The next installment of my exploration of the work of Don DeLillo and this 1973 novel sure didn’t disappoint. This is an absolutely wonderfully written novel. Set in early 1970s New York City, the story revolves around a burnt out rock star named Bucky Wunderlick, who suddenly left his band and moves into a small, decrepit apartment on Great Jones Street. The apartment is owned by his record label and it is here he hopes to hide away from the world and decompress, not caring what the rest of his band - who are still on the road - does or will do. He no longer wants anything to do with the music business.
It isn’t too long before he begins being hounded by record company executives - who figured out that he’d probably hide out at the old apartment - urging him to go back on the road. His isolation is also hindered by the neighbors in his building: an aging writer who spends most of his time pacing his apartment and talking of half-baked ideas which never come into fruition and his downstairs neighbor with a retarded, deformed son who spends his waking moments making noises. The child’s mother has a hard time dealing with him and even once tried to sell him to a circus without success. Then his old girlfriend shows up and moves into the apartment with him, essentially destroying any idea of isolation.
Then one day a strange woman appears at the door with a package, asks Bucky to hold onto it, that someone will eventually come for it. Not knowing what the package is, he merely tosses it into a trunk and forgets about it. Eventually, strange folks begin appearing at the apartment inquiring about the package and he soon learns that it’s some sort of drug, highly sought by a strange William S. Burroughs-esque dope dealer and a fanatical hippie cult named the Happy Valley Farm. Bucky finds himself pulled into a situation that he can’t seem to get out of.
Meanwhile, a home recorded tape is circulating that the folks at the record company want to get their hands on. Known as “The Mountain Tapes”, the record company people hope to release it and capitalize on the swirling rumors surrounding the suddenly disappeared Bucky, who insists that these tapes were nothing but a personal project and has no intention making them public.
The parallels between the drug dealers and the way the record industry operates is not lost on the reader. Each have their own motivations for “pushing their product”. Is DeLillo making the comment that culture is nothing more than a commodity - or drug - for the unsuspecting public, who are just as addicted to their “product” as a dope addict? Interesting questions to ponder as you further delve into this surreal world DeLillo creates, all set among a crumbling downtown New York City (the same area these days is far from how it’s depicted in the novel). The atmosphere is full of intrigue and paranoia, a common mindset for the time this book was written, just at the tail end of the Vietnam war era and the beginnings of the death throes of the counterculture.
All in all this is a wonderfully written novel with a lot to say about the nature of fame and the commodification of culture. A highly recommended read.