Pete is Best

PeteBestby James Ray Deaton2/7/15
Back in the 1960’s when photographs and television were mostly small and black and white, and teenagers wore riveted bluejeans instead of droopy drawers, young people often asked one another a very important question: “Who is your favorite Beatle?”

Was it the cheeky John, the quiet George, the cute Paul or the sad-eyed Ringo? The Beatles hit it big a little before my time, but I remember my older sister discussing this question with her friends for what seemed like hours on end. Which Beatle you identified with seemed one of the philosophically primordial questions of life—right up there with to be or not to be, the validity of transubstantiation or knowing the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin.

I didn’t become a Beatles fan until years later when the group was in the “rock classics” section of the record store, but their beat, harmony, lyrics and music still sounded better than anybody this side of the Everly Brothers. I never cared for their lefty politics, but the joyful noise they made (especially in the early albums) aways made things better.

Having a literary bent, as I started buying first their records, then tapes, then CD’s, I also started to read their biographies and history of the group and discovered Pete Best, the Beatles original drummer. In pre-internet times I couldn’t find out much about Pete other than he was the group’s drummer in the early 1960’s and was booted from the Beatles about the time they signed with Parlophone Records in 1962.

For some reason the story of Pete Best has always intrigued me. Maybe it is the pathos of someone so close to blasting off into fame and fortune only to find himself left alone on the launching pad wondering what might have been.

Over the years I’ve fleshed out the Pete Best story with books and music. Most books and histories about the Beatles have at least a few references to him. Usually one or two old black and white photos showing the “early Beatles” show pete_bestPete on the drums in the background. Books like his 1985 autobiography, Beatle! The Pete Best Story, Shout! by Philip Norman, The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away, by Allan Williams and William Marshall and Brian Epstein’s A Cellarful of Noise helped fill in the story.

Pete’s “comeback” album Live at the Adelphi with the Pete Best Band is rocking good fun and his 2008 autobiographical CD “Haymans Green” is a musical treat for any fan of the Mersey Beat sound.

Born in November 1941, Pete Best joined the Beatles in August 1960 just before their first trip to the Hamburg music scene in Germany and was with the group for two years until August 1962. His mother, Mona Best, acted as the group’s godmother and promoter. Pete toured Hamburg three times with the group and performed regularly with his bandmates including at the now-famous Casbah Coffee Club and the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

When the Beatles returned home from their first months-long stay in Hamburg, they wowed the local teens who thought they were a tight German rock group in black leathers and cowboy boots.

George Harrison said Hamburg is where the Beatles served their apprenticeship. During their stints in Germany they played all night long, seven nights a week. It’s been said that Pete Best put in more hours as a Beatles drummer in his two years than Ringo Starr did in his eight. At one point in 1961 they played 98 nights in succession, seven or eight or more hours a night.

With his movie-star good looks and his loud and powerful “Atomic Beat” style of straight-up rock and roll drumming, Pete was a favorite with the Liverpool fans. A reporter for the local music newspaper “Mersey Beat” wrote of his “mean, moody magnificence. ” Pete was probably the most popular Beatle in Liverpool at the time. “Small-B” Beatlemania was just beginning and Pete’s popularity definitely helped the Beatles stand out among the several Liverpool bands fighting for attention at the time.

His sacking as drummer caused an uproar with local Beatles fans. Shouts of “Pete Forever, Ringo Never” and “Pete is Best” were heard at the Cavern Club and elsewhere. Signed petitions of protest were sent to the “Mersey Beat” office. George Harrison was head-butted and given a black eye from a disgruntled fan upset with the change of drummers. For a time young female fans camped outside 8 Hayman’s Green, Pete’s home in the West Derby section of Liverpool.

Pete has always said he was never given the reason for his firing. Manager Brian Epstein was recruited to do the deed by the other three Beatles. Supposedly Pete didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the group. He was likely more shy than “mean and moody.” John Lennon reportedly later told a friend that Pete was a good drummer, but Ringo was a good Beatle. Some say his drumming wasn’t up to the task. George Martin, the legendary Beatles producer, planned to use a studio drummer instead of Pete during the recording sessions, reportedly a common practice at the time.

In any event Pete was out, Ringo was in and time went on. Two months later their single “Love Me Do” was on the charts. Seven months later their debut album “Please Please Me” was released. Little more than a year later the group played the London Palladium at a “Royal Command Performance” and eighteen months after Pete was sacked, the Beatles flew into New York City to conquer America with their legendary performances on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Some of the songs they played were the same ones Pete had provided the beat for back in Liverpool and Hamburg.

For a while Pete plugged on in show business, but career lightning didn’t strike twice for him. In the mid 1960’s he toured North America with a new band, the Pete Best Combo, but things didn’t pan out. In 1968 he left show business, worked for a bakery to support his growing family, and eventually became a civil servant working in employment services.

In 1988 he was talked into returning to the stage for a “one-off” performance at the Adelphi Theatre in Liverpool with a group of former Cavern Club rockers. After that Pete retired from his civil service job and returned to show business. The 1995 Beatles Anthology 1 album included ten early Beatles tracts with Pete on the drums and he received a reported several million dollars from his inclusion on the album.

Pete never spoke with any of the Beatles after getting the sack, but has said he considers his inclusion on the album and the money as a kind of acknowledgement from the group for “services rendered” during his two years as a Beatle.

Now in his early 70’s, Pete Best is still drumming and still looks and sounds good behind a set of skins. He has a website, blog and twitter account. His website has his CDs, books, souvenir T-shirts, vintage Beatles posters, and other memorabilia. “The man who put the beat into the Beatles,” it reads. Pete still tours with his band and venues have included Japan, Mexico, France, Chile, the Czech Republic, Peru, Argentina, the Philippines, the U.S. and the UK.

What I admire most about Pete Best is how he just kept on keeping on after being ousted from the band that went on to become the most successful pop group in history. While his former bandmates became rock and roll legends, multimillionaires and cultural icons, he was slicing and loading bread into delivery trucks in Liverpool. When it became clear that he wasn’t going to make it in show business post-Beatles, Pete manned-up and did what he had to do to support his family and get on with his life. No whining, no excuses, no playing the victim. And more than 50 years later, he’s still rocking and rolling and keeping the beat.

And that’s why Pete Best is and always will be my favorite Beatle. • (3052 views)

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30 Responses to Pete is Best

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    James, I want to thank you for sharing this excellent essay with us. This is just the type of stuff I envisioned when I created this site. Political issues are all well and good, but one can howl at the moon for only so long before it gets boring and somewhat pointless. I just want to say that I’ve very impressed by your writing.

    I had always heard that The Beatles dumped Pete Best because he was too good looking and took some of the light off of Lennon and McCartney. I find that to be a plausible explanation. I don’t know about his drumming skills, but I can’t imagine that Ringo was much better.

    Anyway, what a potentially bitter pill to have to swallow seeing The Beatles go onto have the kind of mega-fame and fortune that surely, by rights, should have been his. He did, after all, put in that early time in the trenches. He paid his dues.

    It seems silly for me to sit here and praise Pete Best’s character for being willing to swallow that pill with grace because I know that something like that would have eaten the hell out of me. Could a person move on like he did and be that well grounded? Maybe so. That’s the picture you paint. And all the best to Pete Best.

    Certainly I was as much of a Beatles fan as anyone. Paul was my favorite Beatle. But McCartney has proven himself to be such a libtard and useful idiot of the left. How the honor of “Sir” has been degraded.

    This will seem a weird comment to most, perhaps, but in retrospect, we can perhaps see that there was a danger inherent in rock and roll in terms of subverting our culture. Frank Sinatra once said, My only deep sorrow is the unrelenting insistence of recording and motion picture companies upon purveying the most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression it has been my displeasure to hear—naturally I refer to the bulk of rock ‘n’ roll.

    If one has the opportunity, I can think of worse things to do than to steer one’s child to classical music. Short of that, there’s always Ol’ Blue Eyes.

    • Anniel says:

      I was going through my “music snob” phase when the Beatles showed up. But this history makes me a little more open to their story. Ol’ Blue Eyes may have had his own bit of history, but he sure could sing. Rap, and the violence and drugs that go along with whatever else passes for music today, leave me out in the cold. But I do hear wonderful movie music still being written.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        With Ol’ Blue Eyes, it’s best we stick to his music and not look at him too carefully as a person…which I’m willing to do.

        I’ve got all of The Beatles music on CD. But I haven’t listened to most of it in years. A minor change has come over me the last few years or so. I just don’t enjoy rock-n-roll music like I used to. I was never a huge fan, but I was the little fishy swimming in the cultural pool like everyone else.

        And then I guess maybe Dennis Prager rubbed off on me a little. I started to recognize just how much vulgarity, crassness, and outright stupidity was endemic in such things as rock-n-roll.

        But don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fundamentalist about it. I don’t think rock-n-roll is the music of the devil (although I’m not quite sure about Mick Jagger). And I do occasionally still listen to a “classic rock” station (and it’s often classically boring or silly to my ears now…but not all of it…there’s always Creedence).

        Sinatra, for all his personal faults, sings a civilized form of music. The Beatles were charming in their own way. “Love Me Do” is still a long way from some of the rap lyrics that even I am not puerile enough to reproduce here. And The Beatles are such a marvelous microcosm of the age. Love was no longer enough (despite John Lennon’s words to the contrary). Now some kind of personal and supreme (and likely drug-induced) transcendence was of the order. And we followed The Beatles in their quest with odd-ball gurus, drugs, psychedelia and such.

        And that, in a nutshell, is Progressive politics and culture. Not that Christian culture didn’t have an aspect of escaping the harsh world. But was it ever as silly and psychologized as Progressive culture? Was ever the whole point simply self-therapy so that one always had a tranquil feeling?

        The Beatles represent an age where there was an explosion of novelty…and where any kind of traditional thing was exploded into a psychedelic-like profusion of colors, narcissism, anarchy, and nihilism. We don’t know how to be anchored in anything else these days except in novelty infused with an artificial “niceness” that somehow attempts to excuse all our vanity and shallowness, or at least to disguise it. [As you can see, I’m doing double-duty as Glenn Fairman. Maybe he will come back soon and I can spend more time on movie reviews and such. Glenn? Glenn???]

        • Anniel says:

          Interesting transition you talk about. My oldest son has introduced me to so many different kinds of ethnic music I would never have considered before. You would have had a wonderful time listening to him teaching his brothers Tuvan Throat Singing. They all practiced in the shower until they “got it.” It seems to me that Richard Feynmann made a trip to Tunta Tuva and wrote about it. I’ll have to check on it.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            You would have had a wonderful time listening to him teaching his brothers Tuvan Throat Singing.

            Well, I’m there will bells on, Annie. I’ll see what I can Google-up on them tomorrow. I’m always looking for good music. The fact is, popular music has long since dried up as any kind of noble or particularly creative endeavor. My younger brother has introduced me to a whole bunch of new groups and styles over the last ten years, particularly various type of Irish/Celtic music, both traditional and sort of a rockish version of it (The Pogues and The Mahones, for instance).

            There is some good music playing out there. You just won’t find it on the pop charts. The one exception to the popular trash is the music of John Williams who has written a number of splendid movie tunes. I can imagine Mozart doing the same thing had he been born in this era. That’s where the money is (not that one should say “John Williams” and “Mozart” in the same sentence necessarily).

            Indeed, Tuva is the “republic” in the old Soviet Union that Feynman and Ralph Leighton were trying to get to. Feynman died before he could make the trip. According to Wiki, his daughter, Michelle Feynman, made it there on June 8, 2009. Feynman likely believed the exact same things as Richard Dawkins. And yet he wasn’t a prick about it. They’re not making Feynmans anymore.

            Tuva or Bust! is Ralph Leighton’s account of their decade-long quest. I don’t believe I’ve read that, but I have read some of Feynman’s accounts of it in some of his other books.

            I was listening to Frank while writing this. On KIXI.com they have two hours of Sinatra as presented by Sid Mark. And now I’m listening to “Ballerina” by Nat King Cole. This is civilized music…that isn’t too stuffy and has a little style.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          National Review once did an article on the top 100 conservative rock songs. Naturally, they had to reach a bit since virtually none of the performers were conservatives in any way. They did include 2 Beatles songs (“Revolution” and “Taxman”) as well as a CCR song (“Who’ll Stop the Rain”).

          And “Symphony for the Devil” made it as well. “Hung around St. Petersburg till I found it was time for a change. Killed the Tsar and his ministers, Anastasia screamed in vain.” Hmm . .. who’s being linked to the Devil there. And later we have, “Just as every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners saints. Just as heads is tails, call me Lucifer.” I think we can consider that an attack on leftist truth inversion.

          • Anniel says:

            Good call there. I’m off on the road to Tunta Tuva.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Let me play Rick Santorum. I have a theory. And that theory is that it is very difficult to have a conservative culture if our main influence is mass popular novelty of every-changing fads and ever-escalating sensationalism.

            From a certain point of view, you can understand why Islam must necessarily try to live in the 13th century. To live with their belief system, you can’t have homos walking down the street kissing each other or Elvis’ pelvis swinging on TV.

            Our parents were actually correct that rock-n-roll was a subversive influence. And I don’t know a conservative besides myself (well, maybe Santorum or Huckabee) who would point out that you can have one or the other. You can have a conservative culture of tradition, family, integrity, order, and even-handedness or you can have the kind of culture that is booted constantly into the Brave New World by the latest novelty.

            Because even few conservatives want to live in the 1770’s (I’d be fine with the 1890’s), conservatives generally adapt to and adopt Progressive pop culture while trying to painstakingly twist their logic into pretzelian forms to try to make that all work out.

            But it’s a little difficult to be a decent conservative human being and listen to rap, for instance. Again, maybe our parents were right. But the novelty implicit in mass popular culture is, and was, too big of a draw. So now you’ll find all the smartest conservatives saying how this song or that song is actually conservative.

            Well, not really. Classic music is conservative. Rock-n-roll can never be if only because it is inherently about focusing on sex and unleashing all inhibitions about it. One can have a debate about whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. But it’s hard to scope out a conservative culture if it’s being led by Boy George.

            • Anniel says:

              My husband says he had to drag me kicking and screaming into the 20th Century, just in time for the 21st.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              The Twilight Zone had an episode about an advertising man (I think that was his occupation) who tries to escape into the 1890s (“A Stop at Willoughby”). It doesn’t work out too well.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                Reading old novels and history is a way to steep oneself in The Old Times. I’ve actually listened to a few of the songs my teenage nephew likes. I’m fairly open to music. And it’s tempting to dismiss my complaints being of the fuddy-duddy variety. But pop music these days is beyond crap. It’s truly horrible.

                The worst that Dylan & Company ever did to us is make us pine for Utopia, do drugs, throw sexual restraint to the wind, and thereby undermine the entire underpinnings of Western Civilization. But modern pop music is worst than even that. It makes one dull and stupid.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I loved much of pop music, but the words were simply a vehicle for me to sing the music. I never paid much attention to them.

          Much of opera is the same. The lyrics are often silly, but the music can be sublime.

          • Anniel says:

            I’m not certain Throat Singing would be considered sublime exactly, but it is interesting.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              I am not sure what “Throat Singing” is, but I’ll bet there is a special sensation when one does it.

              • Anniel says:

                I’ll see if I can find a link for Tuvan Throat Singing. The Untermensch got really good at it.

              • Anniel says:

                I Googled “Examples of Tuvan throat Singing” and hit the UTube Site. There are several Tuvan Examples and some are called Mongolian Throat Singing. The style is also called Overtone Singing. There are tutorials, if you are so inclined.

        • Jerry Richardson says:

          Brad,

          The Beatles represent an age where there was an explosion of novelty…and where any kind of traditional thing was exploded into a psychedelic-like profusion of colors, narcissism, anarchy, and nihilism. We don’t know how to be anchored in anything else these days except in novelty infused with an artificial “niceness” that somehow attempts to excuse all our vanity and shallowness, or at least to disguise it..
          —Brad Nelson

          I think artificial “niceness” is what repels and disgusts me most about our PC-saturated society. Sometimes I just want to scream: “Please don’t pretend to be nice! Please, for God’s sake be truthful”!

          I have grown to detest most modern TV series and most movies because the producers cannot seem to discriminate between artificial “niceness” and plain truthfulness (reality).

          So since they cannot so discriminate—they have completely lost the ability to discern Good from Evil—they deliver instead on our TV screens and in our movies “narcissism, anarchy, and nihilism.”

          Why?

          I claim that when you refuse to seek and embrace the Good, you move inexorably toward toward Evil; there is no other moral-dimensional direction.

          Wow! What a move. Wouldn’t we rather just have the “niceness”? Well, the problem with their “niceness” is that it just puts a deceptive veneer on a cesspool of Evil.

          I have been watching for a week or so a series on Netflix called The Fall. It is about a serial killer and the attempts of a police-lady to catch/stop him before he kills again. The series is somewhat unusual in that we (the audience) know from the beginning who he is and what he is doing. We are privy to all of his actions.

          This serial killer is obviously a psychopath; and you don’t need any psychology degrees to discern that this is so because he obviously has no conscience as having a conscience is normally understood.

          However, what is sobering to me about the program is the deceptive and unchallenged ways in which the psychopathic killer moves around in society, stalks his victims, and conducts his heinous murders; he operates virtually unchallenged. I have read enough about psychopathy to realize that there is some truth to this representation.

          The two obvious features about the character as portrayed in the series is that in situations where he cannot afford to reveal his true personality he is “nice” and seemingly non-threatening; also one cannot help but notice that he almost never smiles or grins and certainly never emits a hearty belly-laugh.

          What am I suggesting here?

          If artificial “niceness” can be a cover for individual psychopathy then artificial “niceness” can also be a cover for the psychopathy of society: “narcissism, anarchy, and nihilism.” Conscience is not critically involved in these.

          Conclusion: We are living in a society that is psychopathic.

          What is a potential way to detect the truth of this sickness?

          Study how humor surrounds it, or is absent. How much humor do we find in modern Progressive Politics and culture—it all seems rather somber and austere to me.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            If artificial “niceness” can be a cover for individual psychopathy then artificial “niceness” can also be a cover for the psychopathy of society: “narcissism, anarchy, and nihilism.” Conscience is not critically involved in these.

            Conclusion: We are living in a society that is psychopathic.

            You’ve reasoned-out a strong case, Jerry. And there is much evidence of the truth of it, such as the Left’s inability to see evil in even “radical” Islam while seeing Israel and Jews as the bad guys. They don’t see evil in abortion. But they see evil in lots of places where normal people traditionally have seen good, such as in the idea of color-blindness, personal responsibility, private property rights, blind justice, integrity, fidelity, and truth. You may be right on in saying that this moral inversion has produced the effect of a psychopathic society as a whole. That rings true to my ear. Read Deana’s latest article in that context. We’re all trying to piece this together and make sense of it. And as I’ve said, I do believe that at least half of society is “a little crazy.” If you take society as a whole in the way it acts, that could indeed add up to at least slightly psychopathic (or at least psychotic…but a “nice” psychotic).

            And the lack of humor of the Left could certainly be interpreted as a sign of the sickness.

            I’ll have to watch “The Fall” when I get a chance. I see it has lesbo (so I’m told…what a waste) Gillian Anderson in the lead.

            I have grown to detest most modern TV series and most movies because the producers cannot seem to discriminate between artificial “niceness” and plain truthfulness (reality).

            Oh, then you’d love the Swedish Wallander series, Jerry. I’m constantly amazed at how “nice” the cops are in that series. They bend over backwards not to shoot anyone. Several times it shows a cop dropping his weapon while the bad guy has his aimed at the cop. The cop attempts to love-bomb the bad guy into dropping his weapon. If this is true to life, there must be a high murder rate of cops in Scandinavia. It actually becomes quite laughable at times, which is one reason I continue to watch this series. Dirty Harry these guys are not.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    I started collecting Beatles albums in the late 1960s, and certainly have quite a bit of their material today on CD (or MP3 images), but I never really studied them much as individual performers. John Lennon’s revolutionary leftism repelled me, and George Harrison was the author of “Taxman”. Still, the only one who had a career after the Beatles that I followed at all was Paul McCartney; I do have a best of Wings CD. It is nice to know that some people can accept the loss of their dream when it becomes clear they won’t make it. Not everyone can do that, and not just in the entertainment field.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    It is simply unknowable whether or not the Beatles would have become the world sensation they became, had Best remained drummer. Sometimes you really do catch lightening in a bottle by making a small change in the bottle’s contents.

    That being said, I could perfectly understand it if Best were bitter. But he seemed to slog through the hurt and do something with his life. A couple of years back, public television aired a piece on him and the Beatles. He seemed a reasonable sort of man.

    I didn’t like the Beatles until “Revolver” came out. From that time, I believe much of what they put out was excellent. In ways, they came to personify the sixties. They started out as fairly clean-cut boys with somewhat longish hair, wearing suits. And they ended up as drug besotted hippies praising the Maharishi and the counter-culture. A reflection of the emerging American society of the time.

  4. Jerry Richardson says:

    James Deaton,

    Outstanding article!!

    My adolescent music experience included such luminaries as Elvis, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, Ray Charles, Little Richard, etc. I was already out of college and teaching when the Beatles blew-in big on the American pop music scene. I definitely enjoyed, and still enjoy their music.

    Thanks for this informative article on Pete Best. I don’t remember hearing anything about him, but I was past the adolescent stage of being much impressed with those sort of things by the time the Beatles were becoming a sensation in the USA.

    I do remember watching the Beatles in their break-out appearance on the Ed Sullivan show: “Tonight, we have a re-e-ally BIG SHEW!” That they did.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      That makes you about Elizabeth’s age. She was born in October 1939 (in NYC, as it happens, which is where her parents happened to be after returning from a tour of missionary duty in Japan).

  5. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Anniel,

    regarding your post,

    Examples of Tuvan throat Singing

    There are tutorials, if you are so inclined.

    I found yodeling difficult enough.

    I think I’ll concentrate on writing for the time being.

    • Anniel says:

      I can hardly wait. The Throat Singing left my writing fingers hoarse. This poor Beatles man, Mr. Deaton, must think we’re slightly unbalanced here. I do admire the point that Pete kept on keeping on.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I Googled “Examples of Tuvan throat Singing” and hit the UTube Site.

    I found an example, Annie. I can now check off that check box. I’ll give it this, it does beat Jim Carrey’s butt singing. And don’t even ask me what kind of singing this is. Googling can bring up all sorts of surprises — pleasing, sublime, or just plain democratic.

  7. Timothy Lane says:

    Our local newspaper reports celebrity birthdays almost every day, and a couple of days ago they reported Pete Best’s. So not is he still alive, but he isn’t totally forgotten. They even mentioned that he was a former Beatle.

  8. James Sullivan says:

    Pete Best has always been my favorite Beatle. The classiest act of them all, in my opinion. What the other Beatles did to him was a horrible act of betrayal. I will always love their music, and acknowledge the artistic genius of Paul McCartney and John Lennon….but they were “the biggest bastards” (John Lennon quote). Ringo Star is the luckiest guy in the history of Rock and Roll. To benefit from an enormous betrayal like that surely must have haunted him. If it didn’t haunt him, then he doesn’t have much of a soul. More and more people are starting to learn the truth about Pete Best, and in the end….I truly believe that he will feel the love that he deserves. Pete Best. Class act.

  9. James Sullivan says:

    By the way, Pete’s latest Album Haymans Green is absolutely brilliant! I love every track on it. Ringo put out an album around the same time, and it SUCKED compared to Pete’s (read the reviews, if you need more opinions….). Do yourselves a favor, and at least listen to Haymans Green. You’ll wind up purchasing it after hearing it, I assure you.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Here’s is that album on Amazon. There’s definitely a 60’s vibe there in this modern album. Just a little Herman’s Hermits?

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