This Music,

Summary

 

HOME


In 1963 Fred is a pre-med student at a university like Stanford. His girlfriend, Lolly, from a small town in the Middle West, tells him she is pregnant. He goes to the California agricultural town he is from and arranges an abortion through his older brother, whom he dislikes, a department store manager who has contact with an intermediary arranger of abortions, Simon.


After the abortion Lolly tries to break up with Fred but fails. The group of friends separate for the summer. Lolly friend, Gregory, from a wealthy family of musical amateurs on Long island, gets airtime for a program about the history of music on a local cultural station for the summer. He believes he must teach the world to understand his music, but it means and must get a day job playing piano in a bar. Lilly’s cousin, Peter, another music student, who is gay and a Christian, returns to another small California agricultural town and to his unreliable lover, Mulgrave. Fred has a stressful summer job in a cannery; he is edgy and depressed and takes to making recordings of sounds in the environment. Gregory meets Fred's sister Judith (Fred and Judith do not get on.) and falls in love with her. Lolly is miserable in her small-town environment and in trying to establish another relationship. Gregory visits his home in Long island where he is shocked that his family will not support his study of music indefinitely.


In the fall Judith and Gregory agree to "go together" but she is afraid to make love. Fred is getting weirder and not doing well in school. Peter invites Mulgrave to the university town, but is afraid he will be unfaithful. Gregory tells Lolly that all her friends wish she would break off with Fred. Through a tip from Fred to the police, Mulgrave is arrested for having sex in the train station bathroom (This is 1963.). In an effort to assert herself, Lolly goes on a date with Simon, who also turns out to be a musician. Gregory introduces Judith to the circle of musicians, which humiliates Fred. Charges are dropped and Mulgrave leaves town without talking to Peter.


President Kennedy is shot. Fred gets freakier, spends the weekend recording the radio broadcasts of the assassination. Lolly goes to bed with Simon and tells her cousin Peter.


In January Lolly comes back from Christmas vacation and is again pregnant. Judith throws an ambitious dinner party in Gregory's apartment for all the musicians and some of the faculty associated with them. At the party Peter, in vengeance for Fred's tip to the police, tells Fred that Lolly had been to bed with Simon. Simon crashes the party and he and Fred fight.


Lolly has an abortion and finally breaks off with Fred. Fred's father goes bankrupt. Without telling his family Fred returns to his hometown and takes a job. He considers killing himself but decides against it in the hope Lolly will take him back someday. He begins to make montages of his tapes.


Judith and Gregory awkwardly discuss marriage.


In the spring Fred allows an acquaintance against whom he has a grudge to die in an accident; no one pins it on him. Lolly decides she does not want a career as a musician and joins the Peace Corps. Some one in her hometown has proposed to Judith; she tells Gregory to match it or shut up. Gregory proposes, but Judith's grandmother, who supports her, forbids her marriage. Judith moves in with Gregory. Gregory, Judith, Fred, and Simon meet at Gregory & Judith's apartment and have a partial reconciliation.


Peter goes to New York and begins to hang out with the Leonard Bernstein set, where he encounters Mulgrave again.


Gregory is judging a composition contest for the radio station. He turns on an anonymous tape. It is Fred's recording of Gregory's voice.

 

Characters


Fred Meuf, at first a medical student.


Judith Meuf, An actress, Fred's sister, later Gregory's girlfriend.


Fred Meuf, Sr., Fred's father, an unsuccessful insurance broker and rancher.


Ralph Waldo (Jug) Meuf, Fred's older brother, manager of a store, which belongs to his mother's family, a boor.


Irma Meuf, Fred's mother, a catty, small-town snob.


Lavern (Lolly) Petree, an excellent cellist, at first Fred's girlfriend.


Bob de Wolf, Fred's roommate, pre-med, a phrat cat.


Peter Petree, a religious music student, Lolly's cousin and friend.


Gregory Morello, a student of composition, friend to Lolly and Peter, later Judith's boyfriend.


Buff Doddington, student of musicology, friend to Lolly, Peter, Gregory.


Helena Nikapopolis, an unwilling soprano, Buff's girlfriend, friend to the other musicians.


Mulgrave Green, a lover of Peter Petree, a clarinetist.


Simon Pure, a procurer of abortions, a composer of sorts, a meter reader, a nut.


SPQR Ramakrishna, a teacher of music history, a sponsor of Gregory.


Lazar Ziff, a composer friend of Gregory's, somewhat older.


Mike Ducca, a friend of Fred's, formerly his biology teacher.


Michelle (Mike) Moore, a friend of Mike Ducca's, a girl Fred makes a pass at.


Chapter-by-Chapter Summary

Organization: The novel is divided into large sections by the seasons of the year. It is divided into small sections (part of a page to about 50 pages) by point of view. Each point-of-view section begins with the name of the point-of-view character. A few sections have more than one viewpoint, simultaneously and are formatted in two or, in one case, three columns. The whole is about 190,000 words.


____________________________________________________________________

WINTER '62

Fred (9 pages) an evening studying and listening to rain. How he lives alone.


Gregory (3 pages) In a cafe the musicians frequent. They talk about what music means to them.


Fred (2 pages) Lolly tells him she is pregnant.


Gregory (3 pages) Gregory makes friends with Ziff.


Fred (11 pages) Flashback to Fred's background. The death of his grandfather and accompanying proposal of his father to his mother.


Fred (3 pages) Fred returns to his country hometown, Marysville, but can't work up the nerve to ask his brother to help arrange an abortion.


Gregory (3 pages) In Fred's absence, Lolly tells Peter and Gregory she is pregnant; she asks Gregory for help.


Fred (19 pages) Fred's family makes him anxious. A slip informs Judith he has knocked someone up; she reproaches him.


Gregory (4 pages) He makes contact with Simon Pure.


Fred (15 pages) back home, Fred makes a pass at a girl, Mike Moore, whom he meets through his old teacher. Her inertness defeats him. He goes home and jacks off. The next day he approaches his brother about the abortion.


Fred (1 page) He tells Lolly his brother will help; she tells him about Simon Pure.


Fred, Gregory (4 pages) Over the phone, Lolly arranges an appointment with Pure.

 

SPRING '63

Gregory, Fred (10 pages, Some time has passed) In the café, the musicians talk and Lolly plays. She hates Fred's snobbishness with her other friends.


Fred (77-81) He discussed with Bob whether it is possible to get on with a girl you are screwing. Fred thinks he might start to believe in God.


Gregory (3 pages) His relations with people on the music faculty.


Fred (4 pages) Lolly wants to stop seeing him.


Gregory (4 pages) Gregory and Buff talk politics. Gregory praises Kennedy for molding opinion through the press.


Fred (1 page) He finds a certain satisfaction in being independent of Lolly.


Gregory (4 pages) Gregory goes to a local radio station and tries to get time for a program on music. He wants to lead listeners up to himself. Various obstacles.


Fred (3 pages) He and Lolly go back together.


Gregory (3 pages) More struggle at the radio station.


Fred (2 pages) He and Lolly have a good time, but he wonders if he shouldn't give up medicine for law.


Gregory (1 page) His friend, Ziff, urges art for arts sake.


Gregory (4 pages) Gregory browbeats the station into giving him airtime for the summer, but that means he has to find a summer job locally.


Fred (2 pages) He suggests to Lolly they take the summer separation as a chance to break up, but they can't work up their resolution.


Gregory, Fred (8 pages) The musicians are trying to write something in the style of Couperin as an exercise. Gregory produces something bizarre and unplayable. Fred and Lolly join them in an atmosphere of good fellowship.

 

SUMMER '63

Peter (5 pages) Flashback to his establishment of a liaison with a childish, ambiguous high school student, Mulgrave.


Gregory (2 pages) Auditions for a job playing music for dance lessons. Gets it.


Lolly’s letter to Fred (2 pages) She describes her tension with her family, the beauty of her home country, her love for him.


Peter (3 pages) His homecoming.


Gregory (3 pages) Struggles with his program.


Buff's letter to Helena (2 pages) Tells about the heat in Los Angeles, his sister's new boyfriend. Says his family would like her.


Fred (2 pages) His demanding job in a canning factory.


Lolly’s letter to Fred (2 pages) She complains of the nosiness and middle-class standards of her parents and the lack of emotional life in the whole town. She misses Fred terribly.


Peter (4 pages) Sees Mulgrave listening to someone play, is jealous, follows them re-establishes contact.


Gregory (12 pages) [Published in a slightly different form as "Years".] After a successful day at the radio station, Gregory visits a collection of old instruments where he meets Simon Pure by chance. Pure explains some of his ideals about music and pisses in a chrome horn.


Fred (part of a page) In a plant safety mirror, Fred believes he sees his own reflection, but it is of someone else.


Gregory (4 pages) He goes to a small concert where he hears, for the first time, John Cage's music.


Fred (8 pages) Records a cicada singing on the mic and jacks off.


Buff's letter to Gregory (2 pages) He traces John Cage back to William of Ockham.


Fred (11 pages) He and Judith end up going with Gregory to an avant guarde concert in San Francisco. Peter and Mulgrave are there. Fred leaves, gets drunk with Bob de Wolf, returns, meets Simon Pure. Judith relationship with Gregory makes him anxious. He gets into a nightmarish argument with the music director of Gregory's radio station in which Gregory sides with Fred.


Gregory (5 pages) Fred and Judith stay overnight in the hotel where Gregory works. Fred is horribly sick and hungover. Gregory admires Judith tremendously.


Helena's letter to Lolly (2 pages) She says she feels Lolly’s disappointment with her parents and her small town over sex and mediocrity, but she lacks conviction to resist them.


Peter's letter to Lolly (3 pages) In small towns, he finds cultured people around the church. He avoids the question of sex. He bitterly attacks Fred's behavior at the concert.


Fred (3 pages) Fred records the vexing sounds of his family house and plays them back to drown them out.


Gregory (1 page) His program has three fan letters.


Lolly’s letter to Fred (3 pages) Something terrible has happened that she can't write about.


Judith's letter to Gregory (part of a page) She invites him to Marysville for the weekend.


Peter (7 pages) He finds in the routine of his life a mirror of his idealism.


Gregory (25 pages) He goes to Marysville to court Judith.


Peter (2 pages) Peter takes leave of Mulgrave and his hometown in an atmosphere of the difficulties people create for one another.


Letter to Buff from Gregory On a quick visit to his family on Long Island. He is bitterly frustrated by their refusal to understand the importance of composing to him and refusal to give him enough money to devote himself to it.

 

FALL '63

Fred (3 pages) In the first minute he sees Lolly again, he does not recognize her; he has a strange feeling that there is another coexistent, normally unrecognizable world.


Gregory, Fred (17 pages) Buff and Gregory talk about how composers find money to live. Gregory tells Buff about Judith. Fred stops by for a time and they talk politics. Ziff says he wants to leave school and write more socially conscious music. When Peter comes, Fred leaves in disgust.


Peter (2 pages) Talks with Lolly. He is blue from leaving Mulgrave. She is happy to see Fred.


Gregory (12 pages) Discussions of how people listen to music. Alone, Lolly quizzes Gregory on Fred's family. Gregory tells her all the friends wish she would give Fred up. She says she couldn't do that and be herself. Gregory, Lolly, and Buff agree to play as a trio in a recital, which is necessary to the musician’s graduation.


Fred (6 pages) Lolly tells Fred she went to bed with an old flame over the summer; that's what she couldn't write him. The feeling of co-existing otherness returns; then they make up.


Gregory (3 pages) Dr. Ramakrishna gives Gregory advice about how to get money; Ramakrishna tells how opportunities for scholarships and grants have guided his life. Gregory considers the years work ahead of him. Judith's visit to Palo Alto is delayed; he is disappointed and decides to go to her.


Fred (3 pages) Fred has a good time in bed with Lolly; he feels he is the right man in the right world.


Gregory (2 pages) Ziff takes leave to go to New York and write more socially conscious music.


Peter (1 page) He writes Mulgrave elegantly and backhandedly invites him up for the weekend.


Gregory (30 pages) Learns about Judith's life, family. They exchange thoughts, desire, uncertainty. They agree to go together. They start to go to bed, but she becomes hysterical. She is angry and ashamed. She agrees to come to Palo Alto in two weeks.


Fred (3 pages) He plays some of his summer recordings for Lolly. He learns Judith plans to stay with Gregory. He sets out to disprove the theory that the matter of the body turns over every few years.


Gregory (2 pages) Gregory shows Buff Judith's letter saying she will come.


Peter (5 pages) He paints the living room magenta and canary in preparation for Mulgrave. He worries over Mulgrave's gaucheries, rivals at home; rivals Mulgrave will meet in Palo Alto. Peter's anxious fantasy is formless or veiled and he tries to find its form.


Fred (2 pages) At Peter's party, he sees the people as cardboard images. Lolly gets drunk and weeps when they go home.


Peter (2 pages) He spends the afternoon with Mulgrave, has to be at practice for a couple of hours in the early evening.


Fred (4 pages) Lolly has a date with Simon Pure that evening. Fred is humiliated and frightened. He accidentally discovers Mulgrave blowing someone in the train station John. Fred tips the police.


Peter (2 pages) He finds Mulgrave gone and worries.


Fred (1 page) Fred tells Peter how Mulgrave was arrested, but not his own part.


Gregory (8 pages) Gregory returns from the radio station and helps and comforts Peter. Peter imagines the police mistreating Mulgrave and feels he owes it to his friend to own up to their relations. Gregory dissuades him.


Peter (2 pages, during the next week) Peter imagines Mulgrave has left town, but hears nothing. Peter writes home. He gets an equivocal letter from Mulgrave who has apparently escaped serious consequences.


Gregory (2 pages) The first trio rehearsal. Incompetent but jolly.


Fred (1 page) Fred struggles against the turnover of the bodily elements.


Peter (2 pages) Buff and Helena consider the choices among graduate schools and carpentry. Simon Pure comes in and suggests several very unusual plans for bringing modern music before the public.


Gregory (3 pages) Judith has come; they go for dinner and to a dance rehearsal.


Fred (2 pages) (Lolly has a date again that night with Simon Pure.) Fred is in the cafe talking to Helena when Gregory and Judith come in. Judith mistakes Helena for Lolly and begins to demonstratively commiserate with her. Fred leaves angrily.


Gregory (2 pages) Judith is very embarrassed by her mistake. When she calms down Gregory is very proud of her with his friends.


Fred (3 pages) Fred has a date with a girl who takes him to a professor's house. The lack of social barriers between students and faculty unnerves him. Driving home she comes on like an easy make.


Gregory (11 pages) The musicians and Judith socialize. Fred appears briefly with his date. Judith and Gregory go to bed in his apartment but quarrel again over screwing. He walks out on the balcony to live with his frustration; he sees Fred leaving his apartment with the girl and bitterly envies him.


Fred (5 pages) Fred goes to Lolly’s dorm to take her to a phrat beer party. Finds her talking with Judith. Fred refuses an invitation for them to dine with Gregory and Judith. He finds his phrat less and less supportive.


Gregory (6 pages) After an evening of friends and dancing, Gregory finally browbeats Judith into fucking with him. It is satisfying to him, but she is so tense it is bitter for her.


Peter (3 pages) Buff considers the careers of musicologist versus carpenter and how marriage might fit into either.


Gregory (2 pages) Trio rehearsal. They drop the Mozart, add a piece by Buff, consider Gregory's writing something for Lolly.


Peter (2 pages) Peter sees himself as Christ and Mulgrave as an innocent in a tapestry. He prays for humility.


Gregory (1 page) The radio station manager asks him to do some reviews.


Fred (37 pages) In the dialogue of his own mind, Fred denies various asserted reasons for his becoming a doctor. He finds Judith in his apartment. She tells him the president has been shot. Although his ordinary thoughts go on, over the weekend he also opened to a continuing image of horror. He compulsively records radio broadcasts. He is intermittently sick. He quarrels with Judith and can't exchange feeling with Lolly. The following evening, he visits briefly with Lolly and the musicians who are quietly together in the closed cafe. He robs a store of recording tape. On Sunday, he records the details of Oswald’s death. He continues through the day of the funeral, alone, lethargic, wracked by fantasies of unrestrained world hostility.


Buff's letter to the carpenter (2 pages), in which he declines the offer of an apprenticeship because he feels he must respond to the president's death by doing his part to fill the gap left in the nation's intellectual life.


Gregory (8 pages) He savors his returning competence with the violin, which he has taken up again for the trio. His anger and frustration at the President's death continue long after the event and become involved with his feelings about the trio. He is having trouble getting past Satie on his radio program. The station management is vaguely positive about the program. He realizes things with Judith have just begun. He is going home for Christmas; he hates the prospect of arguments about money and life commitment. He blows hot and cold on his composing.


Peter (2 pages) Peter identifies with Shamans. He dreams of being attacked by Mary Victrix.


Fred (2 pages) Fred records a teacher he does not like and imagines using the recording against him.


Peter (5 pages) Peter and Lolly discuss lying and truth; she tells him she has gone to bed with Simon Pure.


Gregory (8 pages) Judith comes down for two days before he goes east. They have a good time. Their lovemaking evolves.

 

WINTER '63-'64

Letter to Lolly from Helena who is staying at school for a few days to sing in a concert. Helena describes how she first got into singing and how it now drags her down.


Fred (3 pages) He meets Lolly at the bus station when she comes back from the Midwest; she is pregnant again. They are impossible together. Nevertheless, she insists on going to Judith's party. Fred's grades are very low. He returns alone to his apartment and tries to imagine what he looks like.


Fred, Gregory, Peter (44 pages) Judith's dinner party. Other guests are Judith's parents, Helena and Buff, Lolly, and Dr. and Mrs. Ramakrishna. Fred is sullen. Judith's parents grill Gregory. Peter is catty all around. Judith is pleasantly tense and hostessy. Lolly shines as the moon. Helena envies Judith's competence. Dr. Ramakrishna talks about his experience. His wife, English, giggles with the girls, intellectualizes with the guys. The trio plays after dinner. During the playing, Simon Pure bursts in. When they are through, Gregory talks up music. Peter draws Fred into the John and asserts to him it was Simon Pure who knocked Lolly up. Fred then draws her aside and tells her he will not pay for her mistakes with other people. She locks herself in the bedroom. Fred goes to Simon to talk about another abortion, but Simon says Lolly has to do the asking herself. Fred goes back to the bedroom where Lolly has unlocked the door for Judith. Fred and Judith leave and Simon goes into Lolly. When Simon comes out, he gets into a fight with Fred. Fred is losing when Gregory and Buff separate them. In the bedroom, Lolly accuses Peter of ratting on her; Peter denies it; lying. Lolly says it does not matter. Gregory and Buff throw Simon out, dump Fred in his apartment. The party breaks up; Judith takes Lolly back to her dorm.


Fred (4 pages) Fred's father is broke. His grades are marginal. Lolly refuses to see him. He quits school, but hangs around without telling anyone. After a week, she sees him briefly in Peter's apartment to tell him that she has had the abortion and does not want to see him again.


Gregory (3 pages) Gregory struggles with his radio program. He gets a letter from Ziff saying he has failed in New York, gotten married, and will soon arrive in Big Sur to live. Gregory is eager to see Ziff.


Fred (4 pages) Fred returns to Marysville without telling his family. He gets a room through his old biology teacher, Mike Ducca. Fred thinks about killing himself, but holds on because he thinks Lolly may take him back.


Gregory (15 pages) In heavy rain, Gregory drives with Judith to Big Sur to visit Ziff. Judith tells him that her grandmother wants her to either marry or go back to school. They find Ziff and his wife cozy by the fire, she pregnant and rather sickly. Alone on the beach, Fred and Judith talk about the possibility of their getting married. Gregory says that he wants, instead, to devote himself completely to music when he graduates for at least a little while. At first Judith is angry that he brought the matter up just to avoid it; but finally she says that she wants to do whatever he wants.


Fred (3 pages) He lives in Marysville cherishing his loneliness as a sacrifice to Lolly.


Gregory (2 pages) The station manager feels Gregory out for the job of music director. Gregory declines. Pressed, he suggests Ziff.


Gregory (2 pages) Another rehearsal of the trio. They discuss their plans. Lolly is talking about the Peace Corps.


Fred (4 pages) Fred walks over to the pizzeria where Mike Ducca works, but, he is glad to report, speaks to no one. On his way back, the cops question him.


Peter (2 pages) Peter realizes that in going to college he has not found a way to lead a truly pious and cultured life merely by keeping up appearances. He recognizes the wish as childish. He prays for the strength to forgive himself and other for their childishness.


Fred (8 pages) On a Saturday, Fred goes to the pizzeria carrying his tape recorder. Mike Ducca is there and re-introduces Fred to Mike Moore. She offers him a ride home. They end up in bed. In the morning, he hates himself and hates Mike Ducca for getting him into it.


Gregory, Peter (5 pages) The trio's concert. The Archduke goes O.K. before about 30 people, including Judith. Gregory sits with Judith while Lolly plays his dirge for the president. Little reaction from the audience. Peter is usher. The Webern bores Peter. He imagines seducing Fred in some New York never-never world.


Gregory (4 pages) Dr. Ramakrishna has a small party for the trio. Gregory goes blue because of the non-reaction to his music. Buff tells him that he and Helena have decided to get married; Gregory announces it. Lolly tells why she wants to go in the Peace Corps, why she does not want a career in music, and that all she feels about Fred is that she got what she deserved. When Judith and Gregory return to his apartment, she tells him someone in Marysville has proposed to her. They agree that Gregory will respond in two weeks.


Fred (2 pages) Fred reconciles with his conscience that he should go on living despite his infidelity. He begins to make montages out of his tapes.


Gregory (4 pages) Gregory goes to Marysville and proposes. Judith says she has to think it over.

 

SPRING '64

Fred (4 pages) The first warm evening of spring makes him sick with desire. He walks over to Mike Ducca's lab intending to take a job tending bar on Saturday's. Fred finds that an accident in the lab has released something that knocked Ducca out and will, if let alone, kill him. Fred walks on. He feels for once he has done an honest thing.


Gregory (2 pages) Gregory, expecting Judith to accept his proposal, tries to get the job of music director at the radio station. Maybe he is crossing his friend Ziff.


Peter (4 pages) At a San Francisco society party, Mulgrave is introduced to Peter as an up-and-coming performer of modern music. They go to a hotel for the night.


Gregory (4 pages) In Marysville, Judith tells Gregory about Ducca's death and that their grandmother believes Fred had a hand in it. Grandmother Meuf is angry with everyone and has ordered Judith to get a job or go back to school. She will not give money to Judith if she gets married. Judith suggests she go back to school and live with Gregory in Berkeley without getting married.


Fred (2 pages) Fred is moved by a sound montage on the radio station.


Peter (2 pages) Peter arranges for Mulgrave to move in with him.


Fred (3 pages) He finishes a montage of his own. He realizes that he has been thinking all along of entering it in a contest sponsored by the radio station. He wraps it for mailing deeply embarrassed; the package disappears without explanation.


Peter (5 pages) Sometimes Mulgrave cloys Peter, at other times makes him desperately jealous. When Peter gets a scholarship, Mulgrave agrees to go with him to New York.

 

SUMMER '64

Fred (11 pages) On the 4th of July, Fred's restlessness turns to gaiety. He drives to Berkeley where he tells Judith and Gregory he approves of their living together. He reads a letter they have from Lolly describing Buff and Helena's wedding and her own reactions to Samoa. Fred asks Gregory to play something of his on record.


Gregory, Fred (2 pages) Gregory and Judith talk about Fred. Gregory plays for Fred. Gregory reports that a publisher wants his dirge. Simon Pure comes in. Simon, Fred, and Judith go out to drink beer.


Gregory (3 pages) They come back a little drunk. Fred stays overnight. Gregory and Judith go to bed and have a good fuck.


Peter (5 pages) Peter in a Times Square Juice Stand. He is coming from a party that featured both Leonard Bernstein and Rudolph Bing. Perhaps he has an assignation with someone important. He decides to go straight home. He is afraid he will not find Mulgrave. Home, he goes to the John before going to the bedroom. He begins to pray, but is conscious that his prayer is only another lie invented to coerce anxiety. Only when he plays is there no question of truth.


Gregory (1 page) Judging the contest, Gregory puts on Fred's tape without knowing it's source. He recognizes his own manipulated voice.


Excerpts