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Killing Bono: I Was Bono's Doppelganger

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Longtime friend and reporter, Neil McCormick, reveals childhood and present day stories about Bono and his band, U2.

Some are born great.
Some achieve greatness.
Some have greatness thrust upon them.
And some have the misfortune
to go to school with Bono.

Everyone wants to be famous. But as a young punk in Dublin in the 1970s, Neil McCormick's ambitions went way beyond mere pop stardom. It was his destiny to be a veritable Rock God. He had it all worked the albums, the concerts, the quest for world peace. There was only one thing he hadn't counted on. The boy sitting on the other side of the classroom had plans of his own.

Killing Bono is a story of divergent lives. As Bono and his band U2 ascended to global superstardom, his school friend Neil scorched a burning path in quite the opposite direction. Bad drugs, weird sex, bizarre Neil experienced it all in his elusive quest for fame. But sometimes it is life's losers who have the most interesting tales to tell.

Featuring guest appearances by the Pope, Bob Dylan, and a galaxy of stars, Killing Bono offers an extremely funny, startlingly candid, and strangely moving account of a life lived in the shadows of superstardom.
“The problem with knowing you is that you've done everything I ever wanted to,” Neil once complained to his famous friend. “I'm your doppelganger,” Bono replied. “If you want your life back, you'll have to kill me.”

Now there was a thought...

384 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2004

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Neil McCormick

2 books6 followers

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5 stars
207 (26%)
4 stars
351 (44%)
3 stars
189 (24%)
2 stars
33 (4%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 90 reviews
Profile Image for Martyna.
356 reviews5 followers
June 11, 2020
"Killing Bono" by music journalist Neil McCormick is a book about the power of youthful dreams, about growing up in the embrace of music and its omnipotent power that does not fade with age and increasing difficulties.
The author himself says about the book that it is "a personal, psychological and philosophical acceptance of his own fate" and although these words sound extremely serious, the whole story captivates with sincerity, humor and distance.

Neil McCormick was (un)lucky to go to school at Mount Temple with U2 boys: Bono, Adam, Larry and Dave. Since then, the defeats of the McCormick and U2 brothers are intertwined in a (not very) funny way - depending on the point of view - with the successes of the most famous Irish band in the world.
Whether you love U2 or hate them, you should read this book! Perhaps Neil McCormick did not become a famous rocker, but his pen really is great.
Profile Image for Liberty.
275 reviews37 followers
July 9, 2019
This was a fun book to read, mainly because I was surprised that the author really did grow up with Bono, which at first I didn't believe. He really did spend his life being thwarted in the music industry while Bono and company achieved incredible success.
If I were him, I would have felt the same self pity and envy! But I would not have stuck around to watch it all happen, showing up to U2 concerts and backstage parties, feeling a deep sense of being a loser...And I would have given up the dream of being a rockstar much much sooner.
Neil McCormick is a great writer, witty and sarcastic, the way I like it!
Now I'm going to look up some of his old music and see if it's available to listen to. I want to judge for myself whether he could have been as good as Bono!
Profile Image for Jennifer Spiegel.
Author 10 books83 followers
December 25, 2021
I bought this book because the cover and title were cool, and I thought it was a graphic novel. It's not. McCormick, though, is a genuine writer--so it's very nice writing.
Neil McCormick went to high school with Bono and the rest of U2 in good ole' Dublin. They've remained friends. The British publication is sold as I WAS BONO'S DOPPELGANGER and, though I like the drama of the American title, the British title might describe the book better. Neil wanted to be a famous rock star too. He REALLY wanted to be a famous rock star too.
But it just didn't happen.
Bono never stood in his way. They actually were friends. Neil was, um, just not Bono-material. Deals fell through. He had passion, but I think he lacked the mind-numbing, world-spinning, CRAZY passion that Bono might possess.
I liked the book. I feel some sorrow in saying that I was less interested in the fate of Neil and more interested in the Bono stuff.
There's interesting U2 tidbits. Bono's lengthy marriage. Sinead O'Connor seems like she was nutty since the beginning. Bob Dylan does demonstrate this subtle genius. Bono is pretty intense.
I did find a certain profundity in how Neil was struggling with Bono's religious convictions throughout. He doesn't feel like Bono feels. He writes:
"You know the problem with a godless universe? You're on your own. Responsible to no one but yourself. And every time you contemplate the future, you are forced to conclude that your ultimate fate is simply to cease to be. It makes it hard to care about things, even yourself. The distractions of vice are all too easy to surrender to. You tend to think, 'I know I shouldn't be doing this but . . . fuck it!'"
Gotta love the Irish.
Profile Image for Jo Ann.
594 reviews13 followers
March 18, 2016
Being part of a committed book club, and being one of those committed members, means you read books out of your comfort/interest zone...this is one of those books for me. I am out of my element when it comes to rock stars/musicians...but, like most such books like this, I'm glad I had the opportunity to read and discuss this book that Elton John recommended as the best book to read about the music business. Neil McCormick went to school with Bono, and was determined that HE would become the successful musician his friend Bono became, have the fantastic group that U2 was. Didn't happen...but his voyage while attempting it is interesting, to say the least.
Profile Image for Erin.
415 reviews31 followers
May 15, 2009
This book was written by a childhood friend of Bono, who struggled to make it in the music business while watching U2 become the most successful band in the world. I was really interested in the backstory on Bono and the genesis of U2. Then, I also became really engaged in the author's story and thought his frustrations were compelling and emotional. This book provides a great look at the music industry of the 1980s and the life of wannabe musicians.
Profile Image for Mia.
247 reviews1 follower
April 28, 2020
Neil McCormick does such a good job at describing that feeling of almost jealousy where you want something but maybe you're friend receives it even though you yourself believe you are deserving of it. He has forever had this egotistical ideology where he thinks he is destined for great things and that is extremely relatable. The amount of times I've just thought 'wow, I'm going to be a famous such-and-such' astonishes me and Neil really has put that thought process that pretty much everyone has on paper in his autobiographical book 'Killing Bono', chronicling his life as compared to his former classmate Paul Hewson aka Bono.

The story itself is often melancholic (through the humour) because Neil didn't get to be one of the greatest rockstars the world had ever seen, his friend did instead. Listen to this: The scale of U2's fame seemed to mock me, making the minor achievements of my own existence seem pathetic. U2 made me feel small. The very idea that they could affect me in this way made me feel even smaller. Neil, I feel you so hard mate. I even feel that way when I think about famous people I don't even know. But anyway, I'm honestly really proud of my little Irish rock enthusiast Neil for writing this book and continuously being supportive of his friends. Hey, he's pretty successful too! Good on you Neil.

The book itself I enjoyed. Obviously, it's not too star-studded because Neil isn't a celebrity (he also doesn't kill Bono which I guess is a good thing hehe) but I kind of liked that aspect. I haven't read many memoirs written by people I've never heard of before. I only actually heard of this book when I was looking through Ben Barnes' (God bless this beautiful man) filmography and saw the movie adaptation and thought 'ha, I like U2, let's give it a go', and I did, and I liked the movie so yeah.
I was lost a bit in the middle part of this book, it was a bit hard to get through but I think I really liked the ending because it was just Neil chilling with his family, putting some music out occasionally and still having a famous friend. So yeah. Long story short, I enjoyed myself.
Profile Image for Charlotte.
32 reviews
May 5, 2023
It was pretty good! Provided lots of good insights and the writing is great. Took me a while to finish but that’s a me-problem.
Profile Image for Nick.
13 reviews
June 6, 2009
I loved this book. Neil McCormick went to school with Bono and the rest of the members of U2 and this true story is all about how Neil's life went in a very different direction than Bono's even though he also wanted to be a famous rock star. This true story is all about how you can be so sure that you want something and that it is going to happen because you want it so much. Lif doesn't always work out that way but it doesn't mean that you didn't learn anything or that you can't enjoy it. Also if you are into reading a first hand account about trying to make it in the music biz then this is a great book for you.
Profile Image for Evgeniia.
214 reviews
December 21, 2022
Who might think that a book about a life of some unknown person who you've never heard about could be that interesting... Who might think that you could feel that deep sympathy for that person reading his biography... It could and you definitely could also.

Even though McCormick's dreams didn't come true he was a really and really talented young man. And he worked really hard. I admired how he was doing his job, how he put all his heart into one or another business. He was so sincere, naive, true. He was too clean-living for his generation (what he wanted to catch up later trying to be «bad»). And he wasn't afraid to write it all, he wasn't afraid to show himself ridiculous and silly. Despite his rock-star ambitions, he was a great design-artist and brilliant journalist with amazing writing skills. The last thing became his occupation. Neil McCormick is a musical critic who writes for magazines.

When you read his biography you're living all events from his life with him. You sympathize him, you get sad for him, you get happy with him, you hope for him to win, although you already know that it won't happen. There also were alot of moments which almost made me cry and moments which made me laugh out loud.

I really loved to read about Dublin in seventieth. It actually got my attention in U2 by U2 book. The atmosphere was just incredible! Especially the school life. I always read with an admiration about life in that time, because it amazed so much. About what was taught in Irish schools, about how students were dressed, about their self-images, about how they got music records, about how magazines were printed. Neil was part-working in Hot Press magazine, that's why creation process was described in details. And it was so huge work! Not like now when everything was made by computers.

The books is written by wonderful language, it's addictive and vivid. It's like a fantasy story and not like a real life. You fall in love with the main character like it's unreal character and not a real person.

Despite the pompous title like «Killing Bono» it was just emotional exaggeration. In reality there is no fighting, no competition, no hate. Bono admires Bono and respect him really deep. They have wonderful relationships. Bono always believed in Neil and he tried to help him the best the could. Neil attended U2's shows and always was met warmly backstage with warm hugs (from Bono of course ;)). That's why he writes about Bono with big love and admiration. Actually in the epilogue he mentioned that he wrote the book also because he wanted to put his admiration for that man on a record. But I was ignoring this book for so long. I saw it thousand times in book stores and took in my hands (it was even in Riga), but I was a bit scared by the title, because I thought it was an evil book. And it turned to be the completely different one.

It was McCormick who put a huge contribution to the amazing U2 by U2 book. Even though band members were telling their stories themselves, he spent 150 hours listening to them during two years and then putting in into fine sentences. He was the sixth author of the book (besides Bono, Edge, Larry, Adam and Paul), who made it the way it is.

And of course there are facts about U2 life from the other side, how he saw them being in the same school, attending their concerts, chatting with Bono all nights long.

I'm looking forward to see the movie, it's supposed to be interesting and funny. And I'm keen to see the visual perception of what I've read. After the book you care about McCormick, you didn't treat him as an unknown person and I sincerely feel good about this film to be made. And they chose so nice actor for the leading role :D
Profile Image for Bradley Morgan.
Author 1 book11 followers
June 1, 2018
McCormick, a music reporter and rock critic, grew up with aspirations to become the biggest rockstar on the planet. It was his destiny to release critically-acclaimed albums, sell millions of concert tickets, and achieve world peace when settling in as an elder statesman of pop music following decades of rockstar hedonism. However, he had the misfortune of going to school with Bono.

McCormick and Bono were friends attended the same school in Ireland and both dreamed of becoming the biggest rockstars on the planet. As more rock and punk music found its way into the heavily religious country, it was a Great Awakening for the two lads and they set out to make music history history. Or at least one of them did.

While Bono and his bandmates in U2 were increasingly becoming the biggest rock act on the planet, McCormick continuously faced every misfortune and setback imaginable when trying to break into an industry that values commercial viability over talent. During the 80s, McCormick started and stopped several bands and almost achieved a record deal on multiple occasions. However, he never made it and had to watch his friend from childhood fulfill every dream he had for himself.

Incredibly funny, witty, and, at times, wise, McCormick’s memoir about the struggle aspiring musicians face is existential and relatable. McCormick and Bono continued to stay friends over the years and always connect like lifelong friends do. While McCormick will tell Bono that the he stole his life, Bono declares himself the doppelgänger and whom McCormick will have to kill to get his life back.
Profile Image for Samantha.
104 reviews1 follower
February 20, 2020
Enjoyed reading this book. Neil has a great way with words which just confirms why he is a journalist. Fascinating to hear about growing up with Bono and U2, how it started, friends in Ireland and still to this day. Neils journey is frustrating. As well, you think things are going to go his way, but then disappointment. He wasn’t meant to be the famous rock star that Bono was meant to be. I guess if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be for the chosen ones... others no matter what you do, just won’t go your way no matter how hard you try. This totally reminds me of myself so I could relate to things too. Great book, good insights to the early days, friendship, honest and funny too. If you are a U2 fan, you should read this! If you want to be a rock star, you should read this too!
Profile Image for Erik Ferguson.
28 reviews4 followers
October 10, 2011
I have to get back to work (yes, on a Sunday!), so I'll just take a little time to provide a more brief review than this book deserves. I hate to say it, but that time constraint and the fact that I picked up my copy of Killing Bono at the airport while on a work-related trip illustrate my getting caught up in the normal pattern where I've had to squeeze the arts into the cracks between clicking a mouse all day. The irony is that my life is exactly what Neil McCormick spent decades trying to avoid.

McCormick's book is quite an interesting work on many levels. I'll say first that even though this isn't a five-star memoir, big fans of U2 and anyone working to become a successful musician might like it even more than I did.

On a side note, McCormick reveals himself here as the ghostwriter of the "auto"biographical U2 by U2. So the band's story has now been told twice from the inside -- but from two different perspectives.

In Killing Bono, McCormick (now a well-published music critic in the UK) traces his pursuit of musical super-stardom through his admittedly misguidedly angry younger years, beginning with his teenage years in Ireland. As he and his various bands encounter frustration after blindsiding frustration, he has to sit by and watch as four former classmates -- Paul Hewson (aka Bono), David Evans (aka The Edge), Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen, Jr. (collectively, of course, aka U2) -- become not only successful musicians but some of the most prominent rock stars in the world.

McCormick is, thankfully, a candid writer. In his book, he speaks openly of his reasons for having pursued fame. His self-description is that of a wannabe hedonist: at the top of his list of priorities as a teen and twentysomething was the superstar trifecta of "sex, drugs and rock & roll". But whereas someone like Keith Richards can now sit down and talk about his lifelong embrace of this trifecta (leaving us to wonder how in the world he survived it for so long), McCormick refreshingly tells us and any aspiring rock stars what it's usually like when working one's way up from the bottom. He tasted the trifecta, sure -- but at (best?) he usually tasted only one element at a time. And now he's willing to state plainly that this pursuit was a foolhardy one.

Through it all, McCormick and Bono remained in somewhat regular contact. So as the author writes about his dreams and his oft-occurring anger at the convolutions of the music industry, he is able to talk about the industry from points of view both within and outside of its sacred walls of seclusion.

I recall a quote from one of the documentaries that accompanied the 1990's release of The Beatles Anthology albums. While I, unfortunately, do not remember the name of the particular talking head, I'll paraphrase to the best of my ability. The quote ran along these lines: The Beatles did the best thing and the worst thing for the music industry. They did the best thing in that they injected a real sense of artistry into mainstream pop. They did the worst thing in that they helped industry professionals realize how much money was to be made off of pop acts.

In his book, McCormick -- however unwittingly -- becomes a representative for his generation of musicians. As a teenager, he idolized the Beatles and was inspired by their craftsmanship to become a professional musician who would maintain his sense of artistic integrity. But as he tried to get his art heard by the world, he ran headlong into the almost-impenetrable gates of the moneymaking machine that the music industry became through the 70's and 80's.

Further, though, McCormick's insights ring true universally: we all have goals we would be able to reach if only we had the right connections, the right circumstances, the bottomless trust fund to finance each step we want to take. But almost all of us end up necessarily settling on the universal fundamental: the question of how we can pay our rents and feed our families.

Back to the author's interactions with Bono, Killing Bono was originally published as I Was Bono's Doppelganger. Through this lifelong friend who achieved the success that McCormick always wanted, we see McCormick's ambitions continually mirrored by what would have been -- what should have been. If only. It's a unique perspective on the pursuit of one's dreams in a free society. McCormick humorously relates one conversation with Bono in which the globally known celebrity who has had audiences with world leaders quotes Mick Jagger (unknowingly?): "You can't always get what you want." McCormick finally learns that "...if you try sometimes, you just might find..."

An underlying theme threaded effectively through the book touches on aspects of faith and destiny. While McCormick, a self-described "grumbling" atheist, knows as a teenager that it's his destiny to become famous (and that he can bring this destiny to pass), he candidly and honestly speaks of his admiration for the Christian faith possessed by Bono. The young McCormick wants to become a rock star at all costs and -- as stated above -- wants to embrace every stereotypical aspect of that lifestyle. Bono, however, is an atypical celebrity in that he remains grounded, faithful to his wife and family, and (usually) sober. McCormick points to Bono's faith as the element that keeps him grounded amidst the celebrity's own struggles with questions of destiny.
Profile Image for Helena.
74 reviews
January 30, 2017
I saw the movie which is based on that memoir a while ago and instantly bought the DVD. It still is one of my go to feel good movies. I really do recommend to watch it. And the same goes for the book. (Although, for the record, the movie does steer quite far from the original story).
For anybody interested in music and the music business this is probably a must read since it shows quite well the inner workings of the music business and offers a lot of information on rock and pop music in general and U2 in particular.
I'm not particularly interested in those two areas to be honest. But the author just has the selfdeprecating, dry humor I'm drawn to and that makes this a fun but never shallow read.
Profile Image for David B.
31 reviews
February 20, 2019
Really entertaining and in lightning read. I thoroughly enjoyed this book for a variety of reasons. I’ve always been a huge U2 fan and particularly interested in their early years. But reading Neil’s story about his own tribulations was both comic and sad. As a lifelong music fan, particularly punk and Post-Punk and in the rock bands, it’s fascinating to me how challenging the industry really is or at least was.
455 reviews3 followers
May 17, 2017
Well, this was a pretty good time. It's a neat lens through which to look at the rise of U2, that of a classmate who also wanted to be a musician, plus McCormick's own story is pretty good. Maybe a few too many, "And we ended up where we started"s, but it's all quite charmingly told.
Profile Image for Julianna May.
25 reviews
October 6, 2017
This was a cool & entertaining book - loved getting the back story of how U2 was started. It's also nice because it's written by a somewhat snarky and faintly jealous old friend instead of a gushing Bono admirer. Worth the read!
Profile Image for Erwin.
55 reviews1 follower
September 15, 2019
It's not an authorized book by the band, but yet a very interesting story about how the band came to be--and how the author thought their paths have somehow crossed, but one got lucky, and we know who that was. A book I will read again, and again--and that's because I love the band.
984 reviews6 followers
May 3, 2020
One man became an eminent rock critic, the other became a secular pope with delusions of grandeur. U2's origin story is one of the best rock biographies that talks about Ireland and its fab music scene in the pre-U2 era.
Profile Image for Rosie.
45 reviews
May 9, 2023
Surprisingly star-studded biography perfect to help understand what it's like walking the fine line between passion and psychopathy.
When Neil writes the book and finally makes himself under the spotlight, he processes his life's work in a fascinating, punk rock way
Profile Image for Gwen.
543 reviews
January 17, 2018
Well written book. The end was better than the beginning. Recommend it for all U2 and Bono fans.
Profile Image for Aaron.
178 reviews5 followers
July 9, 2018
Subtitle...and I begrudgingly accepted his success although I can laugh about it now.

I'm also a little disappointed in myself that I couldn't slip a U2 song lyric into this review.
Profile Image for Marcia Lino.
3 reviews
February 26, 2020
Witty, funny account of a wannabe rock star. A look into the rock scene in late 70's Dublin. One of the funniest books I have ever read on the music and rock and roll subject.
Profile Image for Alex.
156 reviews1 follower
January 8, 2013
An autobio of Neil McCormick, an aspiring rocker-turned-music journalist who happened to go to school with the lads from U2. The book doesn't actually do anything as a bio of U2, instead it's a bio of someone who happened to cross paths several times in his life with a group of folks whose fame threatens to eclipse everything he can ever hope to accomplish with his life. Quintessentially Irish and Punk-rock, it's a story of the times.

So there are two main reasons why I enjoyed this book, but if you aren't me, these two may not apply to you:

1. As a U2 fan, especially of their early stuff, it was nice to read a rather unvarnished account of their early years. McCormick didn't set out to chronicle or deify U2s formative days, he just happened to be there, which is nice. They do seem, through McCormick's description, to be genuinely nice, human beings, who are irrationally and unreasonably famous, but it couldn't have happened to nicer folks.

2. As someone who is interested in rock and roll and punk rock culture, it is interesting to read about someone who lived through the punk revolution, and took all the wrong lessons from it. Neil McCormick didn't get punk. Neither did his pals in U2, but they somehow stumbled into fame and fortune. McCormick still doesn't get punk, and doesn't understand that U2 didn't, either. It's a fascinating read about the scumminess and stupidity that pervades the industry of popular music.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
205 reviews
June 14, 2011
I read this after watching the movie version and I enjoyed it as much as I did the movie.
Neil writes in an honest, open manner and you can't help admire he and his brother for their persistence after taking more knock backs than most other people would stick around to take! At times it seems everything was standing in their way and I am actually surprised they managed to keep going in London, trying to get record deals, as long as they did, many others would probably have sloped off back to Ireland with their tails between their legs so in a way you admire them by the end.
It's also, at times, cringe worthy to read how he felt like a sore thumb amongst celebrities and other hangers on at various U2 concerts, when being a childhood friend of the band got you as far as the main VIP area, but where they could only stand and watch while models and the like got escorted through for a private meeting with the band, but then you also get an idea of how false those situations are, which we already know but it's nice to read someone admitting how fake it all is behind the glitz and glamour.
It's an entertaining book and the movie is even better, though obviously a lot has been added, exaggerated and changed completely.
Profile Image for GT.
86 reviews3 followers
September 19, 2013
No intentional spoilers, but wow, this guy (the author - Neil McCormick) has what Winston Churchill respected... he never, ever, ever gives up. Ever. Churchill actually said "Never give in, never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty...". Churchill also said, "...it is the courage to continue that counts". This book has nothing to do with Churchill and everything to do with McCormick's courage and drive to find success as a musician / pop star. As I've never heard of McCormick, and because I read the book description, I know he's not going to achieve his goal, so why am I rooting for him over and over again as he recounts his tale?

An engrossing story from start to finish. I forgot to mention it also provides a lot of history on U2.

I loved the way McCormick helps me laugh along with him as he goes through all the disappointments he has worked through. A great read for any dreamers...

Fun book, an easy 4 stars.

mfgavin's rating criteria:

★ = Horrid waste of time
★★ = May be enjoyable to some, but not me
★★★ = I am glad I read it
★★★★ = Very enjoyable and something I'd recommend
★★★★★ = A rare find, simply incredible
Profile Image for Robin.
163 reviews4 followers
April 9, 2013
It's all very good to read the biographies of successful artistis. But what about the people who don't make it, who have talent, but it just doesn't somehow work out. We rarely read about those people that are the greater percent of the population, and who frankly, most of us understand.

Neil McCormick tells the story of his attempt to be a rock musician. He grew up with Bono, and so was constantly witnessing U2's great success, and comparing himself with the super famous Bono. McCormick reveals his jealousy and competition openly, sometimes embracing it a bit too self-absorbedly, but ultimately realizing it didn't serve him. The stories of how bands tried to make it in the 80's and how information got out there was interesting, and his anecdotes are funny.

What I most enjoyed about the book was witnessing how McCormick fell into and developed his real talent, writing about music. A good lesson that sometimes what we think we want most may not be what where our true talents lie.
Profile Image for Phoenix.
1 review2 followers
February 1, 2013
I am a huge fan of U2, and everyone that is a fan of something probably has questions. How did it start? Who/what are the inspirations? Who got the idea to start it? Blah, blah, blah.... Killing Bono answers pretty much all of those questions: The U2 guys all went to school together. They were inspired by the Ramones and Sex Pistols. Larry Mullen spread the word about starting a band.
Not only does Neil McCormick talk about the U2 guys, but he talks about how he tried and was part of the band when they were first "The Hype." He also talks about how he and his brother were in and out of a few of their own bands, and what it was like to live in the punk rock era that i want to be in so badly.
I'd give it 4 solid stars!

:-) (-:
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