Saturday, September 1, 2012

ANATOMY OF A MIX TAPE

The tape was called "Thirty-Two Songs," and I made it circa 2000 (I'm sort of unclear on the exact dates) for a girl I was very into at the time.  She was going on a trip to California with her parents via car (we were from Wisconsin), so I wanted to give her something that I thought would keep me front and center in her mind while she was away.  What's strange to me is that I willingly made a mix tape for her comprised almost solely of music I knew she wouldn't like.  She thought my musical taste was really silly and immature, as I listened almost exclusively to death metal and black metal at the time.  I was really into the burgeoning metalcore scene "blowing up" then, and I wanted to show this girl that metal could be as emotional and heart-wrenching as anything she was listening to, without resorting to the incredible brutality of death and black metal that I guessed would be really off-putting to her.  Of course there was a subliminal element at work as well, as many of the songs on the tape were about unrequited love and rejection and negative feelings towards life in general, all things that resonated profoundly with me then.  I spent hours compiling this thing, and then never ended up giving it to her.  I was afraid giving her a tape of music I knew she thought was beneath her would only make her think less of me, and I wasn't emotionally equipped to deal with any further hurt during that period (my battle with clinical depression was growing more and more difficult by the day.)  For some reason I kept the tape.  I dug it out of the closet a few days ago, and as I was listening to it in the car I realized this represented a very microcosmic view of an equally microcosmic time in my existence.  I've decided to write briefly about each selection here in hopes of achieving some personal insight (and maybe even some humour) regarding a fairly formative stretch in my life.

1.  NEMA "LIDLESS EYE"

I started the tape off with this very extreme paean to J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings," as we were both fans of his writing and I thought she'd catch the reference (and thus be more endeared to the tape, and, by extension, me.)  Nema were a pretty dark hardcore band from Michigan, comparable to Uranus or His Hero Is Gone, and this compilation absolutely shredded my car stereo in my early twenties.  There was a distinctly black metal sensibility to what Nema were doing-the clean singing that finishes out this track is easily reminiscent of vintage Gorgoroth-and the melodic violence they brought to their music elevated them beyond their peers (at least I thought so.)  I no longer own this record, but I love this song.  Tolkien's world was medieval, brutal, and full of darkness.  I still think it's perfect thematic fodder for a band to work with.

2.  MORNING AGAIN "MURDER YOU CALL WAR"



Listening to this track again I wonder what I ever really saw in this band, as it's pretty rote Slayer worship without any of the real primacy or aggression.  Even then (when I wasn't a stellar musician myself) I remember thinking how lagging and out of synch the guitar riffs towards the end seemed.  This song was thrown on the mix tape simple because of the "pretty" clean guitars section, which I thought would be melodically appealing to the tape's recipient.  These guys were straightedge too.  I no longer have this album, and again, have never missed it.

 3.  INK AND DAGGER "WE LIVE DESPITE THEIR SCHEMES"

Another "out there" pick included on the tape to appeal to sensibilities other than my own, Ink and Dagger were a band I flirted with but never really got.  They seemed to me too much like kids taking a LARP game of "Vampire: The Masquerade" (which I occasionally played) and turning it into a band.  There were some slightly more raging songs on this album but I chose this particular track simply because it was so out of character with metalcore.  Looking back I admire the band's willingness to flirt with aesthetics beyond their genre confines, even if I no longer own the record.  Apparently Eric Wareheim of Tim and Eric fame was in this group for awhile.  Makes sense.

4.  RED SKY  "ESCAPE ME"

This band totally slayed me back then, musically and lyrically.  One of the more overtly metal bands and completely unapologetic about it, Red Sky were some serious destroyers circa 1998, and "Knife Behind the Smile" was one of my favorite records from the time.  Red Sky were one of the few acts that could actually do justice to the Slayer influence they wore so blatantly, and the personal intensity of their lyrics endeared them to me all the more.  I used to listen to this song at peak volume in my car and scream along with the windows open, oblivious to whoever was watching me.  I was in Red Sky's universe then.  I didn't give a fuck.  Still one of my favorites, and I wish I still had the album, but my brother stole it from me and sold it to buy pot.  Somehow that seems a decent end for it.

5.  HOT WATER MUSIC "COUNTING NUMBERS"

Hot Water Music inspired some very serious devotion from their fans.  I remember some of the guys at Extreme Noise (where I bought virtually everything on this tape and still buy tons of shit at today) turning me on to this band, telling me how raw and honest they were.  They weren't wrong.  This is really a beautiful, moving song and it still gets to me today, even if nothing else by the band really resonates with me anymore.  Just do a search for this song on Google and see how many posts of the lyrics turn up.  It's a heart-crusher, for sure.  I knew it then, which was why I included it on the tape (you always hope people you love will get your reasons for doing the things you do) and I still think it has a tremendous power.  I don't have any more Hot Water Music albums, but when I threw this in the other day, I still remembered all the words.  "Thinking I'm not happy/And I think you're right/I can wash this away/And get her out of my mind."  You never really can.

6.  MORSER "ARMAGEDDON RISE"

Another band that actually exceeded the metalcore tag and began to move more into honest death metal territory, what with their extreme vocals and generous employment of blastbeats.  Morser were from Germany (where there was amazing shit coming out at the time) and pretty much destroyed all of their American counterparts working in the genre.  "Armageddon Rise" was my favorite track off this record, and I still think it's pretty awesome.  In my own projects I love longer songs and numbing repetition but if you could deliver this much brutality in just over a minute then you were fine by me.  There was no way my paramour would have liked this, but I didn't care.  Morser never released an album as severe and flooring as this.  Another one my brother stole from me, but it isn't terribly hard to find.  I've even seen some vinyl versions here and there.  I would own this again.

7.  CONVERGE "DEAD"

Is there anything I need to say about Converge?  I don't think so.  I loved them then, I love them now, and I still have all of their albums.  Their fusion of thrash metal posture and caustic noise was revelatory when I was young, and I have always loved Bannon's lyrics (this song was another one of those "i hope you get the lyrics to this" choices on the tape); Converge were the model for a million bands I started in my head back then.  Strangely enough, I've never seen them live.

8.  DAMNATION A.D. "WAIT FOR A DAY" 

One of my personal favorite bands from the era, because they pretty much went against the standards of the genre.  Damnation A.D. were super heavy, overtly sludgy, and slow, and I think I sort of thought of them as the Melvins of the metalcore movement.  It helped that almost all of their songs were about failure, suicide, and hating life.  This track was no exception.  I loved the keyboard flourishes at the beginning of the track (odd, because at the time I was very "anti-keyboard" in any form of metal) and the intense melodicism of it overall, and I remember identifying heavily with the lyrics.  It;s amazing how much listening to stuff like this helps you when you're feeling like shit.  Just knowing someone else has been there and made it through made an incredible difference.  This band may have staved off some of my own attempts on my life.  The rest of this record, though, wasn't quite as good as this track, and I got rid of it at some point.  I still think the cover art on this album is kind of dumb.  Tanks?  Really?  What the fuck is that?

9.  ASSUCK "SOME SONG I DON'T REMEMBER"

I knew it was bound to happen.  Writing this has actually required a fair amount of research and net combing (on the original tape I didn't write down any song titles, just band names) and this one is that rare instance where I'm coming up empty.  I know the band is Assuck, who were very much along the Napalm Death line (i think I put this track on the tape because it was so similar to ND, and I used to jokingly tell my paramour I thought eventually all modern music would sound like ND-why, I can't recall) and I know the track comes off of "Anticapital" but that's it.  I remember loving the aggression of this band, but always thought the riffs were a little bland, and the overtly political stance made it difficult for me to really ally myself with them (to this day I hate politics in music, with the glaring exception of the Dead Kennedys, who get a pass because they're so fucking good.)  Obviously I no longer own any Assuck, and don't feel any sort of void because of it.

10.  HARD TO SWALLOW "HARD TO SWALLOW"

I always loved bands that had a track named after the band.  It seemed you could not fuck around if you were going to have an eponymous song, and most every band that does it makes sure the song pretty much slays.  Deicide being a prime example, the UK's Hard to Swallow being a far more obscure one.  I picked this up at Extreme Noise on a whim and wasn't terribly impressed (despite their significant posthumous cult following) but found a few songs to have the visceral quality I was looking for.  What I really dug about this track was how the band cycled through the main riff a bunch of different times with a bunch of different tempos.  Repetition with innovation.  Kinda cool.  I no longer own this, because I think band names indebted to sexual themes are pretty dumb, as are most songs about sex (unless it's philosophically complex, ala Whitehouse and a wealth of PE and noise projects.)  These guys are obscure enough that I couldn't find the specific track anywhere, but for the truly curious, the album is available via a number of blogs.

11.  OVERCAST  "DOUSING THIS FLAME"

I was super into this band back when I made this tape, but wonder now what I ever really liked about them.  Their big claim to fame is that some members went on to form the incredibly and wholly awful Shadows Fall, but this record showcases a much more truly metal sound than the band they would eventually become.  I liked this track because it was about serial murder (which was fascinating to me then, when I was a criminology major) and also because they were tenuously connected to Hydrahead, having contributed to "In These Black Days" series of Black Sabbath covers, but some of the riffs here are decent too.  I thought their vocalist was kind of cheesy-sounded like a surfer with family baggage.  I got rid of this album gladly and have never regretted it.

12.  FLOODPLAIN  "YOU CAN'T FORCE..."

One of the jewels on the tape, Floodplain were a band from my area (the Dakotas, if I recall) that were doing something distinctly different and interesting within the metalcore  genre, fusing a certain dissonance to a removed melodicism and an almost casual vocal approach that reminded me a lot of bands like Codeine or Seam (who I also loved.)  This is another incredibly obscure record, one which I very much wish I still had, because the riffs and lyrics from this song get stuck in my head constantly, even today.  Sometimes they'll just pop in, reminding me of how fucking spot on Floodplain were in their depiction of modern malaise.  "We're all just standing around/Talking, but not really saying anything/Waiting to die/Waiting to die."  Fucking brilliant, as true now as it was then.  I am so sad that I could not find a link to this track, because it's pretty awesome.  How this song would have stirred any romantic feelings towards me I don't really know.  I think I more wanted to communicate how bland and banal I thought life to be.  Girls like mystery and the aloof, don't they?

13.  BIRD OF ILL OMEN  "NOW RUIN IS"

Totally loved this band back then as well, because they seemed so much more complex and angular than a lot of the other shit I was subjecting myself too.  They also had an extremely negative outlook on being, as evidenced by this massive track from their "Self, Dare You Still Breathe?" EP.  I loved the mixture of clean singing with the throat shredding main vocals, and the blinding chromaticism found throughout the song is a technique I would steal over and over (most notably in the Yog-Sothoth song "Why Doesn't My Dad Like Daltrey?") alongside the blatantly melodic overtones.  I still think this band was ahead of the curve, doing a sort of Slint-esque take on hardcore that's now championed by groups like Bosse-De-Nage in a black metal aesthetic.  I don't have this record anymore either, and I can't really remember why-it's pretty stellar.  There have been numerous times in my life when I've really needed money.

14./15.  FALL SILENT "GREAT WHITE DEATH/ANY WAY YOU WANT IT"

These guys were quasi-local as well (the Dakotas again, if memory serves) and pretty much blew away any hope any local bands might have had of making insane, violent hardcore.  Fall Silent were uber-technical, tight as fuck, and ragingly aggressive.  Just listen to the riff theatrics of "Great White Death" and tell me otherwise.  I loved the snare drum sound on this record.  The other thing Fall Silent did that was cool was every album they'd cover an eighties rock gem (on their first record it was Pat Benatar's Mellencamp penned hit "Heartbreaker") with little to no irony; on this record it was Journey's classic "Any Way You Want It", a song my paramour and I both loved back then (we heard it all the time on the classic rock station we had to listen to at work).  I think they do a great job with it, although I wish there were a guitar solo.  Small complaint.  I don't have this album anymore because I grew a little disinterested with Fall Silent's "tough guy" approach, but I still have fond memories of this.  Who the fuck doesn't like Journey?  Anyone?

16.  PIEBALD "TIME LOST" 

At the time, this album represented better almost than anything else on this tape the sort of sound I loved, as well as where I was at emotionally.  Piebald wore their hearts on their sleeves when they first started, and while some people might find this aesthetic derivative of a million other bands, no one did it this well, or this unabashedly honestly.  The lyrics to this song still mean quite a bit to me; I still get goosebumps when I listen to this entire record.  Piebald never sounded like this ever again, and it saddens me a little, because this was achingly beautiful and raw.  I saw them live shortly after their third album came out, and I asked Travis Shettel afterwards why nothing they did sounded like "Sometimes Friends Fight" anymore.  He told me he was just a different person from the one that wrote that record and he wasn't in that place anymore.  I still own this album and listen to it pretty frequently-it's sort of timeless for me, with a lot of memory affixed to it.  The harmonic riff that surfaces early on still leaves me breathless in its awesomeness.

17.  IN/HUMANITY "ME AND MY SHADOW" 

Also one of my favorite bands at the time, In/Humanity opened me up to the world of "emo violence" and the small but amazing niche group of bands that practiced it.  This record was instantly endearing to me because it was subtitled "Music To Kill Yourself By."  The romanticized ideal of suicide is still one that I ascribe to, and In/Humanity captured the agony and frustration of desperate inner loneliness better than virtually anyone.  This was some seriously intense shit.  I still think it is, as I still own this record and will throw it in every now and then.  Also awesome were Chris Bickel's post In/Humanity project Guyana Punch Line.  Unfortunately popular musical history hasn't been as kind to In/Humanity as it has some of the other artists on this tape (guess I was never as cool as I wanted to be) and I couldn't find any version of this song to share with you.  The record's out there, with minimal digging necessary.

18.  CAVE IN "JUGGERNAUT"

Do I need to say anything about Cave In?  They were great for awhile and then became overly fixated on being metalcore's answer to Radiohead.  Stephen Brodsky was one of the biggest dicks I've ever met.  Totally arrogant, with no time for anyone, and completely caught up in his own corpulent rock star posturing.  I'm kind of glad the world more or less shits on Cave In now.  Sadly, I can't deny the sheer complexity of this record, and the utter magnificence of this song.  It's a great hybridization of melody and thrash theatrics.  Another killer harmonics riff in this one too (and Travis Shettel even sang back up on this record); I remember reading in some interview years ago that it took Cave In three days to record that little part of the song.  Fucking ridiculous, even if the result is stellar.  I wish I could say that I've sold all my Cave In records because Brodsky sucks, but the old stuff still shreds.  I've still got this on the shelf.

19.  HIS HERO IS GONE "VOLUNTARY AMPUTATION"

Another incredibly brutal track by another band I totally adored at the time.  His Hero Is Gone were like a sludgier Napalm Death who were unafraid of melodicism.  If anything, HHIG understood the power of accessibility (no matter how tarnished or raw) and fused it to a death metal template.  At the time it was tough to find stuff like this.  "Fifteen Counts of Arson" was one of those records I just liked because of its all out anger and disgust with society.  And HHIG kept churning albums out.  As I got older, though, the political rage proffered by HHIG grew tired to me, and I began to seek out musical violence elsewhere.  I still love this song, but I no longer have this record; not sure if I have anything by these guys anymore.

20.  CROSSED OUT "A BUNCH OF SONGS"

Power violence was one of my briefer genre flirtations.  I liked the idea of it, but I could never really find any band that did it as well as it seemed it could be done.  Crossed Out were one of the more esteemed bands and while I guess there was a reason, I don't really know what it was.  I had this record and threw some shit from it onto the tape; I knew it wouldn't go over well (as though any of the rest of the tape would) with the girl but I didn't care.  Maybe I was feeling vindictive at this point in the tape creation process.  One thing for Crossed Out: their records were really abrasive sounding and pretty much in the red, which I can still appreciate.  I don't have this album anymore and could care less.

21.  ENVY "GREY WIND"

Another excellent band that is still managing to turn out music just as powerful and emotive now as what they were doing then.  This track came from Envy's still-superlative first album "From Here To Eternity," which I stumbled across in the bins at Extreme Noise and bought based on the little blurb card that had been tucked in.  I have never regretted it.  Envy were insanely passionate, musically violent, and heart-wrenchingly gorgeous.  They understood better than a lot of their contemporaries at the time (and today) the power of dynamics, both instrumentally and vocally, and used them to astonishing effect.  I love the vocals here-they're raw as fuck but also wounded and yearning and desperate and welcoming.  This is just a staggering song from an amazing band, and I still get goosebumps listening to it.  I scream along in approximation since I don't know Japanese, but it just feels good to be in tandem with them, like we're all connected by the same emotions in the song.  I still have everything by Envy.  I love them.

22.  DISEMBODIED "GONE"

More Minneapolis metalcore.  I really dug Disembodied at the time because they were totally about depression and suicide and removing yourself from society by any means necessary, and this song was easily my favorite.  I liked the use of spoken word vocals and the lyrics were pretty stellar besides, but looking back this really isn't a very good song-the riffs are super boring, there's a serious overuse of dissonant intervals (although all of metalcore is guilty of that one) and there's really very little memorable about the track.  At least the cover art was kind of striking and cool.  I grew incredibly disillusioned with Disembodied as I got older; they seemed to me to epitomize the worst characteristics of "tough guy" metal (sweat suits, hip-hop aggrandizing and fetishization, and banal songwriting.)  I no longer own this record.

23.  CREATION IS CRUCIFIXION "THE PERFECTION OF SUICIDE IS IN ITS AMBIGUITY"

CIC were miles beyond what anyone else in metalcore were doing at the time.  The moniker isn't even appropriate; CIC were one of the first wave of modern tech metal bands that would reach its cultural apotheosis with the release of The Dillinger Escape Plan's "Calulating Infinity" in 1999 (CIC beat them to the punch by about a year with "In Silico" and blew them way in every other regard as well.)  This is Deicide "Legion"-level shit, insane hyper-technical riffing and frenzied start/stop song structures that blur the mind physically and conceptually.  I threw this track on the tape because it was the only one on "In Silico" that offered even a moment of reprieve; I wanted my intended listener to get lulled by the soothing clean guitars and then scorched by the scathe a few seconds later.  There's a live performance of this track here; it starts at about 3:30 or so.  CIC got way more intense and ambitious on later records.  "Automata" used an amazing monologue from Mike Leigh's dystopian epic Naked (an amazing film if you've never seen it) to critique consumerism and religion, while "Child As Audience" came packaged with book-length instructions on how to reprogram Game Boys into cultural re-education software boxes.  Crazy, weird stuff.  None of the members of CIC have gone on to do anything remotely as cool or interesting.  I still have everything by CIC.  Radical outer limits severity.

24.  CATHARSIS "IN SOLITARY"

More epic thrash stylization from a band who went far beyond the genre confines to craft something truly unique and distinctive.  Catharsis viewed themselves as more of a punk presence; they endorsed an obviously anarchic view and held organized religion in serious contempt as evidenced by the anti-cosmic bent of much of their work.  "In Solitary" was one of many fucking amazing tracks off their debut "Samsara"; I remember putting it on the tape because I absolutely loved the riffing, especially the section starting at about 4:00-total metal majesty in the most headbangingly brutal way.  I listened to this record constantly back then.  Catharsis just got better and more nuanced and complex with each album; I still have everything they released and would never, ever part with it.  Members of Catharsis went on to play in the equally awesome Requiem and Umlaut.  Hating society almost always seems to inspire great music.

25.  JESUIT  "SUICIDE KING"

More stuff that I still love.  Jesuit really appealed to the side of me that was listening to the Dead C and Merzbow.  Total noise aggression melded to a metal base and immolated for maximum destructive effect.  I always thought Jesuit should have been way more popular than they were; there was a discography that came out last year but beyond that they were kind of passed over in the wake of heavies like Cave In, Isis, etc.  This song was my favorite as it seemed to be about the disintegration of feelings and the exhaustion of the self; the deconstructionist noise collapse at the end totally captured a failing and desperate state of loneliness and self-hatred. 
Of course I still have this.  It's pretty beat up, though.

26.  ACME "ATTEMPT"

Like Morser (with whom they shared members), Acme practiced a more brutalized approximation of metalcore, amping up the grind and death metal influence to arrive at something that pretty much blew their American counterparts away.  "Attempt" goes through a pretty incredible amount of tempo and mood changes across its 2:27 runtime without really sacrificing anything in the way of flow or groove.  This was a band that knew what they were doing.  I still love the vaguely melodic dissonance in this song; what bands like Disembodied were transforming into abrasive squall, Acme were actually making into memorable, maybe even "hooky," moments.  This was another CD that was stolen from me.  I haven't run across another copy since then.

27.  COALESCE "BLEND AS WELL"

I remember liking Coalesce not because I really dug what they did but more because I felt like I should, and I wanted to keep trying.  Coalesce were a little too boring and overly abrasive for me.  There wasn't anything to sink into with their stuff, just sheer and pointless dissonant riffing.  I threw this song on the tape because I thought it was the only Coalesce track with anything even resembling a groove to it.  The only thing I truly liked about the band was that their drummer also did time in the Get Up Kids (whose first album I still think is pretty great.)  The only Coalesce record I still have is their album of Led Zeppelin covers that Hydrahead put out, mostly out of novelty (although their version of "Thank You" is alright.)

28.  BLACK ARMY JACKET "MEOW MEOW MEOW"

Listening to this track makes me dizzy.  What the hell I was thinking?  This was another album I bought at Extreme Noise based on a blurb card, but unlike Envy, Black Army Jacket turned out to be really stupid.  Just listen to the vocals on "Meow Meow Meow" to see what I mean (it starts at around 2:45.)  Silly, silly stuff that I just didn't get.  This made it to the tape only for the "goofiness" factor in it.  I don't know what became of this band or what bands members might have gone on to (anything would have been better) and I certainly no longer own the album.  Frightening in its insipidness and alarming in its transparent vapidity.  If you make it through the entire live snippet I posted, listen to the weirdo yell out "Fuck yeah" at the end of the third song. Yuck!

29.  DAMNATION A.D.  "SLEEP"

Another appearance on the tape from Damnation A.D., this time taken from their much better first LP.  I really liked (and still do) the guitar sound on this album; way fuzzed out and different from what a lot of bands were doing at the time.  I put this song on the tape mainly because of the lyrics-a line like "Overwhelmed by all these things/I can do nothing about" really resonated with me at the time.  I remember being so angry and frustrated that i couldn't make my feelings go away.  i couldn't get over wanting the girl I was giving this tape too so badly, despite the fact that it was mostly making me feel like shit everyday.  I hoped on some level this song (and the whole tape) would convey that to her.  I don't think it ever would have, even if I had given it to her.  I still have this album.

And that's all there is.  I know 29 doesn't equate to 32, but it was because of those stupid Crossed Out songs I couldn't remember the titles of.  I swear there were 32 songs on this bit of analogue nostalgiah.  When I was young I thought I would love this stuff forever.  It's hard to admit sometimes that my tastes have changed.  In a lot of senses they've become far more extreme, but in some senses they haven't (for instance, I can't deny the catchiness of Ellie Goulding's "Lights"; I will be releasing a 2 disc set of remixes of it I created on my own label, Altar Of Waste Records, in about a week.)  When I was in my early 20's listening to Burzum and Leviathan I wondered if I'd still love black metal as much when I was in my thirties; sure enough, i do.  I feel like I'm getting to a point in my life where my tastes and interests are actually becoming defined.  It's really a lifelong process, but I feel like now I'm finally approaching some idea of me and what that actually encompasses.  As a younger person I worried constantly about getting old; now that I'm on my way (if 33 is really as ancient as I think) it doesn't frighten me as much, and ideas like "artists doing their best work in their 30's and 40's" are beginning to make a lot more sense.  This tape reminds me of a different person, growing up in a different time.  I know it was me, but it isn't always easy to make the connections anymore.  I have journals and letters from that time as well, and some of them seem like alien transmissions.  In that regard I'm very glad to have this, even if some of the memories attached to it are hard to endure.  I guess that's why "nostalgiah" translates as "pain, ache."  Maybe that's why i never got rid of it, either.







2 comments:

  1. Interesting to see your thoughts on this old mix — I did something similar on my blog a while back. I didn't have an old mix tape to go through, but instead tried to make a mix that touched on every important evolution of my musical taste. Living in a small town and coming to underground music really late (like 15) it's way different than your mix. But they do intersect at points. http://eronrauch.blogspot.com/2012/04/erons-history-mix.html

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  2. Interesting read. Thanks for including us on the tape. Sean and I always did consider it a love song. Thanks too for saying you admire Ink and Dagger's "willingness to flirt with aesthetics beyond their genre confines." The single on Revelation was the 1st hardcore drum and bass remix ever, and they were proud of that. Would have loved to help you get the girl, but guess it wasn't meant to be.
    ~Jennifer Layne Park
    (I wrote and sang "We Live Despite Their Schemes"

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