he could have said “The hell with this…I’m done!” But he did not. He used the opposition, the ridicule. All of it, as fuel to his artistic fire. And the rest is…..

It would be only fair to say that Michael Jackson was a talented genius despite the pain and suffering he endured.

Death of Celebrities, The Three Stooges & The Wisdom of Gertrude Boykin

As the Death of Michael Jackson send the media and news agencies into a fury, I believe one of my first memories of a celebrity to die would be Elvis Presley and John Wayne. I don’t know why, I was really young but I do remember the news being on TV. I knew Elvis was a singer and John Wayne was a cowboy in movies. But, other than that, I really didn’t understand what death really meant.

I remember going to the funeral of my grandfather but I just wanted to go home. I didn’t know him that well, so no real connection was ever made between us.

It wasn’t until a few years later, I was about 7, while I was watching The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals reruns on TV, did I ask my cousin “Do you know where the Three Stooges and Little Rascals live? In a house like us?” He told me they were all dead. “Dead?” I said. He said, “They were dead and they weren’t around anymore.”….I started to cry….I didn’t understand.

 These shows, the people on them made me laugh. I couldn’t wait to see them on TV. And they’re dead? Then it dawned on me….Am I going to die? My mom, dad, everyone I know? Not around anymore? At which point, I really started to cry….

My grandmother, Gertrude Boykin, the family matriarch and mother of 14 children, pulled me to the side and told me to stop crying….that everybody has to die. I said “But Why?” She told me “That it’s just the way it is.” Then, she took my hand and told me something I will never repeat…something she saw in the palm of my right hand….A wisdom about life and death….

My “granny” Gertrude was born in Louisiana in 1908, a child of mixed race, Black mother and White father….she was so light skinned that she was hidden from the White people in the area, on the count that some might not take “too kindly” to a half-black, half-white girl living in their neighborhood….But the things she learned along her journey in life, the stories she told us and everything that was a part of her was a sum of the words she spoke that day….

Motown 25, Thriller & The American Music Awards….

It was 1983. I was 9 at the time the Motown 25th Anniversary Special was to air and my family was excited….then the Jackson 5 came on….then Michael Jackson went solo….and then….ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE!

The following school day, “Everybody and their momma was talkin’ ‘bout Michael Jackson!!” And so it was.

Even the bullies wanted to be like him….We all found a common interest…

The weeks that followed were crazy…the radio wouldn’t stop playing his music…videos on TV….

The guy next door was one of the first on our block to have a VCR. We kids around there thought that was the “Wave of The Future”…His son would come out to play with us and we all would sneak and look through his window and we watched him rewind the Michael Jackson dance from the Motown Special….over and over again….That Was The S***!!!

You can watch it over and over??? Damn…That’s cool!

That summer, when school was out…All I remember is waking up early to watch Tom & Jerry, Tex Avery, Woody Woodpecker, Flintstones, Bozo Show…eating cereal….and at 9am, Lost In Space…Then, at about the time of "Danger, Will Robinson, Danger", my neighbor would start his mornin’ routine….Time For The THRILLER album…The LP! ALL MORNING…OVER AND OVER…LOUD and BOOMIN’…BILLIE JEAN, BEAT IT, WHATEVER….

Because of him, and my brother, who had the cassette and combined with the radio stations and video shows playing it, I didn’t need to buy the Thriller album….it wasn’t until 2005 that I finally sat down and listened to it for myself. After listening to it, I called a friend and said…”Hey, I just listened to Thriller…Its pretty good…I hope Michael Jackson does good with it.” My friend just said, “You’re Stupid.” And we both laughed…..

The American Music Awards broadcast is 1984 was also exciting because it was Michael Jackson’s night.

And the following school day, that’s all we talked about…..

I remember a group of friends from school going to a classmates’ house back then…he was a Michael Jackson fan and he wanted us to come to his family’s house. His father was very well-known and owned a few stores in the area, with video game machines, like Pac-Man and Pole Position, and selling candy and snacks. So, of course, he was loaded with money.

We go to his house, his mom was watching her “stories”. It was “All My Children” I believe…back then, it seems that everybody watched “All My Children”, especially African-Americans because of the “love” between the Jesse and Angie characters….I know this because my mom, sisters watched it during the summer and I had to wait until all soap operas were over before I could watch The Monkees, The Jackson 5 cartoons, Speed Racer, Banana Splits or whatever was on in the afternoon…Only 1 TV in the living room…To live in the 80’s….

But I digress….

So we go into this guy’s room and it was wall-to-wall Michael Jackson posters….YOU COULDN’T SEE THE PAINT ON THE WALL….ALL MICHAEL JACKSON….The jacket….A glove….The Doll….Everything….He and his entire family all had Jheri Curls!! Ah, again, The 80’s…..

It must have been nice for him.

As for me, I had my comic books, G.I. Joe toys, He-Man action figures…and heard Michael Jackson on the radio, saw his videos, and that was good enough for me….

His Skin Condition, The Burns, The Pain Inside….

When Michael transformed into something different than what he use to be, it was scary.

He said he had a medical condition, Vitiligo, that caused his skin to becoming lighter. A cousin of mine had this disease and it was very spotty in the areas it showed up.

I’m not sure but I believe Jackson may have had burns more severe than what was reported.

When Michael Jackson suffered burns from an accident during a Pepsi commercial, the whole world was watching…

He was never the same after that.

I believe that he suffered some sort of shock or trauma because of it. Or, maybe, there were visible scars, burns or pain that he did not want the world to know about that lead to possible addictions to medications, plastic surgery and other issues.

The world must understand that this man was the chief bread-winner for an entire family and extended family.

Is there any wonder that Thriller never had an official tour, rather, the Jackson brothers teamed-up with Michael for a “Victory” Tour is support of the album?? It was business as usual…

Michael couldn’t afford to lose at that point….In 1984, he was still on top.

I could only imagine the pressure he went through in his life. If people only understood or knew, I believe they would not have been so judgmental of every F******* thing he did.

But thus is the nature of the beast. Like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and others. When a person gets to the point of no return…no normal life to live….Isolated, under pressure to be the best every time and CAN have whatever their heart’s desire, it’s a lonely place to be….

Understand this, when you’re on top, jealousy and envy shall be your enemy…and there will be those who hate you because…well, you’re the best at what you do and some people just don't know how to dance…..

The Generation Gap and The Appreciation from Generation X

Most older people cannot understand this out-pouring of grief and celebration, because, most of their icons, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, James Brown, John Lennon, George Harrison, are gone and Michael Jackson inspired a new generation of music listeners.

Most younger people cannot understand it because they only know of Michael Jackson as being accused of Child Molestation, looking “weird”, etc. and their icons are Beyonce, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, etc.

But, anybody, in their 30’s now and slightly younger, will always remember the hysteria surrounding the music of Thriller and the moonwalk and dance moves of Michael Jackson. It was OUR time.

We are the ones who were inspired and entertained not only by Michael Jackson but Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis and The News, Prince, The Police...All of them, and more, have left their mark on our lives.

I have come to notice that most of the younger generation, especially those born in the 80s have this hate or disdain for 80’s music anyway…The 90’s, The 80’s, The 70’s, Now, its all good to me!

Since, I can only speak from experience and an artistic viewpoint, the 80’s was a great time for music and art…it was fun…it was like a party all the time! Speaking of which, even Eddie Murphy and Don Johnson had hit songs!! This time for my generation, Generation X, cannot be duplicated and we can only find hints of it in our daily lives....sometimes.

Lisa Marie Presley and the Fight To Save Michael Jackson From It All

In recent days, Lisa Marie Presley has come out to say many things concerning her relationship with Jackson. And I believe her words to be true.

If you can imagine two people who had “not-so-normal” a childhood being together, these two would be it.

And Presley, as she has said, thought she could save him from himself. She thought of him as a friend first.

But, in most cases, and from personal experience, most people get lost in the destruction they try so desperately to fight against. They actually must pull away from people on a deep slide because they will bring down the person trying to help also.

Whatever happened between these two, I can understand Presley’s perspective on it all.

I truly believe Presley was one of the few people in Jackson’s life to help him face realities in his own life, to come to terms with whatever happened in his past and break away from the vultures that hindered him.

My Favorite Michael Jackson Songs

Here is my list of my favorite Michael Jackson songs that are probably being downloaded this moment:

Rock With You – One of the first Michael Jackson songs I heard especially in a family that was mostly church-goers. My older sister, a rebel in her own right, is one of earliest influences on me to whom I owe much of my diversity of music from. I remember her buying records and cassettes like The Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, Earth Wind and Fire, Marvin Gaye, Teena Marie, Stevie Nicks, Bruce Springsteen and others. Just sitting and listening to them. She would play “Rock Wit You” and hearing it now does bring back memories of that time.

I Want You Back, Got To Be There, The Love You Save, Dancing Machine and Never Can Say Goodbye – These songs from when Michael Jackson was in the Jackson 5 are truly for repeat listening. I came across most the Jackson 5 music from the cartoon since I wasn’t even born when they burst on the scene.

"Off The Wall", "Blame It on the Boogie" (The Jacksons), "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)" (The Jacksons), "Can You Feel It" (The Jacksons) – JUST DANCE ALREADY!….If you listen to these songs and not get up and move, please, check your pulse…..

Say, Say, Say – Michael duets with Paul McCartney. I was a Beatles fan and this was the ultimate team-up. Like Spider-Man and Superman….Take your pick.

From Thriller: Beat It, Billie Jean, Thriller, Human Nature, PYT (Pretty Young Thing), Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin – All hits and who can ever forget the great videos….A MASTERPIECE!!

From Bad – Smooth Criminal, Dirty Diana – Not sure what happened…Too much creative control?? Trying to be better than the massive Thriller?? It was a good album but Smooth Criminal stands out above them all.

From Dangerous – Jam, Remember The Time, Can’t Let Her Get Away, Who Is It, Gone Too Soon – I was going through my Michael Jackson CDs and totally forgot about “Can’t Let Her Get Away”…AWESOME SONG! That was one I listened to over and over…. And “Jam” with the video featuring Michael Jordan, Kriss-Kross and Heavy D….Classic! And the song “Who Is It”, I still have the cassette single for that….and “Gone Too Soon” is as fitting a farewell song as any.

From HIStory – You Are Not Alone – You can hear Michael singing with all honesty…as if he’s in a mirror, singing to himself….

From Invincible – You Rock My World – This, to me, has all the elements of everything that was the artistry of Michael Jackson with a little bit more soul thrown into the mix. I listen to this and can only imagine what more he could have done.

Well, this is it, my tribute to a legend….

Taking out some time to reflect on his life as well as memories of him throughout the years…Its going to be a long week ahead and his music is definitely going to be played, downloaded and heard throughout the world.

Thank you Michael for all your work of art and being an inspiration to us all…

Rest In Peace.



Monday, June 22, 2009

RE: Racism In The Comic Book World: Dwayne McDuffie and JLA #34 Preview

The following is a post by comic book writer Dwayne McDuffie from his Facebook:

Here’s a preview of my final issue of Justice League of America, featuring the JLA teaming with Icon and Hardware in battle with Starbreaker. Don’t miss the secret of how the Milestone heroes ended up in DC Comics’ continuity.

I also suggest you take a look at some of the comments from your fellow comic book fans. Every once in awhile, I’m reminded how racially backwards a portion of our audience is and how important it is to… You know what? I’ll let them speak for themselves:

“…how many blacks did McDuffie manage to sneak onto the team this time–five? (I bet DC editorial gave him the same order as Burger King in that lawsuit–to “lighten things up around here.”)”

“Why don’t they call this the “Minority League”? ”

“I don’t think anyone will support an original black “mainstream” character. I know I won’t.”"Couldn't they get Static, Black Lightning, or one of his daughters instead of Dr. Light on the cover of BET League of America? Ha!"

“Maybe they should establish a separate league for all the negro superheroes. I’m not saying kick them ALL off. One would be okay. (Doesn’t Hollywood have some kind of law that says every movie has to have at least one black in it?) I just think they’re going overboard with all this diversity stuff. I mean, how many comics do minorities read anyway?”

Dwayne again. Welcome to my world. You know, the one where race doesn’t matter…__________________________________________________________________

TO Dwayne: That is definitely not cool...Man, are we still living in the 50's?? I remember reading comics, DC, Marvel, independents, growing up in the 80s because they were cool to didn't matter to me what color the hero being featured...but obviously there are those who read them to see which "minority" is being thrown in the mix....WTF?? I bet there are some so-called comic book fans who don't want to admit that comics were developed by jewish artists and writers...that other minorities have continued to buy comics for years, despite what "statistics" say....That all races go to see the comic book movies put out by Hollywood.

I wonder if these racist comic book fans think that the millions of dollars The Dark Knight made came from an all White ol' Biff would say: think McFly, think!

To Everyone Else: This is just sickening. The great divide will happen someday. Until that happens, we had better learn to get along.

Comic books are truly meant to be our modern mythology, our method of conveying timeless truths, wisdom and justice in a way rarely experienced in our own world.

Me personally, I have faced racism from all ends of the spectrum. Racism in the church. Racism in the comic book world. Racism in Politics. Racism in the entertainment industry. Racism. Reverse Racism. Hate. Hate. Hate.

I've heard it all. From blacks, whites, Hispanics, etc. and I must say I can't stand it anymore. I'm tired of it all. All my life I have fought everyone, it seems, because people judged me for being either "like white" or "not black enough" or "too black for the job" and because I do not believe in judging others by the color of their skin or religious beliefs.

I have been known to leave the presence, even get up and leave a home, of those talking racist crap before I resort to popping them in the mouth. Violence doesn't solve anything but I will make sure to take a stand. In the end, of ALL our lives, all that hate won't matter.

We may take whatever feelings with have to the grave but, as we've seen over and over again, that it is the surrounding hate that stays with us.

If I am alone in this. If I do not have any friends both black or white because I'm standing up to fight against their be it. They were never my real friends to begin with...NO "friend" of mine would be filled with hate toward another human being....I may know of a person...doesn't make them a "friend".

Of course, we cannot control others but we can control and limit ourselves to being subjected to views we do not agree upon.

All these "Little Hitlers" will soon find out that in the really doesn't matter.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Poetry: A Heritage Never To Be Forgot from "Carry Me Home: Poetry Inspired by the African-American Experience"


With this pen, I write.

With this mind, I dream.

Now, I can do this

With more than a feeling,

More than a sense

Of optimism.

This is a gift.

Presented in the past

By a host of enlightened voices

Who recorded the necessary notes

And told the tales everyone needed to hear.

They bought what time they had

To kill the giants.

They sold the forgotten parts

Of the night

To give the world

A taste of strong medicine.

Letters from Wright.

Metaphors from Hughes.

History from Haley.

Songs from Angelou.

It cannot be ignored.

Stronger than the weight of segregation.

Mightier than a sword.

Piercing all sides.

Creativity within

That ushered forth page after page.

Read between the lines,

Collect them into a volume.

I Hear the cry of the faithful departed.

There are some who would try

And put a lid on a treasure chest.

It's so easy to let it fall.

And me,

I am a part of it all.

From the fullness thereof

To the empty cup.

A heritage never too late to reflect.

(I am here).

A heritage never to be forgot.

(We are here).

Alive but many miles behind.


©2000 Torrence King. All Rights Reserved. From the poetry-art collection “Carry Me Home: Poetry Inspired By The African-American Experience”

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The End of An Era: Chicago’s WNUA Gets The Ax – So Long Old Friend….

It’s a wonder how things change.

“Nothing stays the same” is the phrase I’ve heard so many times. We tend to get use to things day in and day out that we don’t realize how true it is.

The other day while driving, I turned on the radio and was trying to find some music to listen to because my CD wasn’t playing. (Keep in mind, I’m not a big radio listener like I use to be because everything is so segregated now and I guess I’m just getting old but they really don’t play what I like all the time. Its hard to find a station to just put on and let play. That’s why I’ll listen to my CDs or MP3s. Having that control works best especially with sitting at a desk for hours drawing or writing. I can listen to Classical, 70’s Soul, Grunge, Hip-Hop, 80’s synth-pop and anything I like all in one setting.)

Back to the driving and tuning in on the radio…

Trying to find something to listen to, I turned to what I thought would be my “old faithful”, WNUA 95.5FM, a smooth-jazz-soul-r&b station that I would play all the time. I tuned in and there was "something" on the station, an instrumental song but it was different. I just thought that, "Its WNUA. They play all type of music even Brazillian, classic Jazz, etc. No big deal". Then, the commercial came on….IT WAS IN SPANISH! I said “Whats this??” It took me a moment to gather my thoughts and recover from the shock and horror---then my daughter, who was in the car said “Its Spanish music, dad.”

I---I---was—it was like a bad dream. What happened? Did it move? I started to stare at the station making sure it was on FM. Check. 95.5? Check. What’s going on? I turned to WXRT 93.1, a classic-alternative rock station. Has the world come to an end? No---WXRT was there. Whew!

Then it dawned on me like a bolt of lightning striking the scarlet speedster known as the Flash-----CLEAR CHANNEL!!!!! (You got to say it like Captain Kirk yelled “Khan!”)

I was determined to find out what happened to my beloved station.

After getting home and having every memory of WNUA race through my head. The first time I listened to it back in the late 80’s. The Saturday night radio programs Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis which showcased the music of instrumentalists Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson and Miles Davis, as well as vocalists Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald. The radio program, The Sounds of Brazil. The Dave Koz specials. The on-air personalities, Rick O'Dell, Danae Alexander, Dave Koz, Bill Cochran, and Scott Adams. Dammit!

I went to the internet, which knows all, and low and behold it was true: The format changed on May 22, 2009. It is now an all Spanish station. THANK YOU CLEAR CHANNEL!

WNUA, was more than a smooth-jazz station to me. It was collection of the best and brightest in the world of smooth R&B, pop and more. It was one of the few stations in Chicago that still played the music of Sade, Diana Krall, Chris Botti, Kenny G, Luther Vandross and others. It had programs set aside for different formats to appeal to the listener. The Legends of Jazz and The Sounds of Brazil is probably what I will miss most. It was music that set a different mood and to listen to historical tidbits about the songs was always really cool.

And, of course, Danae Alexander during the week-nights. Hmmmm, she definitely had the voice to fit that timeslot…

I’m going to miss that station. Dammit!

22 years it was on the air and it introduced me to many artists and their music and kept me going through those long hours of drawing and writing.

After thinking about all the radio stations that I've listened to throughout the years like Q101, WXRT, The Lite, Classical stations, B96, WGCI, The Mix, Jack FM, V103, Gospel stations, US99, The Drive, The Loop, WMBI among others, I would have to say that I probably listened to WNUA more than any other station on the radio throughout the years by the sheer volume of hours I would have it on while I worked. Damn.

WNUA 95.5. Thanks for the memories. You will be missed---sniff-sniff---

Now, here’s a write up by Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune that tries to explain Clear Channel’s decision (thanks for nothing!):

May 22, 2009--Adios to smooth jazz at Clear Channel's WNUA-FM 95.5.

Hola, Mega 95.5.

WNUA, a pioneer 22 years ago with the adult-contemporary format that blended pop instrumentals and jazz influences, is poised to become a Spanish-language station, complementing the music of artists such as Shakira, Enrique Iglesias and Aventura with local on-air personalities, news and traffic in an effort to seize a share of a rapidly growing audience segment.

The flip, set for Friday morning, has been the subject of a guessing game within the industry as other smooth jazz stations around the country dropped the format in recent weeks. But much of the speculation wrongly had WNUA embracing country, oldies or classic rock rather than what is being billed as Spanish hot adult contemporary.
A change in call letters has not been finalized, but the new Chicago station branding will be Mega 95.5, and it will be available online through

Jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis, a long-time WNUA personality, is supposed to bid fans farewell in Friday's 9 a.m. hour. That will be followed by a brief audio montage recalling the history of the 95.5 frequency in Chicago, from the Moody Bible Institute to WDHF to WMET to WNUA. Then at 9:55 a.m., the plan is to begin playing 5,000 successive songs from the new format over the next two weeks as an introduction before regular Mega 95.5 programming begins.

Clear Channel has yet to name the station's personalities.
It may be small solace for loyal WNUA listeners, but its smooth jazz format will remain available online at, as well as on smart phones via and to those with HD Radios at 95.5 HD2.

The problem that ultimately doomed WNUA was not the devotion of its audience, which didn't flag. The problem was Clear Channel's ability to cash in on it.
According to independent industry revenue figures, WNUA's take was off by almost $2 million in 2008 compared with '07, while Spanish-language leaders -- WLEY-FM 107.9 and Univision's WOJO-FM 105.1 -- showed gains. "The revenue support for WNUA declined significantly in recent years due to the changes in how advertisers evaluate radio stations, and we were faced with a very difficult decision," said Earl Jones, president and market manager of Clear Channel Radio Chicago. "This is something we really struggled with," said Tony Coles, vice president of programming and operations of its six-station cluster. "We're fans of WNUA. So it was really tough to even have conversations about the end of that radio station. But we looked at all the indicators. We really put a lot of time and energy and research and marketing and everything for that radio station, and the needle wasn't moving -- and then the economy started going south as well."

It will not be an inexpensive switch for Clear Channel, which is hiring about 25 new bilingual employees, including on-air talent, a programmer and a sales staff. But other numbers favor the move. Hispanics are a fast-growing population group in the United States, passing African-Americans as the nation's largest minority segment in recent years.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that, as of mid-2008, the nation's population included almost 47 million Hispanics, or about 15.4 percent of the total, while African-Americans accounted for about 12.8 percent.
Since 2004, when Clear Channel Radio announced an initiative led by Alfredo Alonso, its senior vice president of Hispanic Radio, the company has expanded the programming and availability of Spanish-language programming and formats on stations in 20 markets. But Coles and Jones stressed this decision originated locally and is about positioning Clear Channel's full portfolio -- which also includes WLIT-FM 93.9, WVAZ-FM 102.7, WGCI-FM 107.5, WKSC-FM 103.5 and WGRB-AM 1390 -- for what the market will look like in five years. Univision, which owns WOJO-FM, WPPN-FM 106.7, WRTO-AM 1200 and the duo of WVIV-FM 103.1 and WVIX-FM 93.5 here, says on its Web site that Chicago is the nation's No. 5 Hispanic market, with 1.8 million people and $24.2 billion in buying power. Clear Channel, which says Hispanics make up 28 percent of the city of Chicago's population, thinks it can do more than take a slice out of that segment. It might even be able to increase the size of the pie by appealing to bilingual listeners and courting general-market advertisers as well as those specifically targeting Hispanics. It also benefits from WNUA's signal strength. "It's our commitment to live and local programming, our commitment to community service," Coles said. "Just the ability that we have to be in the community, be active and use the leverage of our other radios stations. We have Kiss and Lite [WKSC and WLIT] as the No. 1 and No. 2 stations for English-speaking Hispanics, and then you combine that with Mega, it's a really powerful force."

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