Joe Strummer 1952-2002

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Multi-instrumentalist Martin Slattery recorded and toured with Joe Strummer from 1999’s Rock Art And The X-Ray Style until Strummer’s passing. Slattery, along with his fellow Mescaleros, completed work on Strummer’s final album, Streetcore, following his death on Dec. 22, 2002. Here, he remembers his late friend.

I first met Joe in 1996, when I was playing in Black Grape. Joe was a big fan of the band. I knew of the Clash, but I didn’t really know who Joe was or what a momentous effect he had on everybody. I was talking to him and going, “Sorry mate, but what’s your name again?” Maybe that put us in good stead for the future.

It was a slow process to get to know the man. He just kept his cards close to his chest. Not in a “going in on himself” way; he was just seemingly more interested in other people and in what you had to say. That was his trip. I think it stems from a real humble streak, not just wanting to blab on about himself. He’d always be talking about other bands or other music he was into.

Obviously, Joe’s performing capability kicked everyone up a notch. A good example is playing through the tunes in rehearsal: They sounded good, but they never really came alive until Joe sang with us. There was very much the rock ‘n’ roll spirit being with Joe. One thing I’ve realized in the last couple of months is that we were in this great little world with Joe. The record company never bothered us. We always sold enough records to get through and do the next thing. It was a wonderful, wonderful time.

The last night we were in Rockfield Studios working on Streetcore, in December of 2002, everyone hit the sack about 1 a.m., but me and Joe sat up until about dawn, just talking about stuff. That night, I felt really close to him. I also had a brief chat with him on the phone a couple of days before he passed away. Just a little phone call from a mate, you know? That was what was so great about being in the band. I can genuinely say we were mates. Nobody was like, “Oh, it’s Joe Strummer!”

I haven’t a clue about Joe’s financial situation, but I know he wasn’t a millionaire. Joe could’ve made hundreds of thousands of pounds guesting on other people’s albums, showing up for this, showing up for that, but he wouldn’t do any of it. He was about creating music for himself and for him to be able to perform and give to all the people. God, the amount of people that would come backstage and say, “Joe, you changed my life … ” We never left the venue until everyone had been talked to and everyone’s records had been signed. And it wasn’t just him going, “Hey, that’s great, see you later.” We’re talking about hours. We’re talking about commitment to the whole deal—hence, why so many people feel a connection with him.

The guy bore a lot. He took a lot on his shoulders: his band, his family, hundreds of thousands of people who he felt musically responsible to. And he dealt with it amazingly. He was one of the most naturally spiritual men I’ve ever met. You read books about Daoism and stuff like that, the way it talks about going with your life: Don’t fight what’s happening, move with the world. Obviously, he fought it lyrically, but he was always cool. He moved and talked with humble authority.

Joe was into the individual: You’ve got to do what’s right for you. Which is another kind of Daoist principle. You’ve got to follow what’s in your heart and not what’s in someone else’s heart. Tuning in to your own spirit—that’s what people should take from Joe. The fact that he came from what he did. At one point, he was digging graves; at another point, he was playing at Shea Stadium. That’s the spirit of an individual: finding the self within and not relying on someone else. He did that. It was incredible—that incredible energy.

Streetcore‘s “Coma Girl” (download):

Glen Campbell: Casting Rhinestones

Radio City Music Hall, 1985: It’s the second annual MTV Video Music Awards, and host Eddie Murphy is in the middle of his opening monologue. As the leather-clad comedian scans the famous faces in the audience—Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis, Corey Hart, Wang Chung—Murphy marvels at the assemblage of big-name talent and unloads a line that gets the night’s biggest laugh: “Man, if someone dropped a bomb on this place, Glen Campbell would be the biggest star left in the world.”

It’s a measure of the colossal success he’d tasted that Campbell could laugh off such a cruel jibe. After all, he’s forgotten more of fame and fortune than anyone in that audience could possibly dream of. Once a star of stage, screen, radio and record, Campbell—at the peak of his popularity in the late ‘60s—had been bigger than the Beatles.

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The Moon Is A Lightbulb Breaking: In Memory Of Elliott Smith

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Like Elliott Smith—as big a Beatles fan as there probably ever was—I never met John Lennon. I saw Nirvana as many times as most people of my relative age and musical proclivities (maybe even a few more, since I was practically in their backyard when the band and grunge “broke”), but Kurt Cobain was always more of a generational icon to me than any kind of tangible presence. I was living in New York when Jeff Buckley emerged fully formed from his residency at Sin-e to go on to critical acclaim and superstardom. But standing several rows back from the stage in a Manhattan nightclub was as close as I ever got to him.

Elliott Smith, on the other hand, was decidedly real to me. Human. Humble. Flawed. Generous. Opinionated. Fragile. He was all of these things (and a good deal more) to countless others as well.

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Don’t Believe The Hype

ryantempold3551MAGNET presents a case study on the state of the music biz: an industry hopelessly addicted to the press generated by its publicity foot-soldiers and the desperate quest for artificially stimulated demand. By Corey duBrowa

A year ago, MAGNET ran a story I wrote titled “Saving Private Ryan,” which detailed Ryan Adams’ career and the wave of hype surrounding his then-current release, Gold. The story was something of a mixed bag: Adams declined to be interviewed for it; his friends, foes and ex-bandmates weighed in as they saw fit; and the resulting piece sparked three issues’ worth of letters to the editor about whether it was worthy of the space it occupied.

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Being There Now

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2002’s front-line misadventures of MAGNET reporter-at-large Jonathan Valania, who mailed us this letter from his foxhole just outside Elliott Smith’s house.

Dear MAGNET,

Well, it’s been quite a year. Beck. Paul Westerberg. Wilco. Which reminds me, a funny thing happened to me after the Wilco cover story was published in May. Actually, a bunch of funny things. First, Jeff Tweedy stopped talking to me. No big change there: He barely talked to me while I was trying to write the damn thing. And it’s not like I’ll shed a tear when I’m not invited to the next Wilco slumber party. I love Wilco’s music, but I’ve had more laughs hanging out with cancer patients. I think you get a sense of this when you watch I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, Sam Jones’ Wilco rockumentary. Yeah, that’s me in the movie wearing a hat I’ve been told more than once is “dumb”—but hey, I’m stickin’ by it. (And how about the choppers on Rolling Stone’s David Fricke? Hands down, the best teeth in rock criticism.) I must say, though, I was a little disappointed after I saw the film. I really thought it would be more about me and my life and my troubles with record companies and Jay Bennett (pictured).

But seriously, one of the hard lessons learned from all of this: Never write an unflinching, dirty-laundry-and-all, behind-the-scenes cover story about Bennett getting kicked out of Wilco when the guy sleeps on your girlfriend’s floor every time he and his new sidekick, Edward Burch, play in Philadelphia—which was, like, five times since that story was published. Trust me, it can make for some uncomfortable moments around the breakfast table.

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Doug Sahm: A Lone Star State Of Mind

Doug Sahm is a giant of American music, and he’s even bigger than that in his home state of Texas. But the rebel cowboy hippie who spent his life crossing the borders of Tex-Mex, British Invasion, psychedelia and honky-tonk continues to flirt with obscurity long after his death. By Mitch Myers

In the old days, unless your name was George Bush, Texas kids (even the white ones) would rarely dream of growing up to be president of the United States. Of course, Texas has always had its fair share of idyllic wealth and golden opportunities, but it was one tough place to live in the early 1950s. And for an all-American boy to imagine escaping the pervasive barrenness, narrow-minded intolerance and soul-killing humdrum of everyday Texas life, dreams just needed to be a little bit more down to earth.

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Shake Some Action: An Intro To MAGNET’s History Of American Power Pop

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Of skinny ties and fat guitar hooks, of teenage love songs sung by jaded adults, of heaven-sent harmonies announcing hearts suffering through hell, we have only this to say about that maligned music known as power pop: It’s really uncool. Here’s thousands of words to sing its praise. MAGNET examines the history of American power pop from the Raspberries to the Posies, tells the story of Big Star and offers up four new bands with the kind of guitars and voices that could make you fall in love in three minutes.

MAGNET picks the top 15 American power-pop albums of all time
Spoon, Yo La Tengo, Sleater-Kinney and others choose their favorite power-pop songs
The history of Big Star
The ’70s: Cheap Trick, Raspberries, Flamin’ Groovies
The ’80s: the dB’s, Let’s Active, Dwight Twilley
The ’90s: Matthew Sweet, the Posies, Velvet Crush
The class of 2002: Phantom Planet
The class of 2002: Arlo
The class of 2002: Bigger Lovers
The class of 2002: Mayflies USA
Franklin Bruno looks back at his power-pop formative years

Absolute Power: MAGNET’s Top 15 American Power-Pop Albums

THE BEAT The Beat (Columbia/CBS), 1979
thebeatAfter warming the drummer’s seat in the Nerves, Paul Collins led the Beat through its debut, a dream synthesis of eight important records: the first four each by the Ramones and Cheap Trick. Plus, it has an adolescent let’s-dry-hump-in-the-rec-room, big (but not dumb) rock feel to it. Centerpiece “Don’t Wait Up For Me” is usually mentioned when people discuss the very best ‘70s power pop, which isn’t advisable unless you’re into arguments and tears.

BIG STAR #1 Record (Ardent), 1972
bigstar_big125“In The Street” (a.k.a. “That ‘70s Song”) may now be lodged in TV Land’s unconscious as an anthem for suburban myopia, but the whole of Big Star’s debut is a study in weird ambition. Nobody expected—or even wanted—Alex Chilton and Chris Bell to build a bridge between soul-gritty Memphis and poncey-pop London, but they did it anyway. Tough and beautiful, #1 Record is the sonic equivalent of a girl lipsticking a cigarette and pouting at an imperfect world.

CHEAP TRICK Heaven Tonight (Epic), 1978
cheaptrick125fBefore Robin Zander’s At Budokan introduction evolved into a Beastie Boys sample, “Surrender” served notice that these heartland heavies had arrived. The song stands as the band’s finest moment, putting the lie to any notions of hipness (the singer’s parents get their kicks smoking sess and rocking his Kiss albums) while sporting a hook that could land Moby Dick. Heaven Tonight forged the hair-metal template by welding glam-rock chops to straightforward pop.

THE dB’S Stands For deciBels (Albion), 1981
dbs125The sound of high-school angst bundled up and shipped off to college. Amid brainy variations on the boy-lusts-after-girl theme, Peter Holsapple’s buoyant jangle-garage collides improbably with Chris Stamey’s funkier psychedelic musings, making for the perfect tension-based songwriting partnership. As bolstered by adventurous production detail, the sonic house of cards wobbles but never topples. Import-only at the time, deciBels became a nexus of insiderdom cool in the ‘80s.

FLAMIN’ GROOVIES Shake Some Action (Sire), 1976
056__page_1_image_0003tiffWhen guitarist Cyril Jordan assumed command of the Groovies and dumped their Stonesy pout, they became an altar for his heroes, fusing Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” density, Byrds-like mega-jangle and Fab Four melodic sense. Shake was intended as burnt offering, but its buzzing, 12-string-soaked originals—Jordan’s inflammatory guitar sparking Chris Wilson’s tinder-dry vocals like a match to kindling—stands up alongside anything created by their idols.

TOMMY KEENE Songs From The Film (Geffen), 1986
tommykeene125Though Keene generally disavows the power-pop tag, he’s a melodic god to bands ranging from the Goo Goo Dolls to Velvet Crush. Songs is the biggest reason why. Keene’s sizzling guitar playing, sharp, wistful lyrics (recurring themes: loss, backstabbing, carnivals) and a re-recorded version of “Places That Are Gone” cement the album’s landmark status. The indignity of Songs’ lackluster chart performance was compounded when the 1998 CD re-release quickly went out of print.

THE KNACK Get The Knack (Capitol), 1979
knack_get125Critics may have launched a campaign to “Knuke The Knack,” but make no mistake: The little girls understood. This L.A. band’s coming-out party went gold in a mere 13 days, converting more than five million devotees along the way and making it one of the most successful debuts ever. It’s an overtly sexist, insanely catchy run through the new-wave jungle, highlighted by the invincible “My Sharona” and the Penthouse Letters-inspired “Good Girls Don’t.”

THE PLIMSOULS Everywhere At Once (Geffen), 1983
pimsolsFormer Nerves hipster Peter Case fronted this gritty L.A. combo with one foot in the nocturnal badlands of garage punk and the other in the jingle-jangle morning dew of folk rock. Placement of “A Million Miles Away” in the punk puppy-love flick Valley Girl—and the band’s multi-ethnic personnel—raised hopes that the Plimsouls had the tools to tunnel out from the genre’s college-kid/urban-bohemian musical ghetto into the bright sunlight of mass appeal. No such luck.

THE POSIES Frosting On The Beater (DGC), 1993
posiesfrosting125With producer Don Fleming (Sonic Youth, Hole, Screaming Trees) applying a layer of rocked-up grime to the Posies’ pristine pop, the group’s third LP finds it adrift in the sea of grunge that flooded Seattle during the early ‘90s. But the added toughness does the band a measure of good. The Posies’ once-precious songs turn ferocious (“Dream All Day” and “Solar Sister” particularly benefit from the sonic shagginess), at last achieving harmonic balance on the power/pop scales.

RASPBERRIES Raspberries (Capitol), 1972
raspberriesThis debut is generally regarded as the first fully formed, start-to-finish American example of the genre. The popular Beatles comparisons are overstated; this sounds like 1972, the year it and Big Star’s #1 Record would unknowingly birth the most venerable, unchanged and frustrating style in all of rock ‘n’ roll history. At the nose of Raspberries is “Go All The Way,” a song about Eric Carmen’s white suit lying crumpled next to your 16-year-old daughter’s bed

SHOES Black Vinyl Shoes (Black Vinyl), 1977
shoesFrequently mischaracterized as Shoes’ lo-fi debut album (that would be 1975’s vinyl-only Un Dans Versailles), this contains all the mythic trappings of obscurity surrounding its creation. Recorded to four-track in Jeff and John Murphy’s Zion, Ill., living room and originally intended as a demo, Black Vinyl Shoes captures the magic of Shoes at their best (sparkling melodies, pitch-perfect harmonies) and sounds even fresher today than it did during the Carter administration.

MATTHEW SWEET Girlfriend (Zoo), 1991
sweetgirlfriend125Often thought of as his first album (two substandard earlier LPs deservedly stiffed), Girlfriend saw Sweet come seemingly out of nowhere to establish himself as a new-school melody wizard. A smart, tuneful song cycle featuring achingly catchy tracks like “I’ve Been Waiting” and “I Wanted To Tell You,” Girlfriend is a signpost of ‘90s power pop and offered a brief, if ultimately futile, glimmer of hope that this kind of music might make a dent in the marketplace.

20/20 20/20 (Portrait), 1979
20_20125The hormonal heatwave of a high-school dance. Girls. Piloting your convertible, top down for effect, with the radio up full blast, doing 65 in a 35. Girls. Breathless late-night phone calls professing undying devotion—at least until the next crush comes along. Girls. Guitar riffs that reflexively make you grab a nearby tennis racket, resplendent in the glory of rock poses staring back from the bedroom mirror. A girl named Cheri. Weird simultaneous references to the Creator and “Yellow Pills.” Girls.

THE DWIGHT TWILLEY BAND Sincerely (The Right), 1976
dwight twilleyTwilley’s debut has it all: intricate stealth ballads, note-perfect Zombies/Beatles and Elvis/Jerry Lee pastiches, widescreen Sam Phillips-meets-Phil Spector production. And it sizzles with lust and aches with longing while rocking like a mofo—has there ever been a more exhilarating slab of throbbing sonic Tantrism than “I’m On Fire”?—in stark contrast to the sexless, so-bored bleatings of punk, a category into which Sincerely was inaccurately lumped at the time.

VELVET CRUSH In The Presence Of Greatness (Ringers Lactate), 1991
velevetcrush125Self-proclaimed greatness for a debut album? As Hall Of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean once said, “If you can do it, it ain’t braggin’.” In The Presence Of Greatness sports a thoroughly homogenized mixdown that assigns equal weight to vocals and instruments. Poured from a bar’s Waring blender, the Crush’s teenage symphonies are sweet as pineapple juice with a guitar aftershock like 120-proof vodka—overwhelming evidence to all still upright that these guys certainly could “do it.”

Power Pop: What I Like About You: Artists Surrender Their Favorite American Power-Pop Songs

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STEVE ALBINI
The bands you mention (Big Star, Raspberries, Flamin’ Groovies, Cheap Trick, Dwight Twilley, Shoes, dB’s, Matthew Sweet, Posies) are utterly unrelated. I can tolerate some of them, love the Flamin’ Groovies and Cheap Trick and have a profound hatred of the rest. I cannot bring myself to use the term “power pop.” Catchy, mock-descriptive terms are for dilettantes and journalists. I guess you could say I think this music is for pussies and should be stopped.

JOSH BERWANGER, THE ANNIVERSARY
“Open My Eyes,” the Nazz

In today’s music world, how you look seems to be more important than the music you play. The Nazz dressed cooler than most and played music that sounded as cool as they looked. “Open My Eyes,” the title track on their debut, is a power-pop song that expands the boundaries before the boundaries were set. Great riff, great percussion and a great style.

JEFF CLOUD, STARFLYER 59
“Valerie Loves Me,” Material Issue

It exemplifies the era of power pop that I come from. KROQ in Los Angeles used to never stop playing the blasted thing.

BRITT DANIEL, SPOON
“Yes It’s True,” Flamin’ Groovies
I bought my first Groovies album when I was 18 because I’d seen their name in The Trouser Press Record Guide and was into the idea of being able to tell people I owned a record called Teenage Head. And I liked it, but it surprised me because it sounded like an American Rolling Stones—I was expecting a pop record. Then a couple years later, I heard Shake Some Action, and it all made a lot more sense. Shake Some Action is all pop songs with chiming guitars, recorded by Dave Edmunds just after the band had relocated to England. My favorite song is “Yes It’s True” because of the weird drum beat and the great two-part harmonies that sound so calm and collected as they’re singing words so sad.

JOHN DAVIS, SUPERDRAG
“Feel” and “The Ballad Of El Goodo,” Big Star

You’ve got to have two Big Star songs: one that’s quintessentially Alex Chilton and one that’s quintessentially Chris Bell. “Feel” satisfies the latter requirement; Bell’s voice soars, the band rocks like hell behind it, the lead guitars blister and bend and the middle-eight breakdown absolutely drips White Album, white-boy soul. Chilton’s “El Goodo” presents the flip side of the Big Star coin, framing his world-weary vocal with lush, Beach Boys harmonies, swirling Stratocasters and a sense of foreboding that’s almost tangible.

STEVEN DROZD, THE FLAMING LIPS
“Hello It’s Me” And “Open My Eyes,” the Nazz

While I love Todd Rundgren’s version of “Hello It’s Me” on Something/ Anything?, the Nazz version is really kickass; it’s weird, mellow, Beach Boys-esque. And “Open My Eyes”—I always picture a ‘60s drug film with the camera zooming in and out really fast while there’s some crazy dancing.

IRA KAPLAN, YO LA TENGO
“I Want You Bad,” NRBQ

Though it’s hard to pass up such power-pop classics as Big Star’s “Kanga Roo” and the Flamin’ Groovies’ “Slow Death,” I’m going to choose a song by a band even less appropriately pigeonholed.

TOMMY KEENE
“Play On,” Raspberries

It’s the Raspberries’ “A Hard Day’s Night.” The lyrics are very rock cliché—“Play your hits and all the girls will come”—but the main riff is classic, and the too-high-for-my-high-school-band-to-cover harmonies are amazing. The record it’s on, Starting Over, is the quintessential power-pop album, a perfect blend of the Beatles, Beach Boys and Who. It was their attempt to shed their teenybopper image, and “Play On” sort of chronicles their frustration.

DAVID LOWERY, CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN
“Shake Some Action,” Flamin’ Groovies

In the verses, the narrator is defensive yet somehow defiant. This complex narrative view contrasts nicely with the brash and simple pronouncements of the chorus. The chords are also fat, and that to me is the number-one defining element of power pop: a hooky chord progression. You may have guessed I would pick this song, as Cracker covered it for the movie Clueless.

JASON LYTLE, GRANDADDY
“Barracuda,” Heart

It just blew me out of my shoes. It sounded forbidden. I remember being disturbed by it as a little kid. It was almost like I was looking at a dirty magazine. It was the dance I never learned. The fact there were two women up front didn’t hurt matters, either.

MATT PRYOR, GET UP KIDS
“Surrender,” Cheap Trick

When we were on tour with Weezer last year, Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen asked if they could come out and play “Surrender” with us at a show in Milwaukee. It was one of the most exciting and surreal moments of my life. I’d give my left arm to be able to write a song half that good. It’s perfect pop—the chorus just repeats itself but never goes stale.

ROBERT SCHNEIDER, APPLES IN STEREO
“Rock ‘N’ Roll High School,” the Ramones

It rocks out with huge-sounding drums, attitude and it’s really catchy. In the equation, the power times the pop is about equal. Plus, it was produced by Phil Spector, and it has an explosion at the end, like Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.” The Ramones were the new Beach Boys.

CHRIS STAMEY
“September Gurls,” Big Star

A wonderful moment for treble, melody and astrology. Although I think your question should be American power-pop “recording,” not “song”: The sound, arrangement, production and mix were often the thing.

CHRIS WALLA, DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
“Solar Sister,” the Posies

It’s their finest moment, the perfect balance of bombastic, tricky cheapness and vocal creme fraische. I can’t understand half the words, but it doesn’t seem to matter that much. I learned more about singing harmonies with this record in my car than I did in three years of choir.

JANET WEISS, SLEATER-KINNEY
“September Gurls,” Big Star

One, because I am indeed a September gurl, and two, because it’s the catchiest, most melodic sing-along since the Beatles’ “Eight Days A Week.” It makes you wish for one of those “December boys”!

Power Pop: Big Star, All The Way From Memphis

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It’s a mighty long way down rock ‘n’ roll, and you look like a star but you’re still on the dole: The true story of Big Star, Alex Chilton’s rematch with musical glory. By Corey duBrowa

Paul Westerberg once proudly proclaimed that he’d “never travel far without a little Big Star.” Teenage Fanclub owes any career momentum it was ever able to attain to the style codified on Big Star’s #1 Record and Radio City, the first of which was released 30 years ago. The Fanclub’s fetishistic obsession was deep enough to inspire the naming of its third album in honor of a favorite Big Star track (“Thirteen”), a song upon which Elliott Smith would later put his own wounded imprint. Cheap Trick—a band that clearly cribbed a move or two from the Big Star playbook—recently resurrected its career from irrelevance by re-recording Big Star’s “In The Street” as “That ‘70s Song,” the opening theme to Fox’s retro sitcom That ‘70s Show. (The original’s “Wish we had/A joint so bad” couplet has, of course, been surgically removed for the TV version.)

Musicians from all over the alt-rock kingdom have chased down Big Star’s producers, John Fry and Jim Dickinson, in an attempt to tap into the vein of beautiful loserdom they so perfectly captured on tape—the Afghan Whigs, Replacements, Primal Scream and Mudhoney foremost among them. Despite Herculean efforts, none has really ever gotten it quite right.

The Memphians known as Big Star forged the template for the genre that would come to be known as power pop: a mash-note mélange of sweet and sour that would be emulated by nearly every band that ever attempted to write a love song for the radio. If you ever sat in your car transfixed as 3:35 of jingle-jangle guitars, wobbly harmonies and lyrics putting a face to teenage confusion poured out of your speakers and down your spine in a cascade of chills, you have Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel to thank for it.

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