Watch Chick Corea (RIP) Perform Intimate Acoustic Performances with Bobby McFerrin, Gary Burton, Hiromi Uehara & Others

It seems impossible to talk about keyboardist Chick Corea, who passed away from cancer on February 11 at age 79, without also talking about Miles Davis. Davis hand picked him for the groundbreaking albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, and as a member of those ensembles, Corea helped shape the future of music and helped divide the jazz community into those who embraced the psychedelic “fusion” of jazz, rock, and other world musics and those who were fiercely protective of tradition.

Corea, however, “had already gone through early explorative phases of his career,” writes Jim Burlong at Jazz Views, before his “brief but not always happy” stint with Davis. He was on his way to the avant-garde direction he would take with his later group, Return to Forever. Yet no matter how far out there he went with Davis or the ridiculously accomplished RTF and hundreds of other musicians he played with, Corea always stayed connected to the music’s roots.

“Throughout his career,” Giovanni Russonello writes at The New York Times, Corea “never abandoned his first love, the acoustic piano, on which his punctilious touch and crisp sense of harmony made his playing immediately distinctive.” We hear it in compositions like “Spain” (at the top in a beautifully spare version with Bobby McFerrin), “500 Miles High,” and “Tones for Joan’s Bones,” all of which have “become jazz standards, marked by his dreamy but brightly illuminated harmonies and ear-grabbing melodies.”

We hear Corea’s “dreamy” acoustic piano throughout Return to Forever’s 1976 Romantic Warrior, an album that features 29 or so additional instruments among its four musicians, including a MiniMoog, Micromoog, Polymoog, Moog 15, ARP Odyssey, and an alarm clock and slide whistle on the quirky, medieval “The Magician.” This description alone might make purists cringe, but charges that jazz fusion albums are overstuffed and overly busy don’t tend to stick to Corea’s best recordings.

The sound of Return to Forever on Romantic Warrior, an album that influenced “bands to come on both sides of the Atlantic,” is “never crowded,” Burlong writes, “and the overall ambiance from all combinations of the thirty something instruments used is mostly one of controlled urgency.” Graced with a finesse that shines equally in weird, Scientology-inspired electric albums and traditional acoustic trios, Corea’s “versatility is second to none when it comes to the jazz world,” says his longtime friend and collaborator, vibraphonist Gary Burton.

Corea resisted the idea that funk and rock instrumentation in progressive jazz meant the invention of a new sub-genre. “It’s the media that are so interested in categorizing music,” he said in 1983, “the media and the businessmen, who, after all, have a vested interest in keeping marketing clear cut and separate. If critics would ask musicians their views about what is happening, you would find that there is always a fusion of sorts taking place… a continual merging of different streams.”

His advice to fellow musicians who might feel constrained by tradition or the strictures of the market is priceless (or “cheap but good,” he wrote), including the advice he gave a graduating class at Berklee College of Music in his home state of Massachusetts in 1997: “It’s all right to be yourself. In fact, the more yourself you are, the more money you make.” As a musician, Corea was never anything less than himself, though he didn’t seem in it for the money, sharing composition credit equally among the musicians on many of his ensemble albums.

Corea’s versatile musical approach won him 23 Grammys (“more than almost any other musician,” writes Russonello), three Latin Grammys, and the enduring respect and admiration of fans and fellow musicians. See more of his flawless chops in the intimate live performances above, including a Tiny Desk Concert with Burton, a full concert in Spain from 2018 with his acoustic trio, and a dueling piano performance of “Spain” live in Tokyo with pianist Hiromi Uehara, just above.

Related Content: 

Chick Corea (RIP) Offers 16 Pieces of “Cheap But Good Advice for Playing Music in a Group” (1985)

The Universal Mind of Bill Evans: Advice on Learning to Play Jazz & The Creative Process

Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew Turns 50: Celebrate the Funk-Jazz-Psych-Rock Masterpiece

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Open Syllabus Project Visualizes the 1,000,000+ Books Most Frequently Assigned in College Courses

The Prince, The Canterbury Tales, The Communist Manifesto, The Souls of Black FolkThe Elements of Style: we’ve read all these, of course. Or at least we’ve read most of them (one or two for sure), if our ever-dimmer memories of high school or college are to be trusted. But we can rest assured that students are reading — or in any case, being assigned — these very same works today, thanks to the Open Syllabus project, which as of this writing has assembled a database of 7,292,573 different college course syllabi. Greatly expanded since we previously featured it here on Open Culture, its “Galaxy” now visualizes the 1,138,841 most frequently assigned texts in that database, presenting them in a Google Maps-like interface for your intellectual exploration.

If you click on the search window in the upper-left corner of that interface, a scrollable ranking of the top 100 most frequently assigned texts opens immediately below. Number one, appearing on more than 15,000 of the syllabi collected so far, is Strunk and White’s classic writing-style guide.

Click on its title and you’ll find yourself in its corner of the map, and you’ll see highlighted other popular readings that tend to be assigned together with it: Diana Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference (at the moment the second-most assigned text), Aristotle’s Rhetoric, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” Jürgen Habermas’ The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere.

Michel Foucault holds by some measures the record for the greatest number of citations in the humanities. If you’ve read only one of his books, you’ve probably read Discipline and Punish, his 1975 study of the penal system — and current holder of sixteenth place on the Open Syllabus rankings. But zoom in on it and you’ll find plenty of relevant books and articles you might not have read: Alan Elsner’s Gates of Injustice, William Ian Miller’s The Anatomy of DisgustSoledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson. Similarly, an excursion in the neighborhood of Benedict Anderson‘s Imagined Communities brings encounters with other investigations of country and citizenship like Ernest Renan’s What Is a Nation? and Duncan S.A. Bell’s Mythscapes: Memory, Mythology, and National Identity.

In every sense, the results to be found in the Open Syllabus Galaxy are more interesting than those offered up by the standard you-may-also-like algorithms. Back in college you may have enjoyed, say, Edward Said’s Orientalism, but the range of texts that could accompany it would have been limited by the theme of the class and the intent of your instructor. Here you’ll find Noam Chomsky’s Failed States on one side, John R. Bowen’s Why the French Don’t Like Headscarves on another, Hans Wehr’s Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic on another, and even Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden on another still. If we want to understand a subject, after all, we must read not just about it but around it. In college or elsewhere, you might well have heard that idea; here, you can see it. Enter the Open Syllabus Galaxy here.

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“Calling Bullshit”: See the Syllabus for a College Course Designed to Identify & Combat Bullshit

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Why Does The Karate Kid Persist as the New Cobra Kai? A Critical Consideration by Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast (#82)

Did anyone suspect that the beloved 1984 film The Karate Kid (and its decreasingly beloved sequels) would now be not just remade but revived as the YouTube-Red-turned-Netflix hit Cobra Kai? Is this new show actually good, or just living unhealthily on nostalgia and the fascination of watching teens and middle aged people fistfight and fall in love.

Your Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark-san, Erica-san, and Brian-san survey the show and all the films for nonsensical plotting, villain motivation, questionable acting, and more. It’s almost as if PMP is the best… around… and nothing’s ever gonna keep it down.

Care for some articles with more info about these shows?

If you haven’t seen the notorious Karate Kid III, watch this.

Hear more of this podcast at This episode includes bonus discussion that you can access by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Peter Gabriel Re-Records “Biko,” His Anti-Apartheid Protest Song, with Musicians Around the World

Wisdom, humour, compassion, understanding, brilliancy of intellect, unselfishness, modesty, courage—he had all these attributes… The government quite clearly never understood the extent to which Steve Biko was a man of peace. He was militant in standing up for his principles, yes, but his abiding goal was a peaceful reconciliation of all South Africans.

—Donald Woods

When South African police murdered Steve Biko in detention on August 18, 1977, they thought they were ridding themselves of a thorn in their side, that in killing him, they could forget about him. Senior TIME editor Tony Karon, who grew up in white South Africa, recorded what the Minister of Police said when announcing Biko’s death to “a conference of the ruling party”: “I am not glad and I am not sorry about Mr. Biko. It leaves me cold. I can say nothing to you. Any person who dies… I shall also be sorry if I die.” Then, writes Karon, “they laughed. Like B-movie Nazis.”

Despite the apartheid state’s best efforts to destroy him, Biko’s death made him a martyr. “I didn’t know Steve Biko,” writes Karon, “but his death made clear to me, and hundreds of young white people like me, what millions of black South Africans knew from experience…. The fight to end apartheid had claimed many thousands of lives before his, and many thousands more would be killed after Biko’s murder. But no death shook my world, and the country all around me, more than Steve Biko’s.”

Biko helped found the South African Student’s Organization (SASO) while studying medicine at the University of Natal, and he founded the Black Consciousness Movement to advocate “self-awareness and self-reliance for Black people,” writes Mohammed Elnaiem at JSTOR Daily. It was a movement to center the experiences of Black South Africans. Yet as Biko understood the term, “Black” was a political class: his was “a movement for people who are oppressed,” he said, including so-called “colored” and Indian South Africans. “We believe,” says Biko in the interview above, “in a non-racial society.”

The government “soon realized,” Karon writes, “the radical movement was a threat to racial hierarchy in the country,” with its legal divisions of caste and class. They could not stop Biko’s message from resonating around the world. News of his arrest and death spread quickly and remained a powerful symbol of the regime’s brutality. In the music world, the news took the form of Peter Gabriel’s “Biko.” Released in 1980, the song became a major hit. It was, wrote critic Phil Sutcliffe, “so honest you might even risk calling it truth.” Gabriel himself, on the 40th anniversary of Biko’s death, wrote that “both music and lyric are simple but written to be direct and emotional.”

He did not need to embellish, especially in the song’s final line: “the eyes of the world are watching now, watching now.” Indeed, they were, as they are now, even in our states of pandemic isolation, watching the continued police brutality of governments built on racism, colonialism, slavery, apartheid, and exclusion. It’s an ideal time for Gabriel to re-release “Biko,” and re-record it with Playing for Change, the organization gathering famous and non-famous musicians around the world in remote collaborative covers of famous songs with universal resonance. “Biko” belongs in their company.

At the top, you can see the performance, which opens with the stunning voices of The Cape Town Ensemble choral group. Then bassist Meshell Ndegeocelo, Beninese singer Angélique Kidjo, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma join in with a Japanese percussion group and other musicians as Gabriel delivers the lyrics with as much conviction as he did over forty years ago. Just above, see a moving live performance of “Biko” from 1987, in a video directed by Lol Creme. Introducing the song, Gabriel calls the activist “a man who preached nonviolence in a state that has racism enshrined in its constitution.” Or as the lyrics put it in their devastatingly direct way: “It was business as usual / in police room 619.”

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The Birth of Hip Hop: How DJ Kool Herc Used Turntables to Change the Musical World (1973)

We all reach an age when the music of our youth becomes “the oldies.” When it comes to music as dynamic, innovative, and far-reaching as hip-hop, that age can feel surprisingly young. Or so it seemed to me, a child of the 90s, when the 21st century dawned. Now, separated from the artists I grew up listening to by a gulf of almost thirty years, I can say they are all certifiably old school, which I suppose makes me certifiably old.

But consider this—in 1993, a year I once considered something of a golden age of hip-hop—the music had already traveled twenty years and thousands of miles from its Bronx origins to become a worldwide phenomenon. Its greatest innovators, the men and women who invented the sound, were by then very much old school.

In fact, everyone who wasn’t getting down to the sound system of DJ Kool Herc in the New York of the early seventies is a latecomer to the scene, including punks like Blondie who immediately seized on its revolutionary potential.

“In 1973,” Henry Louis Gates informs us in the video at the top from the Black History in Two Minutes series, the Jamaican-born Herc “set up his turntables and introduced a technique at a South Bronx house party that would change music as many people knew it. His ability to switch from record to record—as well as isolate and repeat music breaks—led to the discovery of the hip hop genre.”

It was the sound of a thousand radios playing, all over the city, with the noise filtered out, beats made from the breaks, and the chaos cut into pieces and stitched together into music again; the sound of turntablism, a series of techniques, from Herc’s break-beats to the “Transformer scratch” to juggling beats: switching between “two identical records at lightning fast speed,” as a PBS guide explains, “looping or re-combining individual sounds to produce an entirely new beat.”

These new means of using playback devices as instruments led “from reworking existing tracks to composing music” from the components, a mad scientist approach that preceded the age of the MC, whose primary purpose was to hype the crowd in the music’s early days, instead of delivering the news of the streets in ever more-complex rhyme schemes. In the short videos above, you can learn more about Herc’s revolution. Just above, hear from the man himself and his former neighbors, who went to his first parties in the community room of his South Bronx apartment building.

Herc took the disco DJ’s technique of using two turntables, but played punk and funk records instead, seizing on the observation that the crowd went wild during instrumental breaks. “How would it be,” he thought, “if I put them all together?” Calling it “merry-go-round,” Herc showed off his new idea, after first announcing it to the crowd, and got just the reaction he’d hoped for. The rest is a history we should know. But if we leave out the turntablists, the DJs who built the beats that made the music what it is, no matter how old school they sound to us now, we’re missing something critical, an experimental revolution that changed the world.

via The Kids Should See This

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Saint John Coltrane: The San Francisco Church Built On A Love Supreme

Little of San Francisco today is as it was half a century ago. But at the corner of Turk Boulevard and Lyon Street stands a true survivor: the Church of St. John Coltrane. Though officially founded in 1971, the roots of this unique musical-religious institution (previously featured here on Open Culture) go back further still. “It was our first wedding anniversary, September 18, 1965 and we celebrated the occasion by going to the Jazz Workshop,” write founders Franzo and Marina King on the Church’s web site. “When John Coltrane came onto the stage we could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit moving with him.” Overcome with the sense that Coltrane was playing directly to them, “we did not talk to each other during the performance because we were caught up in what later would be known as our Sound Baptism.”

Or as Marina puts it in this new short documentary from NPR’s Jazz Night in America, “The holy ghost fell in a jazz club in 1965, and our lives were changed forever.” This was the year of Coltrane’s masterpiece A Love Supreme, a jazz album that, in the words of The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody, “isn’t merely a collection of performances. It’s both one unified composition and, in effect, a concept album. And the core of that concept is more than musical — it’s the spiritual, religious dimension.”

Coltrane, as the documentary tells it, composed the suite in isolation, determined to go cold-turkey and kick the heroin habit that got him fired from Miles Davis’ band. In the process he underwent a “spiritual awakening,” which convinced him that his music could have a much higher purpose.

It was Coltrane’s early death in 1967 that clarified the Kings’ mission in life, eventually prompting them to convert the latest in a series of jazz spaces they’d been running into a proper house of worship. “John Coltrane became their Christ, their God,” writes NPR’s Anastasia TsioulcasA Love Supreme “became their central text, and ‘Coltrane consciousness’ became their guiding principle.” Over the past 50 years, their church has endured its share of hardships. In the early 1980s a lifeline appeared in the form of the African Orthodox Church, whose leaders wanted to bring it into the fold but had, as Fanzo remembers it, one condition: “John Coltrane cannot be God, okay?” Then the Kings remembered a remark Coltrane conveniently made in a Japanese interview to the effect that, one day, he’d like to be a saint. Thenceforth, St. Coltrane it was: not bad at all for a sax player from North Carolina.

Related Content:

John Coltrane’s Handwritten Outline for His Masterpiece A Love Supreme

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Paul Simon Tells the Story of How He Wrote “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (1970)

It takes a certain amount of hubris to write a song like “Bridge Over Troubled Water”—to write, that is, a secular hymn, a non-religious gospel hit for burned-out sixties’ folkies. Maybe only a tragic flaw could inspire a composer “coming off the back of four hit albums and two number one singles in four years” to soothe the disaffection of down-and-out Americans who could see the bottom from where they stood in 1969, a year notorious for its cultural disaffection and political gloom.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s status as superstar hitmakers at the end of the decade perhaps made it harder for viewers of Songs of America—the television film in which “Bridge Over Troubled Water” debuted—to take them seriously.

When the duo first appears on screen in the musical documentary, of sorts, Garfunkel “brings up the subject of America’s imminent bicentennial,” writes Dorian Lynskey for the BBC, and “a camera-conscious Simon gazes into the distance and asks solemnly: ‘Think it’s gonna make it?’”

Directed by Charles Grodin with over half a million in CBS money, the film’s “mood of pensive pomposity comes to dominate.” It won few converts, despite the showstopper of a song. “The average CBS viewer didn’t want to see the world crumbling,” again, in Songs of America.

The heaviest sequence was a dark twist on the film’s travelogue theme, juxtaposing clips of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King on the campaign trail with footage of mourners watching Bobby Kennedy’s funeral train go by. The musical accompaniment was unfamiliar: a kind of white gospel song, stately and hymn-like, building to a shattering climax as the long black train sped through America’s broken heart. One million viewers responded by turning the dial and watching the figure skating on NBC instead. Some sent hate mail. Songs of America wouldn’t be seen again for over 40 years. 

While the movie failed, the song, and album, became instantly classic and rose to No. 1. “Bridge Over Troubled Water” also entered the cultural lexicon as though it had emerged from the misty pre-recording history of the 19th century, when songs were written and rewritten by anonymous folk claiming divine inspiration. “The celebrated New Orleans musician Allen Toussaint liked to say: ‘That song had two writers: Paul Simon and God.'”

The real story involves no supernatural intervention—it does involve a kind of “love and theft” (as Bob Dylan admitted, alluding to a book on blackface minstrelsy), through the influence of the Swan Silvertones’ recording of the 19th-century spiritual, “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep.” Simon listened to the record “over and over again in his Upper East Side apartment… thunderstruck by a line improvised by lead singer Claude Jeter: ‘I’ll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in my name.’” (When Simon met Jeter two years later, he apparently “wrote him a cheque on the spot.”)

Inspiration flowed through him. “I have no idea where it came from… It just came, all of a sudden,” he remembers in the clip further up from the 2011 documentary The Harmony Game. “I remember thinking this is considerably better than I usually write.” He recognized right away that he had penned what he would call “my greatest song”… “my ‘Yesterday.’” The comparison is notable for its contrast of attitudes.

Paul McCartney’s mega-ballad extols the virtues of nostalgia and pines for simpler times; Simon’s channels Black American gospel, looking beyond personal pain to the plight of others. It also takes its chord progression from a Bach chorale adapted by 19th-century hymn writers. That’s not to say “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” doesn’t evoke the personal. The lyrics “Sail on silver girl” speak directly to his soon-to-be wife Peggy Harper, “who had recently fretted about finding her first grey hairs.” The rest came from traditions of religious music.

Simon gave the vocal to Garfunkel because he thought “only Artie’s choirboy voice could do justice to the song,” Lynskey writes. Garfunkel felt intimidated by the song and “liked the sound of Paul’s falsetto.” Simon took his hesitation as an affront. “Such was the state of their partnership in 1969.” It’s clear in the opening minutes of Simon’s solo 1970 interview with Dick Cavett at the top that the iconic folk team would soon be parting ways, for a time at least. Cavett has some fun with Simon about the authenticity of his songwriting. “Maybe I lied… a couple of times,” he answers, some good-natured Queens defiance arising in his voice. “I was pretending to be someone else.”

Cavett then (at 5:25) asks the “impossible question”—how does one write a song like “Bridge Over Troubled Water”? Simon pulls out his guitar and obliges, showing how the chords first came from Bach. He gets big laughs and applause for his definition of feeling “stuck” before he discovered the Swan Silvertones. “Everywhere I went led me to where I didn’t want to go.” It’s maybe as universal a feeling as has ever been put in song.

“Bridge Over Troubled Water” turned 50 in January of 2020, a month or so before so the nation Simon eulogized prematurely in Songs of America fell into seriously troubled waters. In our stuckness, maybe his classic ballad, and especially its call to reach beyond ourselves, can help get us over like nothing else. See Simon and Garfunkel play it live just above in their first Central Park reunion concert in 1981.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Alfred Hitchcock Meets Jorge Luis Borges Borges in Cold War America: Watch Double Take (2009) Free Online

In 1962, while shooting The Birds, Alfred Hitchcock gets a phone call. Or rather, he’s informed of a phone call, but when he makes his way off set he finds not a call but a real live caller, and a thoroughly unexpected one at that: himself, eighteen years older. Beneath this encounter — in a room the London-born, Los Angeles-resident Hitchcock recognizes as a hybrid of Chasen‘s and Claridge‘s — runs a current of existential tension. This owes not just to the imaginable reasons, but also to the fact that both Hitchcocks have heard the same aphorism: “If you meet your double, you should kill him.”

So goes the plot of Johan Grimonprez’s Double Take, or at least that of its fictional scenes. Though feature-length, Double Take would be more accurately considered an “essay film” in the tradition of Orson Welles’ truth-and-falsity-mixing F for Fake. As Every Frame a Painting’s Tony Zhou reveals, Welles’ picture offers a master class in its own form, illustrating the variety of ways cinematic cuts can connect not just events but thoughts, even as it expertly shifts between its parallel (and at first, seemingly unrelated) narratives. Double Take, too, has more than one story to tell: while Hitchcock and his doppelgänger drink tea and coffee, the Cold War reaches its zenith with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

We call Hitchcock “the master of suspense,” but revisiting his filmography exposes his command of a more basic emotion: fear. It was fear, in Double Take‘s conception of history, that became commoditized on an enormous scale in Cold War America: fear of the Communist threat, of course, but also less overtly ideological varieties. Hollywood capitalized on all of them with the aid of talents like Hitchcock’s and technology like the television, whose rise coincided with the embittering of U.S.-Soviet relations. Even for a man of cinema forged in the silent era, the opportunity of a TV series could hardly be rejected — especially if it allowed him to poke fun at the commercial breaks forever quashing his signature suspense.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents, its namesake announced upon its premiere, would commence “bringing murder into the American home, where it has always belonged.” But along with the murder, it smuggled in the work of writers like Ray Bradbury, John Cheever, and Rebecca West. Double Take also comes inspired by literature: “The Other” and “August 25th, 1983,” Jorge Luis Borges’ tales of meeting his own double from another time. Its script was written by Tom McCarthy, whose Remainder appears with Borges’ work on the flowchart of philosophical novels previously featured here on Open Culture. However many different Hitchcocks it shows us, we know there will never truly be another — just as well as we know that we still, in our undiminished desire to be entertained by our own fears, live in Hitchcock’s world.

Double Take will be added to our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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