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A Hard Day's Night in a Hospital Bed

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From a distance of 50 years, you might think that everyone in America fell in love with The Beatles when they first performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. Not so. I abhorred them. At least, that's what I told myself and anybody who asked.

The Beatles invaded my life at the same time as puberty invaded me, delivering such a blast of teenage loneliness as to convince me, as a bona fide teenage boy, I should never let my emotions show and that I would meet everything I didn't like, couldn't understand or felt threatened by with a mask of sarcasm.

So I became the Sneering One. The Smart ass. The Hypocrite who disguised his jealousy of all things good and sweet with sour mockery. And my mockery was never so pronounced as when I heard my younger sister Karen play her Beatles albums. I might have brought her to tears one day with my unsolicited dismissal of the group's music.

Karen never knew that after everyone else in the family went to bed, I would steal into the living room, lie on the floor, stick my head between a pair of stereo speakers and listen to "Beatles '65″ or "Meet the Beatles" at a barely audible level. My intense listening pleasure was salted by my fear of being discovered. But I was so lonely and unhappy I would build an entire day around the promise that, come the night, I would lose myself in those buoyant, simple songs of lost love. I would get happily tangled in the sheer sonic joy that two electric guitars, an electric bass a drum kit and the soaring voices of men who weren't far from being teenagers themselves could bring a kid who found himself alone in a world whose every hour seemed stacked against him.

A couple of years ago, I had reason to remember those teenage days. I was lying in a hospital bed, recovering from abdominal surgery and beginning to feel the tendrils of depression creep into bed with me. I was marooned there, a prisoner with an IV drip in my arm, stuck in a room a view of a scrawny treetop and a balky TV. I craved food -- something more substantial than the diet of extra-bouncy Jell-O cubes or the chicken-claw broth I was expected to somehow swallow and prosper on.

At lunchtime on the fourth day of my incarceration, I received not the greasy cheeseburger my body craved but something better -- my daughter Annie's laptop.

It was there, on an otherwise sodden July afternoon, that I reconnected with my closeted teenage past. In place of those big gray stereo speakers, a pair of tiny white ear buds. Instead of my sister's scratchy platters, YouTube. For secretive volume, substitute full-blast sound.

The sound I yearned for I found immediately when I typed "beatles hard day's night" at YouTube. The small blank screen immediately gave way to that bizarre opening chord -- SPLANG gggg -- that signaled the beginning of Richard Lester's joyous, running, jumping, standing-still movie. A thrill ran through my battered body as I watched those grinning young men run from mobs of screaming, delirious girls.

I played that clip a dozen times that day. Maybe two dozen. Every time I did, my hospital cell faded away, replaced by memories of my long-ago, secretive self, a self no longer constrained by fear of discovery or hiding behind the mask of sarcasm.

Alone in my bed, I was being nourished as I had been so many years before. That opening chord cracked the shell of my despondency, as surely as it had done in 1964.

There I was, nearly half a century later, tears puddling in my eyes, resembling no one in the movie more than Paul's clean old grandfather, knowing as much as it's possible for a grown man to know how thrilling it must have been to be a lovesick teenage girl back then, screaming her head off for her favorite Beatle, sobbing at the pure mysterious pleasure of the chase she knew she could never win but running just the same. It's a passion that should never have been sneered at but treasured for the tender, elusive moment it was.

That song, that film clip, those screaming girls, were as inspiring to me that day as any of the great freedom songs of the civil rights era. I felt satiated as never before, refreshed, ready for anything, ready to make my own mad dash down the dismal hallway outside my door, down to the streets below, running, running, running away from the misery and self-pity that had nearly taken me over. It had been a hard day's night, yeah, but I'd get out of that damned hospital no matter what, I'd get home and I would feel all right.

An earlier version of this essay originally appeared in Salon.com