The Observatory

The Truth Shall Set You Laughing

Jeremiah Horrigan

Jeremiah Horrigan
New Paltz, New York, USA
February 04
Working Copy
Former Knight of the Altar, St. Martin's parish in South Buffalo, NY. Old enough to remember ducking-and-covering from the nukes that Sister Jeanne assured us were coming our way, defending Santa Claus until age 10, hating playing sports, wanting to fly, escaping to Westchester County for three years, re-escaping to Buffalo for most of high school, escaping to Fordham U long enough to drop out, escaping school, getting political, getting arrested, getting tried, convicted and released for crimes against the draft. Husband to Patty, father to Grady and Annie. Housepainter, cab driver, idiot, then newspaper reporter in Poughkeepsie, years of freelancing (Sports Illustrated, New York Times, Negligent Mother Magazine) and shameful indulgence, followed finally by 18 more years of reporting, column-writing, some awards, discoveries large and small along the way, including these: Sister Jeanne was full of beans, writing is good for the soul and I'm the luckiest man alive.


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Editor’s Pick
APRIL 14, 2011 10:35PM

Saved! Or, the Putz Delivered from his Shame

Rate: 20 Flag

Being a 14-year-old putz wasn't easy for someone who'd never planned on being one. But the mysterious introduction into my teenage body of strange hormones, the sudden emergence of an outsized honker, a generous splash of zitz and the resultant blast of teenage lonlieness provided lessons I believed I'd have to learn from or die:

Never let your emotions show. Forget you even have them. Meet everything you don't like, can't understand or feel threatened by with a mask of sarcasm.

So I became the Sneering One. The Smart-Ass. The (secret) 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 and their music.

No one in my large family knew that when the sun went down and everyone went to bed, I would steal into the living room and lie on the floor, my head pressed between the removable twin speakers of my parent's stereo, the better to enjoy "Beatles '65" or "Meet the Beatles" at a barely audible level. My intense listening pleasure  was salted by my fear of being discovered -- yeah, I was hiding my love away. But I was lonely and unhappy enough to build an entire day around the chance to get lost at night in those bouyant, simple songs of lost love, threatened romance, and the sheer sonic joy that two electric guitars, an electric bass and a drum kit can bring a kid who finds himself alone in a world that seems stacked against him, that wants to keep him confused, resentful  and fearful.

But I was a putz and The Beatles were a girl band and no self-respecting he-manly teenager of the day could admit his love of The Fab Four. Even, in the beginning, to himself. Real manly teenagers dug The Stones. 

I had reason to remember those teenage days while lying in a hospital bed nearly two years ago, recovering from abdominal surgery and beginning to feel the tendrils of depression reaching out for my sleepless, intubated body, a body that had been slapped by circumstances as unexpected as adolescence into a dismal room that featured a second-floor view of a scrawny treetop and a TV screen controlled by a fellow sufferer with an insatiable taste for the Food Network.

Food -- real, chewable, fragrant  food -- was what I craved most of all and it was what I was denied in the early days of my confinement. I asked -- almost begged -- for it every day, knowing full well that once I was off the IV, the best I could hope for would be a noxious farago of over-cooked vegetables, mystery meat smothered in dead-white gravy and a square of glutinous "dessert" as edible -- and tasty -- as a sponge. This was not my first hospital interment. I craved  greasy, hot and most of all familiar stuff like cheeseburgers and fried chicken and hot apple pie a la mode. But no amount of pleading worked. I felt like a Death Row prisoner denied his final meal.

Watching Rachael Ray gad about her TV kitchen, whipping up a skillet full of sizzling Italian sausage and peppers while babbling about her busy, busy day as my "lunch" was coursing through a vein attached to a plastic bag of sugar water was about all I could take. Come the fourth day of my incarceration, the tendrils were beginning to take root.

At lunchtime that day, I received not the bagel-and-cream-cheese of my dreams but something better: my daughter Annie's laptop computer, which the hospital room itself did its best to defeat: there were only so many electrical outlets available in my space-capsule-sized room, and most of them were plugged into some part of my anatomy.  But Annie's laptop had a wi-fi card. Miraculously, the hospital actually provided wi-fi. Flawless wi-fi. Wi-fi that did what the hospital's menu couldn't do: provide blessed nurture for one of its ailing occupants.

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

At YouTube, I typed in "beatles hard day's night." A blank screen finally gave way to that bizarre opening chord -- SPLANG gggg--that signaled the beginmning of the running, jumping, standing still opening credits of Richard Lester's great movie.  A thrill ran through my battered body. I felt like I was watching history being made --- my own, and the rest of the world's -- as I watched those grinning young men being pursued by a mob of screaming, delirious girls.

Lying in bed, I took notes in a shaky hand. I couldn't help myself, couldn't stop making my own sort of delirious sense of what I was seeing and feeling:

"Three of them in deep focus running down a narow sidewalk toward the camera. George trips, falls, then Ringo. John throws head back, breathless delight written all over face. They're all up and grinning. It's a game. Everyone's  running, running, running in their buttoned-down-and-tied-up suits, racing through a black-and-white world of hand-held movie motion, always a step ahead of a screaming horde of girls."

I played that clip a dozen times that day. Maybe two dozen. Every time I did, my hospital cell melted away, replaced by a remembered living room floor. I was my long-ago, skinny, secretive self again, no longer constrained by the fear of discovery. 

Alone in my cell, I was being nourished as I had been so long ago. That opening chord was the moment everything changed for me -- and arguably, the rest of the world. I snapped the computer closed that evening, when I finally and for the first time during my incarceration felt satiated.

There I was, nearly half a century later, tears in my eyes, resembling no one in the movie more than Paul's grandfather, knowing as much as it's possible for a 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, unleashing an innocent passion in an otherwise cold world, a passion that should never have been sneered at but rather treasured for the tender moment it was and the nourishing food it had just become for me.

That song, that film clip, those screaming, guileless were as inspiring to me as any of the great freedom songs of the Civil Rights era. I felt utterly 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.

But not  before swearing to myself that I would confess my sins to my sister Karen in the name of all those lovely, gawky, bewildered girls like her who threw their love so fearlessly to their smiling idols, however briefly, innocently or hopelessly.

I begged then, as I do now, all you no-longer-young ladies, to please accept the abjecty apologies of a once-callow, no-longer-young man who didn't -- couldn't -- see you for the angels you were.

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This was so sweet a story I had to pause to savor it, along with the ice-cream I reached for in sympathy for your intubated deprevation which reminded me of my own. Jeremiah, you may well have forever cured me of disdain for putzes, Sneering Ones and Smart-Asses, and to have even grown compassion in me. The Buddhist in me thanks you. The girl in me thanks you. The reader in me thanks you - for stopping me in my with "My intense listening pleasure was salted by my fear of being discovered" - "salted by my fear"! - oohh.
And with this passage you scored on all fronts, and won my heart:
"knowing as much as it's possible for a 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, unleashing an innocent passion in an otherwise cold world, a passion that should never have been sneered at but rather treasured for the tender moment it was and the nourishing food it had just become for me."

Jeremiah, I never was one of those teenage girls. But I'm a little wiser now too. Here's to warming up a cold world with innocent passion and the good nourishment it brings.
This is an excellent piece. Well deserving of an EP. Thanks for taking me along on your journey.
Beautifully written. Isn't it funny how we grow up and finally embrace that which we were sure would invite scorn as children and teenagers? That must be one of the best parts of growing up: finally allowing ourselves to be what we were too ashamed to admit.
From one geezer to another, nicely done sir. I did that thing with the speakers plastered to my ears as well but unfortunately it was Herb Alpert's Whipped Cream and the Doors first album. Talk about conflicted!
I have goosebumps reading this, hearing that "SPLANG gggg" in my head, and especially letting all the sweet wisdom of the last four paragraphs sink in. Superb. (r)
So I became the Sneering One. The Smart-Ass. The (secret) Hypocrite who disguised his jealousy of all things good and sweet with sour mockery... ooh I like that
I love the Beatles. The Broadway musical was a travesty though--I went, I listened, I sneered. It was a bad format for the music.

Now you need to find a dark room, and a pair of good headphones, and listen to the "Rubber Soul" album...
r're a girlie-man! And I mean that in the best sense of the word!
Maria! I blush. Thank you. Here's to ice cream and anything that won't fit down one of those blasted tubes. You can be sure I've got more to say about hospital food -- a whole chapter, as a matter of fact -- but I'll save it for another day.
I meant to include the Youtube clip & will probably do so soon -- it really was a lifesaver and it still carries as joyous a punch as any three minutes of movie and music ever has. I'll PM you the link before night's done.

Froggy: One of the grand things about getting EP'd is being introduced to people such as yourself. Greetings and thanks.

Lizz: You're in Buffalo? At this minute? That's the city I did my best growing up in -- born & raised in South Buffalo until disaster struck and the family moved to Westchester County at the pre-Beatled age of 12. And what you say is the truth, and very well put indeed. Nice to meet you.

Noah: I didn't mean to suggest The Beatles were my only passion. Herb Alpert, man. Tijuana Taxi! And that album cover. I was just old enough to appreciate it. The Doors came later for me, but that first album made me forget Herb. Among many other respectable things of the day.

Dirndl: I truly believe that chord beats every musical gambit in pop music history. I read awhile ago that Paul & John had written the lyrics (in a day. A day!) but the film's director, Richard Lester, wanted a bigger sound for the film's opening. And so, I think it was George, delivered the chord. And the rest is life-saving, world-shaking history. Glad you stopped by.

Sam: Broadway has proven, time and again, that rock & roll has no home on Broadway. Sounds like you found out the expensive way.

Dark or light, I'm with you on the "Rubber Soul" front. That was the album where I was finally able to admit publicly that this was a great band.

Nikki: Don't let my grandfather hear you say that. But I know what you mean, and I appreciate the compliment.
This was wonderful, Jeremiah. I guess as a teenaged girl, I never thought of it as being "unmanly" to like the Beatles. But who in the world can figure out anything in a 14 year-old world. Thank god we all grew up.
Great that you can appreciate the Beatles.
BTW the SPLANG gggg chord is a not hugely, somewhat unusual
voicing of a modified G chord for basic rock. The song then begins
and continues with the usual G voicing as it is in the key of G.
As a teen age guitarist it took me forever to figure that chord out.
So glad to read you again! Imagine -- The Beatles as guilty pleasure, but I do remember how The Stones were acceptably cool, rock 'n roll, whereas the Beatles were more "Pop." Pete Hamill even wrote a column about it. The first time I heard Meet The Beatles I was in a babysitter's trailer. I played it over & over & over & over on her crappy phonograph.

This is just a great post! The adolescent rules: perfect; & your wonderful description of A Hard Day's Night --yes! Music As Salvation, as healer, as inspiration! Apology accepted!
Ah that opening chord. Know it well. And who EVER thought we'd become Paul's grandfather?

He's a very clean man you know. . . . .so clean.
Trilogy: Amen to growing up. I just read Nikki's post about being 14 and having a crush on David McCallum. Seems it was a tough time for boys and girls, though times like those provide good fodder for later stories.

Joseph: Thanks for that explanation. I knew the chord had a name and I hope I didn't give the impression that Harrison invented it -- I'm just glad he found it & played it.

Suzie: A couple of things come to mind. For me, Pete Hamill is to journalism as Lennon is to rock 'n' roll. But if he found a way to praise the Stones at the expense of The Beatles, I'll have to begin a reappraisal.

Crappy phonographs. Were there any other kind? My parents' stereo was a Readers Digest model. Must have cost about 12 cents to assemble the parts. And even then, I never paid stereo prices. Moo was a buck cheaper. When I hear any band from that era in stereo, it's a whole new thing. (And I notice there's a whole new "back to mono" movement because early stereo was so badly done.)

And most of all, thank you for accepting that apology. The post was about small damages and lingering malaise and the need to settle up psychically. Non-instant karma, if you will.
great writing here and this, even tho i'll always see them as a pop band who played rock and roll and yes i love the stones so much more r.
Gratuitous: The second side of Abbey Road? Endless pleasure. That album also played a big role in a subsequent journey my wife & I took before undergoing yet another surgical adventure. You really learn who your musical influences are when you're staring down a stint in HospitalWorld. Nice to meet you.

Roger: Here's another sobering thought -- I'd wager the old guy (Wilfred Brambell, who got second billing) was younger than either of us when he made the movie. I, at least in my case, a lot thinner as well.

Jon: I never said I didn't like -- at time, adore -- the Stones. But I no longer separate pop & rock, any more than I do blues and folk and country. The Beatles were my default go-to guys when I needed sustenance in HospitalWorld. I imagine I'd have instinctively turned to the Stones if I were stuck in a war zone. Know what I mean? Different needs answered by different associations.
I thought I was done drinking for tonight. But maybe not. . . .
Fine writing Jeremiah. Fine indeed... :)))
Roger: I'm not drinking tonight, I'm only writing like I was -- that final line was supposed to read "And, at least in my case, he was a lot thinner as well." (Remind me to tell you sometime about how you can write drunk & win the Nobel Prize.)

Barbara: None of this would have happened if my family had stayed in Buffalo. Cheers!
This was nice. Congrats on the EP. I loved The Beatles then and still do but Led Zepplin holds up better through the years for me.
The Beatles have had a permanent stamp on my life( see my multiple posts about all things Beatles on my blog) so I enjoyed this post very much. I use their music every time I need to have any dental work done--I'm a big baby about it and have unfounded fears, so I put in the earbuds and let the whole collection sooth me. For bigger jobs when I need a little gas added to the mix, well, that becomes a whole psychodelic experience! Last time the root canal ended on Number 9 and it was a trippy thing to come out from under the fog of gas with that song playing.
Mary: Nice to meet you. Led Zep did it for me in my more "mature" years (i.e., 19-20) but, like me, they haven't aged well.

lschmoopie -- Coming out from under a nitrous cloud while listening to #9 sounds either sublime or terrifying. Ain't earbuds grand?
I ain't gonna hide my love away -- I LOVE this! I'm glad you're feelin' all right and I hope you are never again reduced by illness into shameful revelations. (I mean, are you harboring affection for Styx? Might that come out after the next medical crisis? See what I mean? Stay healthy.)
Jeremiah, so pleased to see this cross-posted to

Very well deserved pick, and braggin' writes totally justified. Congratulations!
I might have tried for weeks and months and years to describe the opening chord without ever finding one better than "SPLANG ggggg." Highly rated for that alone, but seriously enjoyed for the description of how sights and sounds and words get sucked up into our souls and stay with us forever. I'll never hear it again without thinking that the spelling of the sound is "SPLANG." Of course! Everyone always knew that. They just didn't know they knew it until you told them.