A Little Help From My Friends

My ticket to ride back to health and sanity came in the form of the Beatles

(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

It's been said that laughter is the best medicine, but during the worst health ordeal of my life, it was music that helped me heal.

I am now and will always be a dedicated music fanatic; it's as vital to me as any of life's essentials. I've often used music to not just enhance my mood, but to create or change it. My philosophers all have record deals, my gurus are composers, and my therapists are lyricists and singers. I've had my greatest spiritual experiences at live concerts. Long story short, I believe music is as vital to my well being as food, drink and sunshine.well being as food, drink and sunshine.

In 2009, I was recovering from a long year of chemo and radiation therapy to combat throat cancer. The treatments left me bedridden in a depleted state of illness, depression and fatigue. After going through several weeks of what was described to me as "an aggressive chemotherapy regimen," I was prescribed 7 1/2 weeks of daily throat radiation, which I likened to medieval torture by gamma rays.

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Before the treatment was half-through, my throat was so ravaged by blistering burns and sores that even drinking room temperature water was a challenge. In the weeks that followed, my diet mainly consisted of watermelon slushies, Ensure and hefty servings of Fentanyl patches with a side of opiate pills. The drugs kept my head in the clouds, but after a while the effects were muted. I was still delirious, and not in a good way.

My brain was scrambled and I barely had the energy to sit up in bed. It was nearly impossible to distract myself from my condition—too weak to read, write or even watch TV. All I could think about was how rotten I felt. I needed something stronger than a pharmaceutical buffet to transport me to another place.

My ticket to ride came in the form of the Beatles.

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I had been listening to the Fab Four ever since I got "Meet The Beatles" for my tenth birthday, so I knew their music pretty well. But in 2009, their entire catalog was newly remastered and released as CD box sets in both mono and stereo. It was the Holy Grail of Beatle music, and the word was that they never sounded better.

My sister generously picked up both collections for me, a total of 29 discs in all. My girlfriend took on the laborious task of loading all of the discs onto my PC and transferring them to my iPod. I plugged in my headphones and was all set for my magical musical tour of rediscovery.

I listened to the early recordings first, and didn't particularly notice much difference in audio quality from what I remembered, but just hearing their familiar pop masterpieces gave me a warm nostalgic feeling.

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Then as I got into the more complex recordings, I began to discover details that I didn't recognize from the old stereo CDs. Paul McCartney's melodic bass lines had a new clarity and presence. Ringo's drumming came through the mix with a more pronounced pop and punch that underscored his intricate beats. And the beautifully blended harmonies of John, Paul and George that are so distinctly Beatles were lush and vibrant in a way that had me in awe of them all over again.

Even more remarkable was that this musical diversion was working! The more obsessive I became, dissecting every nuance of the recordings, the less time I spent wallowing in despair. Maybe it was the lyrics—"take a sad song and make it better," "it's getting better all the time," "take these broken wings and learn to fly." Maybe it was the new sounds I heard in the music. Or maybe it was just directing my attention onto something other than myself.

So when my girlfriend came into the bedroom to check up on me and force feed me some liquid nutrition, I had a whole new attitude. I rambled on about each new musical discovery: "The backward guitar sounds on the mono mix of 'I'm Only Sleeping' are in different places than the stereo version, and 'She's Leaving Home' is a bit faster and brighter sounding in mono."

"Oh really?" she'd say, sticking the drink straw in my mouth between my ranting, "That's so cool."

I knew my girlfriend had little interest in any of this, but she saw that my spirits had improved and I'm sure she was relieved to hear something out of my mouth besides the usual bellyaching.

In any case, my troubled mind was now filled less with thoughts of despair and more with the comforting sounds of Beatle songs. And where the mind goes the body will follow. Time was passing as I healed and I became too preoccupied to even notice how long it was taking, all thanks to a little help from my four friends.

Getting lost in music helped get me through the long road to recovery more than any conventional medicine did. And to this day, whenever I listen to the Beatles, those same musical endorphins kick in again and shine around me like a million suns.