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Ten Footnotes from Vampire Weekend at Melbourne’s Forum

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I notice it early. The drummer, lashing and bombastic and then gentle, is wearing a Collingwood jumper. Chris Thomson is the stickman for Vampire Weekend and here in The Forum, in the heart of Melbourne, it’s a gesture emblematic of this band’s magnanimous outlook. I’m not a Magpie fan, but I smile. It’s an offering, a symbol of hopeful connection.

*

I instantly love The Forum. An arts venue must be evocative and not simply functional. It should also be an instructive text, and a participant in the unfurling theatre. Inside’s a blue night sky, kitsch yet confirming Roman busts, spaciousness, coolness, and a beguiling solidarity amongst the eclectic gathering, all there for the same connection. A generous security guard takes our photo, while the beardy Scottish one near the VIP section is chirpy denial when we ask to sneak in.

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*
Third song in is, “Unbelievers” from Modern Vampires of the City. It’s chugging, train-like rhythm and stubborn optimism, but I love the distillation, the there’s-a-life-right-there, gorgeous binary of

I know I love you

And you love the sea.

*
An Oxford comma is a controversial punctuation mark. It’s also the title of the first Vampire Weekend song I heard in which it’s a symbol to critique affectation and exclusivity. It references Dharamshala in India, site of the world’s most strikingly situated cricket ground with the snow-capped Himalayas creating a painterly mis-en-scene. Dharamshala is also home to the Dalai Lama. I hope Vampire Weekend write a song about the apostrophe. Gee, we need’s it.

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*
Fresh from lunch at Il Tempo on Degraves Street we amble up Flinders Street to investigate The Forum. The capitalised black font on the front’s white hoarding rouses a frizz of frisson. Next door Hosier Lane ribbons with its urban art while across the road is angular and aggressive Federation Square. Like the difficult, exciting world itself we’re at once confronted and comforted.

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*
That other 2020 Australian phenomenon, the power outage, quieted the band part way into “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and twenty minutes later they took up the song where it had collapsed before it plunged again and Ezra said that a third, and final attempt to fix the electrical issue would proceed, but we dreaded our night would suffer voltage interruptus and Claire and I would wing back to Adelaide, unrequited and hollow. Blissfully, the show then rollicked through 27 songs including an encore request for, “Ottoman” which shares lyrical intertextuality with, “Cape Cod” courtesy of the gently self-mocking

it feels so unnatural, Peter Gabriel too.

It could be a nod to the band’s supposed Afro-beats cultural appropriation.
*
To soar music needs space and silence. Within songs and across songs this transpires Tuesday night in The Forum. I like being invited to dart into the air and light by harmony. Colour and texture and welcoming lulls for my mind and ears. Art’s a conversation, a handshake, an invitation to make an investment. I can hear former band member Rostam Batmanglij’s legacy: bewilderingly pretty piano lines; unique guitar resonances; sonic and human fragility.

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*
Greta Morgan’s a multi-instrumentalist touring with Vampire Weekend and like everyone on stage, she contributes effervescently. We enjoy her 80’s dancing behind the keyboard during which she sways from side to side like she’s in a Human League tribute band. Brilliant. She plays a maraca too, and in a 7-piece outfit, in this age of drowning sounds and buffoon noise, we watch and concentrate and pick out its tiny sunny rattle. At once each band member is both within the ensemble and without, operating in a private territory and yet coupled to organic whole.
*
Of the songs I’ve anticipated across both hemispheres and many decades we especially want to hear Vampire Weekend’s “Hannah Hunt.” It’s a text of deep and shuddering significance. At 2.40 the music bursts, and the moment is perfectly formed with beauty and despair and somehow, despite it all, triumph. After the song, front man Ezra Koenig describes how the opening lines were inspired by dialogue from Picnic at Hanging Rock. It’s also an offering, a symbol of hopeful connection.

A gardener told me some plants move

But I could not believe it

Till me and Hannah Hunt

Saw crawling vines and weeping willows

As we made our way from Providence to Phoenix

*
Two giant blue and green globes are thrown among the mosh pit who bounce and tumble them about with joyous physics. It’s been a superb set and the realisation of a shared goal. The final song is “Ya Hey” and it’s introduced with an acknowledgment of the bushfire crisis and there’s poignancy in the lines

Through the fire and through the flames

You won’t even say your name.


It’s also an offering, a symbol of hopeful connection.

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Sausage Roll Review: Orange Spot Bakery, Glenelg

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Such is my undying dedication to critical thinking with regard to contemporary baked goods that although it was already one hundred degrees (Fahrenheit is decidedly apocalyptic) just prior to midday I gritted my teeth, pushed through the punishing heat, walked in and bought their finest specimen.

Is $5 too much? In 2020 and enjoying life in my seventh different decade, I guess not. Of course, I then heard these sinister words.

“Would you like sauce?”

No, came my overly curt reply. I should’ve worn my patented anti-sauce cap to save her the bother.

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Back outside I found a table and chair on the footpath/sidewalk/pavement (delete as required). I had no competition. It was hot.

My sausage roll and I were ready for each other, like contestants on Perfect Match, except there’d be no lies about loving bushwalking and horse-riding and rock-climbing. And no Dexter to provide a compatibility percentage.

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I looked across the road and saw the Watermark. The extra-large, charisma-free, over-priced, charmless, mid-strength beer-haunted, pokies-riddled pub. I must get in there again soon I thought to myself. Especially around five on a Friday if I feel an odd need to receive a kickin’ from a high vis type who has been in there all day and because his jet-ski is about to be repossessed, is angry with the world, in a generalised, nagging, Cro-Magnon sort of way.

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I took a bite of my sausage roll. It certainly tasted like one. This was a promising start, but then again, if you hear “Hey Jude” on the radio it’s instantly recognisable although it mightn’t be the Beatles but some pale photocopy of a boy band, all clothes and choreography and clueless.

The aroma confirmed this but didn’t engage me. It sat there in my nostrils, but like me at a salsa party, there was no dancing, just a sullen inertia.

I think the pastry fundamental to the sausage roll experience and this was somewhat sweaty and fell just short of that most disagreeable state: oily.

The meat was of an appropriate consistency, but as the aroma suggested, lacked memorable character and arresting spiciness.

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Just over in Colley Reserve I imagined the big hole by the Patawalonga. Recently, the replica of the HMS Buffalo, proudly built in 1980, was finally demolished. In 2030, Mayor Chad Cornes will announce plans to build a replica of the replica of the Buffalo as it will “create exciting tourist opportunities” for Glenelg. Not any humans mind you, but seagulls and pigeons and exiled magpies. There’s nothing more likely.

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I continued with my meal, but like a small child found it no longer had my interest. If I was a toddler it could have been the day’s third apple out of which had been taken a solitary bite.

Safely home, I reflected on my sausage roll with Claire and we decided that I could be seeking higher meaning where none exists. Despite the endless awards – name a country bakery that hasn’t won a prize for its pies – the very best ones are the home-made variety. You know, those with the fork marks sealing shut the pastry, the fork marks that suggest love and family and hope.

Oh, how I love those blessed fork marks!

Yes, that’s what I need to do. Make some home-made sausage rolls. These will solve my existential crisis, and correct my view of the world on this hot, punishing day!

Right, where’s the mince and pastry and my precious fork?

Hang on. Just as soon as I’ve had a restorative nap and watched the cricket.

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A Superb Christmas Song

1963

The 22nd November, 1963 was a dark day in American history, but also one of the brightest too. Their president, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas, but A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector was released. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t perform well at the time, but is among the greatest festive records, and has now enjoyed both commercial and critical success.

The album has been on high rotation for me and running for just over half an hour, it features The Ronettes and The Crystals. Its songs are secular and mostly covers, but performed with wide-eyed innocence, speaking of mid-Western values, fresh snow and an idealised version of an American Christmas.

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They are uniformly effervescent. Produced by visionary record producer Phil Spector using his famous “wall of sound” methodology he described this as a Wagnerian approach and it’s akin to a musical collage. Often in mono, the instrumentation is layered and sumptuous, and influenced the Beach Boys, most notably on “God Only Knows.” Serving his second-degree murder sentence Spector has been in a Californian jail for a decade. He’s due for parole in 2025.

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Paul Kelly’s “How to Make Gravy” and “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues are central to my auditory experience of the year’s penultimate week, but not that nameless aspirant squawking at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in front of those sleeping babes during Carols by Candlelight. You know the one: she came seventh in season 6 of X Factor and is now upsetting Alf in Summer Bay. At time of writing I trust the cryogenic defrosting of serial baritone warbler Dennis Walter is on schedule.

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is the highpoint of A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector and rightly assumes an elevated position in popular culture. It’s performed by Darlene Love (a minister’s daughter) who like Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston and Marvin Gaye learnt to sing in church.

And what benefits her religious upbringing has brought us! Sadly for your correspondent, a sustained childhood in Kapunda’s St Rose’s Church, with a suitably pious stint as an altar boy, provided me with no vocal assistance as my ungodly atonality attests.

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In addition to Darlene Love performing it for thirty consecutive years on Letterman it’s used as a dramatic counterpoint in Martin Scorsese’s acclaimed gangster film Goodfellas. Robert De Niro’s character Jimmy (of course) has just pulled off the country’s biggest ever robbery at JFK airport, the so-called Lufthansa heist, and at their Christmas party various mobsters are bragging about what they’ve bought. Jimmy is upset. They need to keep low.

What did you say? You being a wiseguy with me? What did I tell you? What did I tell you? You don’t buy anything, you hear me? Don’t buy ANYTHING!

Despite all its sweetness and joy the song generates jukebox menace as we know there’ll be ugly consequences. It might be Christmas, but someone’ll get wacked! After all, De Niro’s involved.

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This aside, it’s a gorgeous, uplifting track; rollicking along in an irresistible, up-tempo way that evokes connection and fireplace closeness. I reckon if you listen carefully you can also hear seventeen-year-old Cher singing backup vocals. It was among her first jobs.

But in 1963, back when our planet was alive with youthful promises of the space age and small town purity and neighbourly generosity, Darlene Love gives an almighty musical performance.

Go on, play it as you enjoy Christmas lunch. The pudding will never have tasted better.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exSDgA9eMtU

 

 

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This (first love) life

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She appeared at the doorway, and said hello.

Like most boys at thirteen, his youth and inexperience in the world rendered him essentially inarticulate, but within him something profound spoke, as it would every time he saw her across the next four decades.

She was summery: pretty swirling dress, tennis shoes, hair in pigtails. She was cute, unaffected, curious. Fresh cheekbones, wide smile, bright eyes. She came from the city she said. Magill. He’d heard of it, but couldn’t place it on a map.

He found her electric, but smartly aware of her surroundings. She had a compelling voice. It was melodic, confident and engaged him as if he were an infant. In his universe it would ultimately occupy an exalted place. Its warmth blanketed him in previously unidentified ways, and made the space around him melt so that all else vanished. It was a voice from which he’d happily never recover.

It was the first quality about her that he loved.

A cloudless November day, the little primary school room was empty. His former art teacher invited him to run a disco at the annual fete, so he’d brought his cassette player and it moved along with songs from Grease, Saturday Night Fever and other tunes of the day.

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Involuntarily committing this moment to memory, his higher-self took charge and the infinite, twinkling stars comprehended more than he, as we need stars to do. Over the years he’d return to that enchanted sliver of time and space, and strain to recall the detail.

But he had no cinematic vision, no snippets of dialogue to replay in his mind. Just a knowing sensation below the crust, the lithosphere, the mesosphere, in his now-surrendered inner core.

With the trajectory of a distant comet, prodigious events were at that point set in silent motion. He couldn’t see them, and of course this knowledge would have been both comforting and terrible in its certainty.

Cosmology intervened and before she left, he had subscribed to her orbit. How remarkable that his short life had been a rehearsal for this dream role. He was unaware that he’d already been cast.

She was with him in that wooden room for eleven minutes.

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His molecularity, his neurology, and his fledgling heart now had a brief meeting. At its conclusion they all nodded towards each other. Let the record show, they chorused, that this would be the defining moment.

Later reflecting that he could scarcely list the actual beginnings of any key relationships, this one would stand above all others like Kilimanjaro above the savannah.

He was thirteen.

Although it wasn’t an urgent and consuming affection, he knew it was a significant encounter, unlike a meteorite which collapses to earth, and is forgotten, for it was more substantial than that.

They were to be classmates and friends and inescapably connected. High school’s happy days extended out beyond their immaculate horizon. Then would follow university, other loves, travel, kids, sadness and the wider planet.

She skipped back out through that doorway, and he was happy he’d see her again soon.

And so, he fell in love with her.

Their story had begun.

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Pub Review: The Lighthouse Wharf, Port Adelaide

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Lighthouses have significant symbolic power as they represent saving innocent lives, but also those lost to the infinite power of waves. Tributes to consuming love and optimistic simplicity, lighthouses are also emblematic of aspirational elegance.

Besides, who hasn’t entertained the thought of a month in one, with the person of your dreams?

According to them internets Australia’s lighthouses are variously classified as: active, deactivated, destroyed, automated, solar-powered, survived cyclone Tracy, abandoned, struck by lightning, and my favourite, kerosene-driven. Is kerosene still available? I hope so, and might later pop down my local servo with a rusty tin and get some, just to keep in my shed.

With its suggestions of whale-boned corsetry Lady Bay Lower Lighthouse in Victoria is an evocative example while Malcolm Point on Lake Alexandrina features the country’s only inland lighthouse built to support River Murray trade. I can picture Sigrid Thornton frowning beneath its towering majesty in a big frock and bonnet. It was turned off in 1931.

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South Australia has 27 lighthouses and there’s one on the Port River following its relocation in 1986. Red and white, cast iron skeletal and hexagonal, it stands 82 feet tall and is adjacent to the Lighthouse Wharf Hotel.

Drifting in around 5 bells as part of my now annual visit to this part of town I’m impressed by the light and breeze and welcoming mis en scene, all exposed brickwork and craft beer taps. I mention Greg Phillips the former publican, Port Magpie powerhouse and sire of Erin Phillips, herself an icon, but the bar staff reply

“I’m only new.”
“Check with Nick. I’ve only been here a month.”
“Greg who?”

Waiting for my $5 happy hour pint of Coopers Pale Ale (delicious and inexpensive) I note a poster advertising the pub’s Trivia Quiz Nights. I can only conclude that these include questions like

What is the most common form of trivia?
Did Shakespeare use the word trivia in any of his comedies?
What are the top five topics for trivia in Moldova?
Should pubs avoid tautology in their marketing and have either trivia nights or quiz nights?

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Old mate Bob and his lad Jack join me out the front and we take in the Customs House, sailing ships and knots of punters (maritime metaphors are compulsory down here) who are also in their Thursday, Adelaide Test eve, chirpy cups. Jack has a Coke and a bag of chips, which is surely all that an eight-year-old needs after basketball training and with a mere month until Christmas.

Nautical suburbs are inescapably compelling and Port Adelaide, with its tangle of narrow streets and grand architecture, is wonderful. However, its promised rejuvenation seems a way off. Bob and I agree that a key strategy must be to increase the local population with affordable housing.

The Hilltop Hoods are playing in the background and urging us in myriad ways, to myriad unforeseen destinations. We have another beer.

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Lighthouses feature in music too. British prog-rock pioneers Van der Graaf Generator have a song in their sludgy catalogue called, “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers,” a ten-part, 23-minute concept piece ruminating on the complexities of lighthouse keeping, what with all those storms and ships smashing upon jagged rocks and sailors perishing. But it’s not blasting over the speakers in this beer garden today.

I prefer Sydney troubadour Josh Pyke’s paean to these beacons called, rather unconfusingly, “The Lighthouse Song.” It’s about the beauty of binary and the need to flee a crushing planet.

So we are moving to a lighthouse, you and I
While seas drown sailors, we’ll be locked up safe and dry
And though our doors may knock and rattle in the wind
I’ll just hold you tight and we’ll not let those fuckers in

We vow to return soon. There’s much left to experience such as a meal hopefully not featuring a schnitzel inexcusably crushing its desperate bed of hot chips, live music, and that most potent symbol of great hostelry, the giant connect four game in the beer garden.

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Beer Review: Bitburger 0.0%

Imagine the worst beer in the history of our bluish green planet.

Horrible, isn’t it? Ghastly, offensive, and a reminder of all that troubles you. You shiver, involuntarily at the memory.

Now, imagine it again, but make it twice as bad.

Ladies and gentlemen, Bitburger, Alkoholfrei 0.0%.

Gritting my teeth, I sat down to begin my work. Tried to unscrew the cap. No. Bitburger, like computer, says no.

I needed an opener. Or as my old mate Dick used to call them a Bill Lawry.

Why would they make drinking these beer-free beers difficult? Maybe, I’m thinking, there’s deeper magic at play here. The brewers realise how dreadful they are, and are trying to save you from the horror. In a weird way, they actually care for you and your well-being.

No, they don’t.

The aroma is distinctly Bitburger: sharp, aggressive and confronting like the stocky, pimply Year 10 boy who tries to intimidate you on your first day of high school. All snot and snarl. But, unlike Bitburger, there’s a chance that once you get to know the boy and perhaps play footy with him and listen to some Supertramp records together, you’ll become friends.

Once, years ago, up in Clare for the October long weekend, old mate Bazz asked me to buy us some beer. Looking back, I must’ve been suffering undiagnosed concussion because I returned with a box of Bitburger.

With pure hearts and expectant smiles, we cracked a couple open and taking a sip, Bazz then remarked, “Buy any of this ever again, and our friendship is over.”

He meant it.

I glanced downward in shame. I then looked over at the beer. Mmm. Only twenty-two were left. A sullen pall settled down on us. In time we recovered, and earlier this afternoon, and without adult supervision, I bought one for scientific purposes.

And dear reader, to spare you the awfulness.

At this point in the review I’m tempted to insert a string of metaphors to describe the taste of Bitburger 0.0%. I could write about it being like making love in a canoe (again as Dick says) or that it’s for bathing in and not drinking (as Andrew says) or I could invoke German high culture with reference to Bach and Wagner, and Mozart and sauerkraut and then speak of the global disgrace that this beer is, but I won’t.

It’s simply terrible.

So, I spent the curious sum of $3.09 on this, and now my social responsibility in warning you of this is done. Taking the bottle to the recyclers will net me ten cents and when the young man hoicks the bottle into the crate the sound of smashing glass will be akin to sighting the Brandenburg Gate on a summer’s day or hearing Ride of the Valkyries.

Don’t. Do. It.

Excuse me now and thank you for reading. I need a Coopers Sparkling Ale.

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Sausage Roll Review: Banjo’s, Moseley Square, Glenelg

Approaching the bloodthirsty climax of Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War tour de force Apocalypse Now there’s a scene in which Colonel Kurtz: bloated, monstrous, world-weary, insane, hidden in the jungle dark, murmurs to his would-be assassin Captain Willard, “Get me a sausage roll.”

Sadly for film aficionados this didn’t make the final edit, but the idea translates into contemporary living.

With thoughts of luncheon foodstuffs swimming before me like the haze of the Mekong River delta I ventured to Moseley Square, which hosts a new bakery, named Banjo’s. Like fruit bats or swine flu South Australia is the final challenge in their plan to colonise our country.

It’s a bright and spacious retailer with swarms of tables and chairs and a large menu board. The first problem occurred as I peered into a glass display case, otherwise warm and oddly exciting.

A cheery, young thing hovered behind the counter.

“Someone chopped all your sausage rolls in half,” I noted.

“This is how we make them,” she retorted rather obviously, I thought. A bit like saying, “Ouch, that hurt,” when a white pointer makes off with your favourite leg.

“Oh.” I wasn’t keen on an argument, just a full-sized sausage roll. They were all squat and abbreviated. What fresh madness is this I moaned inwardly.

“We have an offer,” she continued eagerly, entirely unlike Bill Murray’s character Phil in Groundhog Day. “You can buy three for $5.60.”

This seemed better than a half sausage roll for $2.70, so me and my gizzard signed up.

Francis Ford Coppola himself would’ve enjoyed the mis en scene of my outside table, two happy dogs and Glenelg’s seaside square, on a spring afternoon.

I sat with my trio of sausage rolls which might’ve been described by a minor character in Apocalypse Now as trio de petits pains aux saucisses.

I began modestly, with the traditional version. It was appropriately hot and the pastry was flaky and sweet, but not sweaty as it can often be at times. Taking a bite I examined the innards. It was alarmingly pink and pale, and I must report, tasted just this way. If I ran a photocopying franchise, I’d analyse it as being a crappy copy of what must be an insulted, once illustrious original.

A sausage roll should possess subtle spiciness.

Coming in after this golden ball duck, the next batsman was nervous. It was curry and chickpea. Yes, in a sausage roll. Does this strike you as being overly-ambitious for a common or garden sausage roll? It did me, but I found it pleasant enough to endure, although I’m unlikely to venture there again, which is what visitors say about the North Wagga Wagga RSL.

The dogs next to me continued to show interest while their female owners chatted. Apparently Corey had disappointed Kylie. And not for the first time either. In fact, he had been poorly behaved for a while. Move him on Kylie I thought. You’re better than that.

About my third sausage roll the bakery server (Hello, my name’s Siobhan and I’ll be your server today) said, “It looks like a sausage roll but tastes like a pasty as it has the same ingredients.” She smiled at me and I wept for the future.

Sweet Jesus I said to myself (if there’s kiddies watching flip the screen down now). What the actual fuck are these people doing?

Happily my inner monologue stayed just that.

I ate it outside in the warm sun, and you’ll be comforted to hear that it tasted just like a pasty although like a shape-shifter in a dreadful teen horror movie it was dressed up as a sausage roll.

Why?

Having set off earlier with pure intentions and a simplicity in my heart, my dream of a single, uncomplicated sausage roll had become overly complex. Banjo’s had not been in tune.

No wonder Colonel Kurtz went mad.

 

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