Stranger than Fiction, Larger Than Life: the Finn Brothers song-by-song discussion thread

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Lance LaSalle, Jan 21, 2019.

  1. Paul H

    Paul H Forum Resident

    Location:
    Nottingham, UK
    Before we delve into the music of the CH debut, I wonder if we might discuss the issue of whether the band was, in fact, a band. There was a discussion over on the Frenz Forum about this (started by my own assertion that I struggle to see Time on Earth as a band album - more about that later) and someone opined that, in fact, there was a view that the first CH album should be issued as a solo album. This is a very different interpretation of events than I have, and I wonder what others think.

    The differing views seem to stem from a different interpretation of Chris Burke's discussion of the making of the album, in which he notes that Neil apparently had doubts as to whether CH was really a band. My interpretation of that has always been that Neil didn't yet feel that the band had properly gelled as a unit, got to know each other musically and personally, and begun to feel like a band. This would have been because the group wasn't formed organically by a group of mates: it had been formed by Paul and Neil, with Nick (and, of course, Craig) being auditioned.

    Others, though, interpret Burke's reading more literally: that the first CH album was recorded with the intention of being a solo NF album and it was after recording that the decision was made to formally consider CH as a band. I can't see how this can be correct. given that NF and PH (and later, NS) were all signed as members of the band.
     
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  2. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle TEFL Lord Thread Starter

    Location:
    Vsetin
    The lyrics tell the story of an encounter that Neil had with a fan/stalker during the Party Boys tour, when he was suffering from "a chronic flu." The encounter did not go well and Neil broke down to a friend that night, revealing his anxiety about his family, future, money and career, not to mention the Party Boys tour which he abhorred. Shortly after, he started rehearsing the song with the Party Boys.

    The lyrics are all right. They seem a bit uncharacteristic of Neil.

    But it's the music that grabs me. First of all, the drums! Paul sounds great. He really sounds different to the drummer of the Mullanes demos and See Ya 'Round where I think he was really trying to do a Ricky Fataar imitation (and the ability to do so may have helped him to get hired.) This is much more in a sixties rock vein; very Ringo Starr, but more rockin'.

    I also think that the lyrics, while not the best Neil has written , are good enough to serve as vehicles for the tremendous sense of anxiety and even anger that the music imparts. Anxiety about various aspects of Neil's life is a major theme of the record, I believe, and his hoarse shouty singing is perfect way to convey this. There's a dynamic to this record I like, opening as it does with the shimmering army of acoustic guitars befor exploding into rock action.

    There's also something about the structure of this song that seems so much tighter than Neil's work with Split Enz; the way it runs into the bridge, which is a spot of psychedelic darkness that you don't expect from the opening folk-like first verse. It's beautifully written and arranged. All praise to Finn/Froom's arranging talent. Mitchell Froom's keyboard talents are subtle here, but his organ adds some uneasy discordant notes to this part.

    Unusually, though I like the live versions I've heard, I must say I prefer the studio version and consider it definitive. There's something about the big echoey Phil Spector-ish sound that is probably in part due to the fact that the basic tracks were recorded in the Capital Tower studios, that really works for me here. The Horns work for me much better than the rather chintzy sounding synth horns I usually hear in live versions.

    I give the song 4.5/5
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2019
  3. Paul H

    Paul H Forum Resident

    Location:
    Nottingham, UK
    On to the music: it's so much easier to say what one dislikes about a song than it is to sing it's praises. I'm afraid I might struggle to find much to say over the next few weeks! There's just so much to love in the CH catalogue, and Mean to Me is no exception. From the opening lines, it's clear we have something completely different to what came before; something with more energy, more excitement. The lyric always intrigued (until it's meaning was explained).

    Neil's music is littered with what I call Magic Musical Moments: one such moment arrives early doors, as the song builds up through the line "and her friend's committing suicide"up into "I could escape a plea from the heart". And the chord change on word "heart"... That middle eight as, again, it moves up into the chorus... And the vocalising on the outro... Neil nails this (although I do think he overdid the shouting on this slightly). 5/5
     
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  4. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle TEFL Lord Thread Starter

    Location:
    Vsetin
    Well, we haven't read the fine points of the contract, though I see your point. I suppose that Nick and Paul were relatively naive about the record industry (especially Nick); I suppose a record company like Capitol has ways of getting people to agree; mainly they can just pay them off or buy them out of the contract.

    As for me, I think this bit was included in the book partially because I think that the tension between being "democratic band" and "vehicle for Neil Finn's songs" was an underlying tension in the band that never ever went away.

    I think that's why Neil got rid of Hooper: Hooper was too strong. Neil wanted to dominate. Needed to. It sounds nasty, but I don't think it is. They are his songs. He wanted a band: he was friends with Paul especially and knew what he could bring to the live aspect. But he wanted a band his way. And I think this created problems.

    Moving on to the future, I also wonder if the obvious mark that Mark Hart made in the studio (not to mention the great sound Peter Jones and Seymour made together in the few songs they recorded) helped Neil to decide to break up the band in 1996. It was just becoming too democratic and "Split Enz-y."
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2019
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  5. Turk Thrust

    Turk Thrust Forum Resident

    Location:
    U.K.
    My ratings for this album will probably be a lot lower than many other people's...

    I think this is one of the best songs though and was a good choice as one of four included on the ubiquitous greatest hits comp. I don't think Neil was the strongest singer at this point, but his voice suits this track. The energy of the song is probably its best feature.

    The lyrics, on the other hand, kind of have a "these'll do" feeling about them.

    A nice way to open the album.

    3.5/5.
     
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  6. Turk Thrust

    Turk Thrust Forum Resident

    Location:
    U.K.
    The day has finally arrived. :)
     
  7. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle TEFL Lord Thread Starter

    Location:
    Vsetin
    I forgot the Spotify link for this song:
    Mean To Me
     
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  8. HitAndRun

    HitAndRun Forum Resident

    'Mean to Me' has always been my favourite song on the album. I just like the rocky feel, the melody, and the way that Neil sings it. I've been aware of the subject matter of the song that I can't evaluate the song imagining if I didn't know what they were about. Some of the lyrics may be a bit ...'interesting' - it's good to know the subject of the song didn't mind lines such as 'I was thinking of a padded cell' etc.

    It's a great way to start the album and the career of Crowded House. Best foot forward, and all that. While it was DDIO that established the band, in terms of the album, this is a nice potboiler.

    I'll ask everyone to excuse me a bit if I mention something that have made the song and album a bit special for me. In early 1987 I left New Zealand to go and be a foreign student in Japan. One of the first things that I did was buy my first stereo with a CD player and I went off to buy some CDs. And ran right into a massive language barrier as I hadn't learned any Japanese yet. All the albums were ordered according to Japanese alphabets and the spines of the CD had the band names and titles in Japanese. Furthermore, the names are spoken with Japanese pronunciations, so people didn't understand me when I said the names of bands. All my first few albums were Pink Floyd due to one person suddenly realising, as I said 'Pink Floyd' .... 'AAAHHH!!! PINKU FUROIDO'. And so I became able to buy Pink Floyd albums. Note: I was definitely not living in Tokyo.

    A shop gave me a list of the American top 40, which had band names in both English and Japanese. And there was the Crowded House album way up in the charts. Which was an eye-opener because I'd been distracted by my own things and while I realised that DDIO was a hit in the US, I didn't realise that the album was also doing so well. So, I bought the album and greatly enjoyed it. I didn't have a lot else to play at the time :)so got to know it very well. CH was a hit in Japan too, and while sitting in Kentucky Fried Chicken (this was before my diet changed considerably), DDIO would often play. That was what made me realise that CH were really getting somewhere.

    However, for me, 'Mean to Me' also has another direct connection. I was, and still am, a member of the Tongue in the Mail mailing list. At one point, we were posting Weird Al Yankovic style parody lyrics to the list. It was about that time that it was announced that Paul had left the band. People were a bit down, including myself, and I wrote another set of parody lyrics to the tune of 'Mean to Me' titled 'Paul is Free' all about Paul leaving the band and the band's future. It seemed to go down quite well on the list. And, that was that as far as I knew. However, one list member who lived in or around Portland, Oregon, liked the lyrics, and for a CH concert in that city wrote the lyrics on a paper dart. During the concert, he threw the dart onstage. Neil picked up the dart, and started reading, initially looking a bit confused, but then (I'm told - I wasn't there) started laughing. And, then the band did the song. When I read about this on the list I at first didn't know if it was for real as I'd been actively involved in some practical joking on the list, and it would have been a good practical joke on me to create a story of this happening. However, it slowly became clear that it wasn't a joke: the replacement lyrics were mentioned in a Portland newspaper and I managed to obtain a copy of that issue, which is one of my treasured possessions sitting upstairs.

    I read the Chris Bourke CH bio, and it really made me happy to see that that event was mentioned in the book. As CB said when I sent a message to thank him for the mention, he said (paraphrased) that those were happy times - about the list. It's sad that TiTM isn't what it was, and even FrenzForum isn't that active. It's really good that we have this thread so that there's somewhere we can discuss Finn music on a regular basis. Thanks to Lance for that.

    As in other discussions, my memory is far from perfect, and I can no longer remember who it was that sent the lyrics onstage. I'd really like to know to say thank you yet again! Given the reunion nature of this thread, maybe others will have better memories than me or maybe he'll be here.

    5/5

    It would have been 5/5 just for the song, even without the personal connections.
     
  9. StefanWq

    StefanWq Forum Resident

    Location:
    Vallentuna, Sweden
    I have "The Les Patterson Long Player" (only ever released on LP in Australia, I believe) and I think the four tracks featuring Tim on lead vocals (Everybody's Jumpy, Strange Weather, With You I'm Alive and You Saved The World) are worth discussing. The rest of the album is mainly incidental instrumental pieces, which Tim is credited as having co-written, but in my opinion they are not really songs. There are also a couple of comic tracks sung by Barry Humphries (who to the world is best known for his Dame Edna character) which feature Tim on backing vocals, but I think both of these tracks are a waste of everybody's time.

    "White Mischief" was released on both LP and CD as part of the "White Mischief" soundtrack as you have mentioned, and is worth discussing. Tim also appears (as a 1930s jazz band leader) for about two seconds in the movie itself.

    If this forum wants to dig even deeper into the very obscure stuff, there are also the 12" singles "Brainwaves" by the one-off group Brainwaves and "Everything To Live For" by another one-off group, The Rock Party. Both of these were released in 1986. Brainwaves was a project initiated by the Australian government to encourage teenagers to stay at school. The song "Brainwaves" has lyrics by James Cockington and music by Noel Crombie, and the Brainwaves group consisted of Noel Crombie, Phil Judd, Neil Finn, Paul Hester, Amanda Testro, Nigel Griggs, Eddie Rayner and Michael den Elzen. Neil and Paul are credited on the actual record label, but not on the front cover.
    Brainwaves (3) - Brainwaves

    The Rock Party was initiated by GET REAL, an Australian anti-drug organisation, and credits the following members on the back of the 12" single: Neil Finn (guitar, vocals), Tim Finn (piano, vocals), Nicholas Seymour (bass), Paul Hester (drums), Eddie Raynor [sic] (keyboards), plus members from Mental As Anything, GANGgajang, Models, Paul Kelly and his band, Deborah Conway, Spencer P. Jones, Jenny Morris and others. The track "Everything To Live For" is credited as being co-written by Neil, Tim, Nick and Paul. There is supposed to be both a video clip and a booklet with the 12" single though my copy of the record does not have this booklet. There are a few copies for sale at the Discogs web page which also has a link to the video clip. Also released on a 7" single.
    The Rock Party - Everything To Live For
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2019
  10. StefanWq

    StefanWq Forum Resident

    Location:
    Vallentuna, Sweden
    I have read that discussion on the Frenz Forum and I agree with you on both counts. I think Neil was pretty clear at the time Split Enz ended, and in subsequent interviews, that he wanted to form a new band, not become a solo artist. They did the Mullanes tour in Australia and Paul and Nick were always intended to be a part of the first album. Perhaps there were some suggestions from Capitol, when they said they didn't like the band name The Mullanes, that it should be more of a solo thing, and maybe Neil considered that possibility briefly.

    Having said that, some time after "Crowded House" had been released I was in a record store and by accident I caught a glimpse of a newsletter from the Swedish record company to record store, in which EMI (the distributor in Sweden) mentioned current and upcoming releases. It was dated April 1986 and there was one sentence which said "Former Split Enz member Neil Finn is currently in Los Angeles recording his first solo album, which is expected to be released in August". But that is the only place, other than the passages in Chris Bourke's book, where it has even been mentioned that the album might ever have been planned as a Neil Finn solo album.
     
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  11. StefanWq

    StefanWq Forum Resident

    Location:
    Vallentuna, Sweden
    "Mean To Me" has great energy and was always a terrific song in concert. I don't think the rockier Crowded House are their strongest, generally, but this one is an exception. I can see why this was chosen as the opening track on the Australian edition of the LP, and on the CD (the European edition of the LP started with "World Where You Live" and has "Mean To Me" as track four on side 1), with the acoustic intro before the band joins in (and also horns and keyboards).
    I must say, though, that every time I hear the lyrics, they disturb me. Neil has talked about this song in many interviews, one of which is quoted in Chris Bourke's book (pages 60 and 61), and each time I get the feeling he is belittling the person in question. If she had somehow found out his home address and turned up on his doorstep, demanding to talk to him, or if she had ambushed him when he was out grocery shopping with his wife, that would have been one thing. But she was at a public performance, paid the entrance ticket like everybody else and wanted to have a chat with a favourite musician. She was clearly just a fan, not a mad stalker. Surely Neil has experienced that many times before. In Chris Bourke's book it describes how Neil was suffering from flu, hated being on the NZ Party Boys tour and was worried about career and family matters, and yes, I understand that he wasn't keen to talk to a fan on that day. But none of these things were the fan's fault, and to me the lyrics come across as both whiny and arrogant. Poor rock star, having to chat for a while to a fan, but still considering it relevant for listeners of Crowded House and for journalists to know that he was so important to someone that they travelled from America to chat to him (she was in New Zealand on a scholarship, she didn't go there just to chat to him). And also, he has a worldwide forum (the song on the record, the video clip, interviews) to give his view while she, as an unknown teenager at the time, had no chance to defend herself. Many years later, we also have her perspective of this event, in the "We Got You!" tribute book from 2017 (pages 233 to 235) and that makes the lyrics of the song even harder for me to enjoy. I'm glad that she enjoys the song though.

    I'm happy that HitandRun mentioned the "Paul Is Free" lyrics. I was on the Tongue in the Mail list at the time and remember reading his lyrics when he posted them and then also reading about how it had been performed in concert. Is there any video clip of this version of the song? (We had some email contact back in the day, HitandRun or if I may call you Ross, thanks a lot for that!)

    Despite my misgivings about the "Mean To Me" lyrics, I really like it as a song, especially in concert.
    4/5
     
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  12. robcar

    robcar Forum Resident

    Location:
    Denver, CO
    I never got the idea that the first Crowded House album was ever recorded as a Neil Finn solo album. It was always going to be a band album; the question was what the band would be called.

    Now it could certainly be argued that Crowded House was never your traditional band. It was always, by force of Neil’s unique talent and his personality, going to be a semi-dictatorship, sort of like Creedence Clearwater Revival many years prior. Things were more equal in live performance, and they certainly came across as a legitimate band in concert. However, that wasn’t really the case on record.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2019
  13. HitAndRun

    HitAndRun Forum Resident

    @StefanWq - feel free to call me Ross. :)

    I must admit that I haven't approached people to ask if there is video/audio of that concert. I wouldn't want to be stalkerish. I did mention it to Neil when I met him (the only time I've met him) outside the Hanover Grand. He was a bit ... unsure when I thanked him for singing my lyrics and asked 'when did that happen?' I described Portland and he said 'Yes, I do have a vague memory of that happening.' When I threw a dart onstage at the concert later, Neil grabbed it and said 'whatever is on that dart, we're doing'. But, I hadn't put parody lyrics on the dart because I felt it would be a bit much. All I had written was 'Can Mark speak to us? Or if that's too much, 'Born on the Bayou'.' Neil said that 'Born on the Bayou' was a bit old (or similar words), and Mark went into 'She's About A Mover' (if I remember correctly) instead. And, that's my sum total of contact with CH or even Enz members. At that time there was another member who was very keen on going backstage and I met Don McGlashan a number of times.

    But, recently I felt my life had become very boring and I've been trying to be more interesting. If Eddie Rayner is playing when I'm in NZ I'm going to see if I can corner him to get a CD bought and signed. Or will Blam Blam Blam still be touring then. Any Chunn Brothers?

    Apologies to Lance for going off-topic-ish.

    EDIT and back on topic: I'm sure I remember reading an interview with Neil where he said that he was worried about the subject's reaction to having a song written about her, but that he'd heard that she was very happy about it.
     
  14. robcar

    robcar Forum Resident

    Location:
    Denver, CO
    Several years ago when I was in the area, I set out to see if I could find the "Crowded House" - the rented bungalow in the hills above Hollywood where the band lived while making this album. I remember thinking that I found it, but since I didn't have a street address, I couldn't be certain. There were a few candidates based on the descriptions in the SSS book. Like many such areas of LA, the neighborhood has many twisty, narrow streets and the houses are virtually on top of each other.

    The album was a very slow starter from a sales standpoint. Even in Australia and New Zealand, it didn't sell very well. Oddly, it was the landing of "Don't Dream It's Over" in the US singles charts, which didn't happen until the album had been out for nearly six months, that seemed to convince the Aussies and Kiwis that the album merited investigation. For perhaps the only time in the history of music made by the Finn Brothers, the Americans caught on first.

    The various releases of Crowded House have always been a little confusing. As you said, the original AUS/NZ releases (both on LP and CD) contained just 10 tracks. "I Walk Away" would be issued on a single b-side instead. Oddly, however, at least some cassette versions of the album released in NZ omitted "Can't Carry On" and included "I Walk Away". It should be noted that the initial 1986 AUS/NZ releases contained an edited version of "Can't Carry On" that runs about 20 seconds shorter than the full-length version. Two years later, in 1988, a CD reissue in those two countries finally contained the full 11-track sequence with the full-length "Can't Carry On".

    In North America and Europe (and I think most other countries, although there were apparently some exceptions), the original 1986 LP/cassette omitted "Can't Carry On" and used "I Walk Away" in its place. "Can't Carry On" (the full-length version) would be issued on the b-side of a UK 12" single. However, the international LP/cassette had a different running order, with the album starting with "World Where You Live" and "Mean To Me" dropped to the fourth position on Side 1. Crowded House was apparently not issued on CD outside of AUS/NZ until 1987, when, as Lance mentioned, it was issued containing all 11 tracks (with the full-length "Can't Carry On") and in the original AUS/NZ running order (except with "I Walk Away" added in) instead of the international LP/CS order.
     
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  15. Jaffaman

    Jaffaman Forum Resident

    "Mean To Me" was the first Crowded House single released in New Zealand, if I recall correctly. I was really anti-brass instrumentation at the time, so didn't get into it.

    A few years ago I found an early rough mix of "Mean To Me" in the archive which starts with Paul's drums for four bars. Then they continue under Neil's first verse. And... no brass overdubs!
     
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  16. robcar

    robcar Forum Resident

    Location:
    Denver, CO
    Agreed, but since it didn't come out until 1987, I think it should wait until after we are done with the first Crowded House album and the associated singles.

    This soundtrack came out in 1988; the title cut is the only one by Tim. The rest of the album is the movie score with no Tim involvement.

    I don't really consider the Brainwaves release to fall under the "Finn Brothers" umbrella, but I would say that The Rock Party single does. It came out in 1986 as you said in both 7"/12" single formats. The 12" single contains a second mix of the song. Both versions of the single also contain a "rap" track that does not involve the Finns as far as I know.
     
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  17. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle TEFL Lord Thread Starter

    Location:
    Vsetin
    I’ll add these.
     
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  18. robcar

    robcar Forum Resident

    Location:
    Denver, CO
    "Mean To Me" is a great album opener, although it's not one of my favorites from the album. What I like most about the track is the cold vocal start followed by the strumming reverb-y acoustic guitar, which almost gives the listener the idea that this is going to be a folky song/album. Then, when the band crashes in, it lifts off and sounds wonderful. I also like the use of the brass, which works quite well I think.

    I have to say, though, that I've never understood why this song is loved so much or considered to be one of the Crowded House "hits". Yes, it was the first single released from the album (only in AUS/NZ), but it barely dented the Top 30 there and never made much of an impact elsewhere. I enjoy the music quite a bit, but don't really get what the lyrics are trying to say. This is a problem I have in general with much of Crowded House. Neil's lyrics aren't very direct and, while certain lines conjure great imagery, I struggle to figure out what each song is really "about". I know the backstory of the original inspiration for this track and I agree with what others have said about it perhaps not being the "nicest" way of retelling the tale -- assuming it should have been retold for public consumption to begin with.

    Still, it's a high energy track that gets the album off to a rip-roaring start, and that circus-like synth keyboard instrumental bit in the middle lends an almost surreal atmosphere to the song that works well to set the stage for the rest of the LP. Neil's vocal is somewhat deranged once it gets past the falsely pastoral opening part, but it befits the carnival feeling of the music.

    I agree with Lance that I've never heard a live version that matches the studio original.

    4.1/5
     
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  19. Paul H

    Paul H Forum Resident

    Location:
    Nottingham, UK
    I don't have that book and would be really interested to read her comments on the song.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2019
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  20. HitAndRun

    HitAndRun Forum Resident

    Seconded. It sounds from the comment that her impressions are different from what I thought them to be. I'm not asking for a full copyright-breaking cut and paste, but an executive summary would be interesting to read.
     
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  21. Paul H

    Paul H Forum Resident

    Location:
    Nottingham, UK
    And why, pray tell, isn't that on the deluxe??? :)
     
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  22. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle TEFL Lord Thread Starter

    Location:
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    Me too. Stefan are you the same “Swedish teenager” that Bourke references in his book? Because I literally just read a quote from you I think.
     
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  23. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle TEFL Lord Thread Starter

    Location:
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    I know what you mean about the lyrics and that’s why I rated it 4.5. I think I see the lyrics as mainly just a vehicle for the emotion: because I feel like I absolutely do understand what the music is trying to say. I think that the lyrics are just an impression of a hard time for him at least just convey the incredibly complex emotions of guilt, anger, pressure, anxiety, etc. And I don’t see him as damning the groupie so much as just her being the event that triggered this breakdown which resulted in this song.
     
  24. Paul H

    Paul H Forum Resident

    Location:
    Nottingham, UK
    I have to add that I love the line "the sound of Te Awamutu had a truly sacred ring". Of course, it sounds utterly big-headed for the writer to suggest that his work was considered sacred but, for me at least, the first four CH albums and their songs are. I once hand-made (very amateurishly) a box of CH CDs for a friend. By way of cover, I created a logo with that phrase hand-written across the front. It looked very effective, if I say so myself, and I always thought would be a perfect strapline for a CH collection.
     
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  25. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle TEFL Lord Thread Starter

    Location:
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    Great post. I totally remember that passage in the book, Which I am now re-reading in concurrence with this thread. I envy people like yyou all who were fans back in the heyday. I’m afraid I missed it, and I actually didn’t get online until 2003.

    I don’t think that your post was at all off topic either.
     
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