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"Got the Guts to Budge" -- The case for "Iceman" as one of Bruce's most powerful, beautiful songs ever


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I first heard it around '85 when it appeared on the 'Son /you May Kiss the Bride' bootleg. Always loved it. Prefer it to some of the other more popular Darkness outtakes such as the Promise

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2 hours ago, 65pacecar said:

I was at the Charlotte show in 2014 when he opened with it. Great song and a perfect performance. 

Me, too. Also the Upper Darby show where he pulled it out.

I feel blessed to have heard it twice.

 

 

 

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One joy of the Lake is to revisit numbers/performances after reading great reviews like above.  Just watched two of the performances on YouTube, including Paris 2016.  You could almost script a romantic/horror movie from the song:  shy hero from the wrong side of the tracks turns into merciless Iceman after stentorian preacher cruelly and continually rejects him as suitable suitor for his daughter;  implacable  Iceman Bruce lays waste with his splintering shards to all the hypocrites in the small town; despite the angry angels of Satan at the Gates of Eden helping the baddies .

Eat your heart out, "Footloose" which came later.

 

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7 hours ago, Promise61 said:

The most remarkable thing about it is the fact that when they were compiling Tracks, Bruce didn't even remember recording the song.  Someone had to remind him about it.

Neat, didn't know this.  Can you seriously imagine though how many artists would have recorded so many songs that they don't recall them all?

Not likely very many.  

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Great post! I remember I had Tracks on my iPod for years before one time Iceman came up on shuffle - I was blow away immediately and it’s been a firm favourite ever since. 

I remember during 2016 I booked to go travelling with some school friends, told my dad the dates and everything and got it booked - turns out he’d booked the two of us to go to France to see the River tour and he didn’t have the heart to tell me as he knew that would mean missing out on a great life experience - screw two weeks travelling, I’d have taken a full River performance and a show opening with Iceman any day of the week! Dad said it was one of the best concerts he’s ever attended and I was sat in Eastern Europe in the pouring rain refreshing setlist fm (pre-Greasy Lake day’s for me I think) with my jaw on the floor!

I didn’t realise for ages that it was recorded in like ‘77 - I was sure it was a 90s job, for some reason. 

Also, songs like Iceman get me super excited for Tracks 2, if such a thing were to exist (I can’t comprehend how excited a lot of people on this board must have been when that first box was first released - it really is perfect to me)

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19 hours ago, 65pacecar said:

I was at the Charlotte show in 2014 when he opened with it. Great song and a perfect performance. 

Me too.... I won the pit lottery that night and when Bruce came out and opened with Iceman it blew our minds....Awesome night.

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22 hours ago, Skin2Skin said:

Me, too. Also the Upper Darby show where he pulled it out.

I feel blessed to have heard it twice.

 

 

 

So you have seen it both solo and full band.

Me too, since I was also at both of those shows.  I wonder how many other people can say that?

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On 8/11/2018 at 11:36 AM, CrushOnOutlawPete said:

"It don't take no nerve

When you've got nothing to guard

I've got tombstones in my eyes

And I'm running real hard..."

 

Been a while since I've posted on here! How are you guys? Everybody still alive out there?

 

I want to take a moment to look really hard and attentively at a lesser-known song to most people out in the world... one that's certainly far more well-known and respected amongst the folks of Greasy Lake, of course -- but that I still think could get a little more love than it gets. I'm talking, as the title indicates, about ICEMAN. An obscure little piano ballad the man himself forgot he even wrote, let alone recorded, and that's had only three live performances since its emergence. It's a pretty enough song, sure -- but could such a thing possibly have a claim as "one of the most beautiful", one of the best songs Bruce ever gave us? I say it does. I would give this song a relatively elusive 10/10 rating, even grading on a curve and comparing it to other Springsteen songs.

 

The song begins simply: with a soft, yet immediately alluring -- subdued, yet still faintly dynamic -- piano performance... it's restrained, unassuming, and above all else soft... yet still engaging, and in a way that suggests some broader purpose. It feels like it's setting a stage for something bigger, something more profound and meaningful. There's a reason that, on the ultra-rare occasions when Bruce does play this song, it's usually to open a show. It's as though the song is opening a door -- gently, delicately -- and welcoming you in towards some greater truth. Like you're on the horizon of something grand.

 

It's simply beautiful. I was stunned the first time I heard "Iceman". Stunned, that such a song had escaped me in the years it took me to sit down and check out Tracks -- and this before I even got halfway through the song. The entire song feels as though it's cloaked in moonlight. That's the only way I can think to describe the magical sound of the piano.

("The beauty of God's fallen light", if you prefer.)

 

These simple, soft notes will serve as the clear backbone of the song, carrying throughout it without ever pausing or ceasing, until it ends as softly as it began. There are no changes between distinct movements as in "Jungleland", no epic solos as in "Kitty's Back" or "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)"; Iceman is a far more reigned-in song... yet within that simplicity, the song still builds upon itself significantly, gathering up more musical and emotional weight as it goes along, as more percussion is gradually introduced. It never quite becomes climactic... but it still becomes something clearly, visibly Bigger later on than it was initially. Within its own subtle, subdued confines, the song still develops noticeably, to where the "Better than (X)" portion still feels, ultimately, like a musical payoff.

 

Integral to this development, and something I have always loved about the song, is the vocals. With so few elements at play here, the song's progression relies heavily upon Bruce's vocal delivery - which changes markedly as the song plays through. The vocals start off in the typical high-pitched, almost nasally tone one might expect to find more on songs he recorded even earlier than Iceman; there's something of Greetings in the tone he starts off with here. One can easily imagine the start of this song placed up against "For You", for example. Now, the style in which he's singing is immediately, clearly more developed, more emotional, and more mature than nearly anything off that first album -- but the sheer timbre of his voice at the outset isn't dissimilar to those earliest songs. And even in that, there's something that feels honest and unrestrained about those relatively less polished vocals. They carry a certain... directness. Yet throughout the song, the vocals get deeper: deeper in pitch, sure, but also in a deeper, heavier emotional weight and in a deeper physical power. It sounds as though his vocals mature within the course of the song itself. As he sings, you can gradually detect him reaching down harder within himself and pulling out some deeper, more profound emotion -- and you can catch him seemingly reaching down harder physically, gathering more air from deeper within him, giving the singing a greater sheer physical impact.

 

By the end, he's singing in the big, confident, almost crooning sort of delivery that he taps into very rarely. He's always capable of it, but to really hear it frequently, you have to fast-forward to about three decades after this song's recording, til the advent of songs like "Girls in Their Summer Clothes", "Kingdom of Days", "This Life", "Queen of the Supermarket", and "Breakaway". By its conclusion, this song maybe isn't quite at home with those later releases, he still sounds distinctly young here, he sounds like mid-late 70s Bruce... but it's very close. And so his vocals aid the development of the song immensely - not only making it more dynamic but also adding a greater emotional impact. The shift from relatively higher-pitched vocals at the song's outset into an almost "Girls in Their Summer Clothes"-esque emotional power by the end has always given me reasons to come back to this song...yet the whole time, it's rooted in that iconic sound of the young man who sang "Born to Run" and "Jungleland".

 

All of this has compelled me to listen to the song over and over (and over, and over...) again. What further compels me to come here and write about it tonight (can one ever truly listen to "Iceman" during the day?), however, is the lyrics. The poetry of this song would be fully at home on nearly any Springsteen album -- in terms of its themes and its quality. It's a song about feeling socially isolated -- feeling adrift amidst and disconnected from society's norms and expectations ("Sleepy town ain't got the guts to budge [...] I don't want no piece of this mechanical world"), and feeling cast aside and looked down upon due to not fitting that mold ("Baby, this emptiness has already been judged [...] Once they tried to steal my heart, beat it right out of my head") ... yet still, despite that disconnect -- within that disconnect, even -- finding the willpower, the internal strength, the fire to continue hunting for a position and a purpose. It's a song about being on the outside of society's roles, rules, and structures, feeling lost or disoriented as a result... yet still, internally, gathering up the strength to stand in opposition to those same entities and fight to find a reason to live.

A song about being isolated yet still, within that isolation, maintaining the firm self-respect to strive for self-actualization.

 

...Is there any message more thoroughly "Springsteen" - especially in the BTR/Darkness era? This song may be off the beaten path, but thematically, it belongs up next to all the classics. Even the idea of some vague, invisible, yet imposing and identifiable "they" is found everywhere from Something in the Night ("Soon as you got something, they send...") to Jackson Cage ("The way that they can turn a man...") to None But the Brave ("Who's the man who thinks he can decide...?").

 

But in the face of this man's ostracism -- his internal disconnect from the expectations of the "mechanical" world around him, and the way he's shunned as a result -- he possesses an unrelenting strength. As the song opens, contrasting himself with the town, he makes a syntactically simple, even conversational, assertion that's all the more inspiring for its sheer simplicity (and one that, of course, would go on to become a classic in "Badlands") -- a simple statement of his sheer human desire for independence, opportunity, and self-discovery: "I want to go out tonight. I want to find out what I got."  Try as that ever-ominous "they" might, they're unable to break his spirit; he isn't just open-minded, he's enthused to the point of fiery adrenaline: "Got my arms open wide, and my blood is running hot."

 

Best highlighting how this song's message is one of not just ambition, but ambition particularly within the confines of fear and adversity, are its points of juxtaposition: "I got tombstones in my eyes, and I'm running real hard." With, at this time, nowhere distinct to go and nothing in particular to do, our narrator fears for his future -- he has an acute awareness of his own impending death, or perhaps even worse, the possibility that he'll give in and lose his soul to the mechanical "they"... yet this image doesn't make him collapse inward upon himself in fear. It spurs him to action. It compels him to not lay and wait to waste away, but to run. "I am the Iceman, fighting for the right to live." The title of "The Iceman" is harsh enough, as I'll address momentarily... but even aside from that, this man's goal is hardly grand or unfair. He's asking for no more than freedom from the judgment of those around and above him - for the right to live. Yet within this desperation, he's still fighting. He isn't laying passively, sinking in a depression because he feels he's been deprived of an honest life; he's fighting for that right.

 

But it's still, certainly, a song initially rooted in desperation -- and so this song, as one may expect from its soft tone, doesn't shy away from displaying the effects that prolonged desperation has had. He describes himself as "born dead", as "the Iceman" -- dark lines that call to mind Bruce's lifelong struggle with depression, and that certainly paint a picture of a man who feels he's been warped by his inability to fit in, who feels almost cold and hollow... but only almost -- for his self-designation as the "Iceman" is juxtaposed with his description of himself as "fighting", and the phrase "born dead" comes only as a description of resilience against having the spirit beaten out of him. Society may strive to reduce him to the cold, empty role of "The Iceman", and they may be on their way to succeeding... but his blood's still running hot. It's a song of intermingled positivity and negativity... but one that always settles ultimately on the positive, the hope.

 

An interesting, highly impressive element to this song is its near-unseen love story -- in the midst of all of this, there's also a narrative about a relationship, for the song contains two characters: the Iceman and his lover. "You're a strange part of me, you're a preacher's girl / And I don't want no piece of this mechanical world." She's introduced to us as the daughter of a preacher -- directly contrasted with the narrator and his distaste for the mechanical (and to a young social outcast, what could come across as more mechanically oppressive than organized religion?) Through the sheer addition of the word "strange", Bruce -- deft and efficient as ever -- makes evident that their relationship appears to be at odds with either of their respective backgrounds and personalities. That one word speaks volumes... yet still, she's a part of him. So there's this implication, this unseen but believable suggestion, that while she's been raised within the church, she has the same doubts about society the titular, more openly rebellious Iceman does -- that she's something of a "Life On Mars?" figure who shares his reservations about the ruling "they", but who simply has them from within that group, rather than from the outside. Despite how little we see of them, how little direct context there is (perhaps, as the star-crossed lovers they are, they have little direct interaction to begin with?), we still get a clear, beautiful sense of two souls on the opposite sides of society who still share some degree of connection over their joint views of it. All through that one beautiful, almost endearingly vulnerable, seemingly contradictory, at once doubting and confident, and above all else romantic statement of "You're a strange part of me."

 

Through some of the most beautiful, impassioned, dramatic imagery Bruce has ever conjured up, we see just how deep the Iceman's love for her burns, with the grand proclamation of "We'll take the midnight road / Right to the Devil's door / And even the white angels of Eden / With their flaming swords / Won't be able to stop us from hitting town in this dirty old Ford." Has any character in any Springsteen song made a promise so impassioned? Has there ever been a more romantic moment in a Springsteen song period, save for Puerto Rican Jane's simple, compassionate "Johnny, don't cry..."? And there's so much to unpack even here... note that the Iceman promises to be on the side of the Devil, against the Angels - hardly the pitch most people would make... but as he sings later on, "Better than the glory roads of Heaven / Better off riding Hellbound in the dirt." Having seen what organized religion in this particular small town, what the sanctimony of that "they", can do... the Iceman would rather be on the side of the outcasts. He'd rather head straight to Hell, and see what it offers, than be a part of the Heaven that's spurned him. Of course, there could be something tongue-in-cheek in these lines, too -- the "white angels of Eden" could be a sarcastic, exaggerated commentary on how the sanctimonious, mechanical "they" see themselves; certainly the imagery of "flaming swords" appears to draw a contrast; the peaceful paradise of Eden wasn't known for blazing swordfights, and flames are more the Devil's work. So perhaps that line is sheer mockery -- and the statement of "the Devil's door" is a similarly sarcastic way of stating that, wherever he goes, people will say he's heading down the path of Satan. Or, considering that he later does express a preference for "riding Hellbound", it could simply be a shamelessly defeatist "Alright, you think I'm going to Hell? I might as well go of my own volition."

 

And of course, the description of his car as "dirty" and "old" seems purposeful -- whether it's a detail meant to highlight that he's too far on the outs to afford a better one... or a more confident, defiant statement of "You may say my car's dirty, you may say my car's old... but whatever you think of it, it still works. Just as, whatever you think of me, I'm still alive."

 

But all this passion is for naught -- we get the heartbreaking delivery of "My baby was a lover, and the world just blew her away". Soon after we hear his passionate proclamation, he says she was a lover -- past-tense -- and the broad, absolute desolation of "the world just blew her away"... It leaves much room for interpretation as to what exactly came between them. Whether they simply grew apart as she succumbed to the influence of the forces surrounding her, whether she met a more grisly and violent end... or both.

 

We come now to the closing lines of the song, and its ultimate thesis statement. Stepping back from the heartbreak narrative, we remember that this song is, at its core, a song about an ostensibly cold, isolated man's relentless, fiery hunt for a reason to live. And at its conclusion, this song boldly suggests that maybe, just maybe... there's little greater treasure than the hunt itself. Than the sheer, truly unfettered individuality that can only come from being isolated enough to have that individuality. That whatever peace you find in life eventually... there's still something beautiful, something liberating, about being on the hunt. ("Baby, better off is the Search.")

 

It suggests that maybe, for all its difficulty, there's nothing more purely exciting - even if only in a romanticized sense - than being kind of lost and adrift -- that that isolation, and therefore individuality, carries with it an inherent sense of total freedom. Which isn't to say that being adrift is the peak of human existence (the Iceman wants, ultimately, to simply live)... but rather that when you find yourself in those periods, rather than fear it, you can find some beauty within the freedom it offers.

 

Indeed, the song puts forth that the more lost you feel, the less structure and connection you have... the less reason you have to even be afraid. It puts this forth with a simple, yet profound, statement: "It don't take no nerve when you've got nothing to guard." If you're without a purpose, without a place, without connection... you have, quite literally, nothing to lose. And if you have nothing to lose, well, what do you have to fear?

 

What reason do you have to not go out tonight, and try to find out what you've got?

 

And then, the song's ultimate statement -- after the simple yet profound encouragement that if you feel you have nothing, you have nothing to fear -- is that you have to take that step. THAT is the ultimate conclusion of "Iceman". That, when you find yourself feeling as lost and confused as this man, you must act.

 

"I say, better than the glory roads of Heaven,

Better off riding Hellbound in the dirt.

Better than the bright lines of the freeway

Better than the shadows of your daddy's church

Better than the waiting

Baby, better off is the Search."

 

Lines 1 and 2, again, tie to the specific rebellion and background of the narrator -- that rather than seek someone else's idea of Heavenly happiness, you should roll around in the dirt if it feels right, however much they turn up their noses at you, and head straight to their image of Hell, if it's where your heart takes you. Line 4, with this, says that searching for something different is preferable to living in a hellish, shadowy, mechanical world where you know you don't belong... but we already knew that.

 

Lines 3 and 5, then, are what make clear that simply knowing that isn't enough. That it isn't enough to know what you don't want -- you have to go out and look for what you do want, too. They contrast The Search for meaning and purpose not simply with the oppressive church the protagonist clearly wishes to avoid... but also with sitting and simply waiting for a better life to fall into his lap, and with "the bright lines of the freeway". (The image of "counting white lines" would show up thirty years later[!] as a general symbol for listless monotony, so I assume he had a similar idea in mind here -- that "white lines on the freeway" means just driving aimlessly, with nothing to respond to or focus on than the repetitive, meaningless sensation of seeing white lines.)

 

In other words - when the protagonist figures out that he doesn't want a part of the mechanical world, that's half the battle... but it's still on him to go and Search for what he does want, rather than just wait around for it to come to him or drive aimlessly on the highway with no direction or goal at all. So the ultimate conclusion of the song is that if you're lost, if you lack direction... that's all the more reason why you shouldn't be afraid to go out and take a risk, and it's better that you take that risk than wait or do nothing.

 

~

 

"Iceman" is a simple, yet simply beautiful, ballad of isolation, loneliness, desperation, fear, and heartbreak -- but of hope and resilience through those things. A song of love, rebellion, uncertainty, depression, the hunt for an identity, the hope for self-actualization, and an unyielding commitment to one's self. Within just three minutes, it - built primarily on a simple yet lovely piano sequence, and carried forth by a uniquely strong vocal performance - builds a character, crafts a miniature world, tells a story of love and heartbreak, speaks to the outsider, provides hope and inspiration, all through tackling all of Springsteen's finest, most beloved themes and remaining firmly within his wheelhouse. It does this through strong juxtaposition ("The Iceman, fighting"; "born dead"; "ice" and "blood running hot"), assertive and profound yet easily memorable mantras ("It don't take no nerve when you've got nothing to guard", "I want to go out tonight, I want to find out what I've got"), striking or even chilling imagery ("tombstones in my eyes", "the world just blew her away", "beat it right out of my head"), a brilliant mixture of more conversational, layman's lines ("this dirty old Ford", "Sleepy town ain't got the guts to budge") and more abstract or colorful poetic lyrics ("the white angels of Eden with their flaming swords")... and more.

 

(And, come on, "Even the white angels of Eden with their flaming swords won't be able to stop us from hitting down in this dirty old Ford"? Tell me that isn't the most Springsteen fucking thing you've ever heard. That's the most Springsteen thing Springsteen's ever said. Yet it works!)

 

Through all of this, it's a simply stunning song, an amazing poem. That he wrote it at all is amazing, and it would stand as one of his most impressive works no matter what; that he seemingly did so so casually and effortlessly that he somehow managed to forgot it even existed is nothing short of otherworldly -- as well as adding a sort of ultra-"hidden gem" factor to the song to make its spectacular legacy even more the stuff of legend. It isn't just one of Springsteen's best outtakes; it's one of Springsteen's richest and finest works of all.

Brilliant analysis!

On another level, perhaps it is also possible to read the song as autobiographic commentary?

Before the conflict with Apple, Springsteen was a preacher for his audience. What he preached was to run from the city that do not budge: Eden. But during the conflict, Apple stole Springsteen's creative freedom, and so Springsteen found himself a resident of the city he just preached the escape from. This is a city of emptiness, of no budge, and he had already clearly judged it on Born to Run. But Eden is also the city of an audience that he could not be budged (no new record). But he now knows that he can not really run away from this city of emptiness. He thought he had left it via Born to run, but found that in fact it was still in it. But now he has eaten the apple. He wants to take back the right to his creativity. He has lost everything, and has consequently everything to win. He therefore knows no worries. Now he turns the Ford's cooler, not toward Thunder Road, but toward the City. Now he takes the battle with Apple. He will budge Eden. An now he finds, that not by running away, but by fighting for his rights, he really have left Eden, and is heading back to Eden to regain his freedom. He does not care about the angels who, with burning swords, wants to stop him from entering . He is like ice, hot and cold at once. He is passionate and calculating. He is the Iceman who fights for the right to live in accordance with his essence, not Edens. And he says to his future Audience: Better than sitting in the shadow of my former church, better than waiting for a new messiah, is to search.

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2 hours ago, Floom2 said:

I always thought the Iceman was a complete failure, which is the obvious reason it wasn't released. Overwrought lyrics, boring melody...

 

There's a reason these songs weren't released.  They weren't good.

I doubt there is a piece of art thats IS good. A stone IS, GOOD is a relation. If we read

CruchOnOutlawPete´s text, we do not doubt that The Iceman is a good work of art for

him, and perhaps we even feel, that is has done him a lot of good. I had never reflected

on the text before, and his analysis was interesting for me, and it started my own reflect-

ion, so this his analysis was good for me. If a piece of art is interesting is more important

to me, than if it is "good".

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On 8/11/2018 at 11:23 PM, Kay said:

Neat, didn't know this.  Can you seriously imagine though how many artists would have recorded so many songs that they don't recall them all?

Not likely very many.  

I think if making music is someone's daily bread and butter then not remembering every last thing written and  recorded might not be that unusual. It was probably just another day in work for Springsteen. Who remembers every single day at work?

I dabble in music myself and have on more than one  occasion have come across stuff on my  digital recorder that I'd simply forgotten about, or left unfinished. 

 

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2 hours ago, Floom2 said:

I always thought the Iceman was a complete failure, which is the obvious reason it wasn't released. Overwrought lyrics, boring melody...

 

There's a reason these songs weren't released.  They weren't good.

I like it - as mentioned above - but it does sound to me like an early draft of the ideas that would develop into Darkness. It even shares a line with Badlands.  

Not so much a failure as a stage in a creative process

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1 hour ago, Demos said:

I like it - as mentioned above - but it does sound to me like an early draft of the ideas that would develop into Darkness. It even shares a line with Badlands.  

Not so much a failure as a stage in a creative process

Ok, I agree.   I had that vinyl boot with Preachers Daughter and Iceman a long time ago.  Iceman SOUNDS like the kind of song I should love: it’s mystetious and atmospheric and dangerous and deals with important things, and yet after many listens I came to the conclusion that the song ultimately failed, and thus was not released.  Clearly Springsteen was trying to work the preachers daughter into one of his records, but was never able to find the right vehicle.  

Generally I think Bruce made all the right decisions regarding what to leave off his records.  I do think Be True would have fit on The River perfectly, but other than that he didn’t leave any off of any record that I think should have been on.  This doesn’t mean the  B sides weren’t great songs.  Many of them were.   I love Lucky Man but that song had no place on TOL.  

There probably IS.  a better collection of songs made between ‘82 and ‘83 that would have made a more powerful record than BITUSA.   Add Murder inc and This Hard Land and get rid of Dancing in the Dark, for example.  But Bruce wanted to make BITUSA, and thus we got Dancing.  

Anyway...

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11 minutes ago, Floom2 said:

There probably IS.  a better collection of songs made between ‘82 and ‘83 that would have made a more powerful record than BITUSA.   Add Murder inc and This Hard Land and get rid of Dancing in the Dark, for example.  But Bruce wanted to make BITUSA, and thus we got Dancing.  

If we didn't get BITUSA in the form it is today, 80% of us wouldn't be here, IMHO! 

But a different way to look at it, he wouldn't be playing Broadway for over a year either. :P 

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