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The last days of Tiny Tim

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I first saw Tiny Tim very early in his career, in Greenwich Village in the winter of 1962-63. There was a convention of college newspaper editors, and a few of us -- I remember Jeff Greenfield coming along -- went to the Black Pusssycat and found ourselves being entertained by a man the likes of whom we'd not seen before. He was already locally popular.

In another year, Tiny Tim was famous. I believe no one remembers how famous. The Beatles asked him to sing "Nowhere Man" on a bootleg Christmas recording. He did a night at Royal Albert Hall. He was married to Miss Vicki on the Tonight Show, still one of the top-rated TV shows of all time.

I lived at the Sunset Marquis on Alta Loma, half a block down from Sunset, while I was writing "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." Tiny Tim was a fellow resident, along with Van Heflin, Roy Scheider, Elaine May, Jackie Gayle and Harold Ramis. Tiny Tim kept very much to himself. The one or two times I saw him, he was polite and formal. The friendly all-night desk clerk confided, "I don't think he's much like you see on TV. He seems more serious."

He was very famous for a long time, and then faded from view. He continued to perform all the time. Money was not the object. Dare we speculate he simply loved the songs and the singing of them?

After the videos (there are dozens online), I've included much of the biographical essay by Wikipedia.

From Wikipedia:

Herbert Khaury (April 12, 1932 November 30, 1996), better known by the stage name Tiny Tim, was an American singer, ukulele player, and musical archivist. He was most famous for his rendition of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" sung in a distinctive high falsetto/vibrato voice (though his normal singing voice was in a standard male range). He was generally regarded as a novelty act, though his records indicate his wide knowledge of American songs. He had no official middle name, though some web sites report it to be "Butros", his father's first name, while during his televised wedding his middle name was given as "Buckingham". His headstone reads "Khaury/Herbert B/Tiny Tim/1932-1996".

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Tiny Tim developed something of a cult following. In the 1960s he was seen regularly near the Harvard University campus as a street performer, singing old Tin Pan Alley tunes. His choice of repertoire and his encyclopedic knowledge of vintage popular music impressed many of the spectators. One admirer, Norman Kay, recalled that Tiny Tim's outrageous public persona was a false front belying a quiet, studious personality: "Herb Khaury was the greatest put-on artist in the world. Here he was with the long hair and the cheap suit and the high voice, but when you spoke to him he talked like a college professor. He knew everything about the old songs.

Between 1962 and 1966 Tiny Tim recorded a number of songs at small (almost microscopic) recording companies, with several of them being made as "acetates" and one actually released as a 45 record. These songs illustrate that even very early on he had a decided drive for success and was getting noticed in a positive way, despite his looks and unusual manner. However he also recorded one entire batch of songs that would come back to disastrously haunt him at the peak of his greatest fame.

Tiny Tim appeared in Jack Smith's Normal Love, as well as the independent feature film You Are What You Eat (his appearance in this film featured him singing the old Ronettes hit, "Be My Baby" in his falsetto range; also featured was a rendition of Sonny and Cher's I Got You Babe, with Tim singing the Cher parts in his falsetto voice, along with Eleanor Barooshian reprising Sonny Bono's baritone part. These tracks were recorded with Robbie Robertson and the other members of what was going to become known as The Band. The latter performance led to a booking on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, an American television comedy-variety show. Dan Rowan announced that Laugh-In believed in showcasing new talent, and introduced Tiny Tim. The singer entered, blowing kisses, and sang "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" to Dick Martin.

This stunt was followed by several more appearances on Laugh-In and a recording contract with Reprise Records. He made a name for himself as a novelty performer, guesting with Johnny Carson, Ed Sullivan, and Jackie Gleason. At the height of his career, he was commanding a weekly salary of $50,000 in Las Vegas, Nevada. "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" became Tiny Tim's signature song. He sang it in homage to its originator, singer-guitarist Nick Lucas. He invited Lucas to sing at his wedding in 1969.

In 1968, his first album, God Bless Tiny Tim, was released. It contained an orchestrated version of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips", which became a hit after being released as a single. The other songs displayed his wide-ranging knowledge of the American songbook, and also allowed him to demonstrate his baritone voice, which was less often heard than his falsetto. He did his second recorded version of "I Got You Babe", this time singing a "duet" with himself, taking Cher's part in falsetto, and Sonny's part in the baritone range. "On the Old Front Porch" extends this to a trio, including a boy (Billy Murray), the girl he is courting (Ada Jones), and her father (probably Murray again). Another notable song was a cover of "Stay Down Here Where You Belong", written by Irving Berlin in 1914 to protest the Great War. It is written from the standpoint of Satan talking to his son, and is a powerful condemnation of those who foment war: "To please their kings, they've all gone out to war, and not a one of them knows what they're fighting for... Kings up there are bigger devils than your dad." (The comedian Groucho Marx also used this song as part of his own act, at least in part to irk Berlin, who in later years tried in vain to disown the song.

Reprise followed up "Tulips" with another single, "Bring Back Those Rockabye Baby Days", in which he sang this "mammy song" in baritone in the style of Harry Richman, and lapsed into his higher register only for a few moments near the end of the song. The record did receive some radio exposure in America but was not nearly as successful as the novelty song "Tulips". "Rockabye Baby Days" fared better in the UK, where music hall songs were still remembered fondly.

Before another legitimate Reprise Tiny Tim album could be released a small record label got hold of some of his very early recordings and overdubbed them with canned applause, creating a fictional "live concert" recording to cash in on Tiny Tim's popularity with an album, Concert in Fairyland.[citation needed] This release damaged Tiny Tim's recording career and sales of his next two albums. Regardless, Tiny Tim recorded and released two more albums for Reprise, Tiny Tim's Second Album 1968, and For All My Little Friends, 1969, a collection of children's songs. the latter was nominated for a Grammy Award. In addition, he recorded six more songs, which Reprise released as his final three singles.

On December 17, 1969, Tiny Tim married Victoria Mae Budinger (aka "Miss Vicki") on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, a publicity stunt that attracted some 40 million viewers. Tiny wrote his own marriage vows, including the promise to be "not puffed up." He and Miss Vicki made even more news a month later with the announcement that they were expecting a baby, with comedians at the time suggesting the name VicTim. The baby was miscarried, but a subsequent child was born healthy and survived. In contrast to the romance-oriented publicity of their wedding, Tiny Tim and Miss Vicki mostly lived apart, and divorced eight years later. Their daughter, Tulip Victoria, is now married and living in Pennsylvania with four children.

In August 1970, Tiny Tim performed at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 in front of a crowd of 600,000 people. His performance, which included English folk songs and rock and roll classics, was a huge hit with the multinational throng of hippies. At the climax of his set, he sang "There'll Always Be an England" through a megaphone which brought the huge crowd to its feet. This can be seen in the 1995 movie of the event, Message to Love.

After the career highlight in the UK, however, Tiny Tim's television appearances dwindled, and his popularity began to wane. He continued to play around the United States, making several lucrative appearances in Las Vegas. When he lost his Reprise recording contract he founded his own record label, and humorously named it Vic Tim Records, as a pun on the combination of his wife's name with that of his own. In 1971 and 1972 his Vic Tim label would release his next five singles, but then it ceased to exist. A lone single followed on Scepter Records in 1972. In 1973 he founded another record company which he dubbed Toilet Records, but this also folded. It was three years before he was able to record and release another record in the United States, but he did release two singles on the Bellaphon label in West Germany in 1973, a combined single from these was released by Polydor Records in the UK and Belgium in 1974. In 1976 he recorded again in the US and, from that point on, one or more virtually every year through 1990.

Also in 1976 a young teenage boy (and aspiring punk-rock musician) named Richard Barone succeeded essentially on the spur of the moment on getting Tiny Tim recorded onto a number of cassettes and then into a local recording studio, and thus recorded two whole albums of material. One of these albums finally saw release only in late 2009.

In 1979 and 1980 Tiny Tim went to Australia where he was able to record his first fully planned studio albums since 1970. Three albums were produced by record producer Martin Sharp. Only a few hundred copies were made of the first and only 1000 of the second. None of these were ever released in the U.S. at the time they were made. These would be Tiny Tim's last albums until 1986.

In 1985, he hired a teenage disc jockey named Rick Hendrix from WHKY in North Carolina to manage his dates. Living at the Olcott Hotel in New York City, the duo began to revive the once-famous icon. Tiny Tim released the song, "Santa Claus Has Got the Aids This Year",and joined the Alan C. Hill circus. In 1986/87 he starred as a ukulele-playing psycho clown in the cult B-grade horror film Blood Harvest (1987), directed by Bill Rebane.

In 1988, Tiny Tim released a country single for the Nashville-based NLT records entitled "Leave Me Satisfied". He spent time promoting it to country radio and fans that year, and made a visit to Nashville during Country Music Fan Fair, now called the CMA Music Festival. He actually recorded an entire country album in 1989 but this has to date never been officially released. Additionally he recorded a follow-up country album which seemingly true-to-form has never yet been released.

In the 1990s, as interest in Tiny Tim picked up, he released several albums, including Rock (1993), I Love Me (1993) and Girl (1996). He also recorded his last music video with New York's punk rock band, Ism.[6] The recording was a remake of "Tiptoe Through The Tulips" but was never officially released. He made several appearances on The Howard Stern Radio Show, made a cameo in Stern's film, Private Parts (1997), and occasionally appeared on other television programs. Tim also worked with a number of other artists, including Brave Combo (his backing band on Girl) as well as Sydney based rock band His Majesty with whom he recorded the albums Tiny Tim Rock and Tiny Tim's Christmas Album, both of which were produced by Sydney artist and writer Martin Sharp. He was also championed by, and collaborated with, the bands Current 93 and Nurse With Wound.

Toward the end of his life, Tiny Tim became a fixture at "Spooky World", an annual Halloween-themed exposition in Shakopee, MN , just outside Minneapolis He also appeared in tongue-in-cheek television commercials for area merchants. He befriended a young musician and neighbor, Conductor Jack Norton, acted as his mentor, and taught Norton how to play the ukulele.

In September 1996, he suffered a heart attack just as he began singing at a ukulele festival at the Montague Grange Hall (often confused in accounts of the incident with the nearby Montague Bookmill, at which he had recorded a video interview earlier that same day) in Montague, Massachusetts. He was hospitalized at the nearby Franklin County Medical Center in Greenfield for approximately three weeks, before being discharged with strong admonitions to no longer perform, due to his frail health and the difficulty of proper dietary needs for his diabetic and heart conditions. While playing at a Gala Benefit at The Woman's Club of Minneapolis on November 30, 1996, he suffered another heart attack on stage. He was led out by his third wife, Susan Marie Gardner ("Miss Sue", whom he had married on August 18, 1995) who asked if he was okay. He responded, "No, I'm not."

He collapsed shortly thereafter and was rushed to Hennepin County Medical Center, where he died after doctors tried to resuscitate him for an hour and fifteen minutes. He is interred in the mausoleum of Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis.

In 2000, the Rhino Handmade label released the posthumous Tiny Tim Live at the Royal Albert Hall. This recording had been made in 1968 at the height of Tiny Tim's fame, but Reprise Records never released it. The limited-numbered CD sold out and was reissued on Rhino's regular label. In 2009, the Collector's Choice label released I've Never Seen A Straight Banana, recorded in 1976. The album was a collection of rare recordings of some of Tiny Tim's favorite songs from 1878 through the 1930s, along with some of his own compositions.

Tiptoe through the window By the window, that is where I'll be Come tiptoe through the tulips with me

Oh, tiptoe from the garden By the garden of the willow tree And tiptoe through the tulips with me

Knee deep in flowers we'll stray We'll keep the showers away And if I kiss you in the garden, in the moonlight Will you pardon me? And tiptoe through the tulips with me

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• Introduction to The Great Movies III

You'd be surprised how many people have told me they're working their way through my books of Great Movies one film at a time. That's not to say the books are definitive; I loathe "best of" lists, which are not the best of anything except what someone came up with that day. I look at a list of the "100 greatest horror films," or musicals, or whatever, and I want to ask the maker, "but how do you know?" There are great films in my books, and films that are not so great, but there's no film here I didn't respond strongly to. That's the reassurance I can offer.

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50 greatest music films ever

Barbie as Karen in "Superstar."

Maybe there should just be a category in the right column for "Lists." Here's one from the film and music writers of Time Out London (which will always be the only real Time Out) called "50 greatest music films ever except for 'Spinal Tap'." No, I added those last four words, but the editors explain in their intro that "we’re celebrating great films – dramas and documentaries – about real musicians."

As if David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls never actually toured in the flesh? As if they aren't at least as "real" as, say, KISS or the Monkees or Hootie and the Blowfish, which contained no one named "Hootie" and nobody named "Blowfish." (BTW, the Ramones weren't really "Ramones"! Those were just stage names!) Oh, and Gus Van Sant's "Last Days" was about a guy named "Blake." Michael Pitt looked like Kurt Cobain, but it was only about Cobain in the sense that "Velvet Goldmine" is about Bowie or Iggy Pop or Lou Reed, or "Grace of My Heart" is about Carole King or Brian Wilson or any of the Brill Building writers (even though a lot of them wrote songs for the movie). Then there's "'Round Midnight" (which is on the list) with Dexter Gordon playing Dale Turner, a fictionalized version of Bud Powell...

View image Downey, CA: "What happened?" Third shot of "Superstar." Compare to second shot of "Zodiac" -- establishing a neighborhood, from a car on the street...

So, OK: No "Spinal Tap." But no "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco"? No "You're Gonna Miss Me: A Film About Roky Erickson"? No "Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser"? No "X: The Unheard Music"? No "The Girl Can't Help It"? No "Wattstax"? No "Woodstock"? No "The Kids are Alright"? No "No Direction Home"? No "The Buddy Holly Story"? No "Theramin: An Electronic Odyssey"? No "Heart of Gold"? No "The Filth and the Fury"? No "We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen"? No "La Bamba"? No "Kurt and Courtney"? See how much fun this is? Really, though, I'd substitute any of these for several of the selections on the list.

But, OK, many of my favorites are included: "24 Hour Party People," "Jazz on a Summer's Day," "Stop Making Sense," "DIG!," "Art Pepper: Notes from a Jazz Survivor" (his autobiography, "Straight Life," is the best account of addiction I've ever read), "The Decline of Western Civilization Parts I and II (The Metal Years)"...

View image No one here gets out alive.

At the toppermost of the poppermost: Todd Haynes' 1987 "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story," a 45-minute lo-fi "dramatization" that was never officially released because of music clearance troubles (that is, brother Richard wouldn't let Haynes use any Carpenters tunes). Still, after 20 years as an "underground" item, it's available from Google Video here. It's something you really need to see: a documentary-style biopic of Karen Carpenter performed mostly by Barbie dolls. Yes, its a parody (so are most musical biopics, including others on the list -- see the upcoming Jake Kasdan/Judd Apatow picture, "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" for more on that score). But it presents straightforward facts about anorexia that could have been excerpted from any PBS or 16mm educational doc of the period. It's also a formula showbiz melodrama. But for all the layers of artifice, like Haynes' Sirk opera "Far from Heaven," it becomes strangely, hypnotically -- and genuinely -- moving. Prepare yourself for Haynes' Dylan fantasia, "I'm Not There," by watching "Superstar" and "Velvet Goldmine."

ASIDE: From an interview with Haynes at The Reeler: I actually think that it's easier for people who know less about Dylan to go with it, if they're up for something different. Clearly, that's the first thing: Whether you know Dylan or not, you have to surrender to the movie to have a good time at all and get anything out of it. If you have a lot of Dylanisms in your head, it's kind of distracting, because you're sitting there with a whole second movie going on. You're annotating it as you go. It's kind of nice to sit back and let it take you. I think people get it: Even if you don't know which are the true facts and which are the fictional things, and when we're playing with fact and fiction, from the tone of it, you know that it's playing around with real life. In a way, that's what biopics always do. They just don't tell you that they're doing it, and they don't make it part of the fun. You have to follow the Johnny Cash story and just sort of think, "This is what really happened." Of course, you know it's being dramatized, but you're not in on the joke. You're not in on the game of that. In this movie, at least, you get tipped off to it.Oh yeah, but about that list. Here it is. Make of it what you will:

1 "Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story" (Todd Haynes, 1987) 2 "Don't Look Back" (DA Pennebaker, 1967) -- Bob Dylan 3 "Gimme Shelter" (David Maysles/Albert Maysles/Charlotte Zwerin, 1970) --Rolling Stones 4 "24 Hour Party People" (Michael Winterbottom, 2002) -- Manchester scene 5 "Topsy-Turvy" (Mike Leigh, 1999) -- Gilbert and Sullivan 6 "Monterey Pop" (DA Pennebaker, 1968) -- concert 7 "Be Here to Love Me" (Margaret Brown, 2004) -- Townes Van Zandt 8 "Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould" (Francois Girard, 1993) -- Glenn Gould 9 "Cocksucker Blues" (Robert Frank, 1972) -- Rolling Stones 10 "Bird" (Clint Eastwood, 1988) -- Charlie Parker 11 "The Last Waltz" (Martin Scorsese, 1978) -- The Band & Friends farewell concert 12 "Rude Boy" (Jack Hazan, David Mingay, 1980) -- The Clash 13 "Scott Walker: 30 Century Man" (Stephen Kijak, 2006) -- Scott Walker 14 "Bound for Glory" (Hal Ashby, 1976) -- Woody Guthrie 15 "The Decline of Western Civilization Parts I & II" (Penelope Spheeris, 1981, 1988) -- LA punk; '80s metal & hair bands 16 "The Devil and Daniel Johnston" (Jeff Feuerzeig, 2005) -- Daniel Johnston 17 "Sweet Dreams" (Karel Reisz, 1982) -- Patsy Cline 18 "Art Pepper: Notes from a Jazz Survivor" (Don McGlynn, 1982) -- Art Pepper 19 "Elgar" (Ken Russell, 1962) -- Edward Elgar 20 "Rust Never Sleeps" (Neil Young, 1979) -- Neil Young 21 "The Future is Unwritten" (Julien Temple, 2006) -- Joe Strummer 22 "DiG!" (Ondi Timoner, 2004) -- Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dandy Warhols 23 "Some Kind Of Monster" (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 2004) -- Metallica 24 "A Hard Day's Night" (Richard Lester, 1964) -- The Beatles 25 "Jimi Hendrix" (Joe Boyd, 1973) -- Jimi Hendrix(more)

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TIFF 2007: Robert Zimmerman Bob Dylan Revisited

View image Todd on Bob: Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin), as one incarnation -- a name-dropping bluesman in 1959 (with tales of Blind Willie McTell and Gorgeous George) who seems to think he's still in the Great Depression. Others include Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw), Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett), Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger), Jack Rawlins/Pastor John (Christian Bale) and "Billy" McCarty (Richard Gere).

"I was born a poor black child..." -- Steve Martin, "The Jerk"

"God, I'm glad I'm not me." -- Bob Dylan, on reading an article about himself in 1965 (quoted in the press kit for Todd Haynes' movie, originally titled "I'm Not There: Suppositions on a Film Concerning Dylan")

Folk-turned-electric singer/songwriter Jude Quinn (looking for all the world like Bob Dylan circa 1965 and played by Cate Blanchett) is riding in a big black limousine when, unaccountably, Allen Ginsburg (David Cross) appears on a golf cart in the rear window, smiling and waving with his frizzy hair blowin' in the wind. Ginsburg pulls up alongside the limo, Quinn rolls down the window, and they travel along parallel trajectories (past a cemetary) while having a brief exchange about an interview Ginsburg had done with a reporter in which the Beat poet was asked about Quinn's musical motives as if all Voices of Their Generation were pretty much one and the same. "They asked you that?!?" Quinn laughs.

View image Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw) in "I'm Not There" in "Don't Look Back" in "Subterranean Homesick Blues" in black and white.

That's a little taste of what it's like to watch Haynes' "I'm Not There," which is not only a kaleidoscopic view of events in the life, music and myth of Bob Dylan, but a critical deconstruction and synthesis of Dylan's various media representations -- from D.A. Pennebaker's legendary "Don't Look Back" to Dylan's own "Reynaldo and Clara" to Martin Scorsese's "No Direction Home: Bob Dylan." In some ways, it's the natural companion to "Don't Look Back" (actually re-enacting some scenes and interviews from that documentary in a new context), the movie Dylan probably wanted "Reynaldo and Clara" to be, and in other ways the movie Haynes wanted "Velvet Goldmine" to be. It actually goes back inside these films (Peckinpah's "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid," Richard Lester's "A Hard Day's Night" and "Petulia," Godard's "Masculin-Feminin," Fellini's "8 1/2" and others, too) -- and the old stories, the album covers, the liner notes, the newspaper and magazine clippings -- and recapitulates and reinterprets them in new contexts. I was thrilled by it, moved, dazzled, entranced. I love this movie.

View image Christian Bale (this guy can do anything) as Jack Rawlins.

The earlier film was about the glam era, freely mixing bits and pieces of fact and lore from the lives of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Brian Ferry and others (don't forget Oscar Wilde, who is deposited on earth by a UFO), and that's the kind of thing Haynes is up to here -- mostly with Dylan, but also with "real" and fictional characters around him. Some are identified by their familiar names (like John, Paul, George, and Ringo), some are thinly disguised (or undisguised) stand-ins. And this time he has the music rights, too. Just about the only thing missing is Donovan.

View image Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger).

Do you have to know about, or have lived through, the life and legend of Dylan to "get" this film? I don't know. I don't think so, but you'll certainly understand it on more levels if you've seen the Pennebaker, Dylan & Sam Shepard, Scorsese, Peckinpah, Godard, Lester, Fellini, et al. movies mentioned above. And if you know at least some of the music, and something about the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene and the war in Vietnam and the Buddhist monks who immolated themselves in protest and Joan Baez (and "Diamonds and Rust") and Sara and Swinging London and the Beats and Albert Goldman and The Hawks (and The Band) and The Basement Tapes and the Rolling Thunder Revue and "Tarantula" and Columbia Records and the motorcycle accident and the "electric" debut at the Newport Folk Festival and the so-called "Royal Albert Hall" concert in 1966 ("Judas!" "I don't believe you...") which actually took place at Manchester's Free Trade Hall (just another part of the legend) and Elvis Presley movies and James Dean movies Marlon Brando movies and Montgomery Clift movies... and so on.

View image Jude Quinn (Almighty).

I was a senior in high school when "Blood on the Tracks" came out and utterly changed my life (not the first time Dylan would do that for me), so although most of '60s Dylan predated my awareness of his actual records (we sang "Blowin' in the Wind" in my fourth grade homeroom, with Miss Kwinsland on ukelele, but I didn't know it was a Dylan song; we sang Woody Guthrie tunes, too), I absorbed a lot of this stuff simply by being a young American with an interest in politics and art and pop culture. But do you have to be familiar with all of this in order to appreciate "I'm Not There"? I don't think so. (But consider this: Bruce Greenwood plays Quinn's BBC interviewer/adversary, Mr. Jones, and Pat Garrett.)

A Dylanophile friend was asked if he was in "Dylan heaven" after the film. He thought for a moment and then said, "Yeah. I guess I am." I don't know about that. But I'm at least knockin' on heaven's door.

That's all I'll say for now, because I'm salivating over the prospect of seeing and writing about this movie in more detail later....

Oh, just one other thing. I've talked to five or six people who, unprovoked, described exactly the same response to different moments in the movie. But they all involved having the experience of consciously thinking: "I am in love with Cate Blanchett."

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