At first it seems there are three unrelated stories about coming of age in the 60’s and 70’s. The three protagonists come from very different places, have nothing in common, and each is unaware of the other two’s existence. Connections begin to be hinted at, circumstances steer the three into contact, and eventually conflict.
Lenny comes from an affluent suburb and has it all figured out. Get an MBA, become a CPA, and concentrate on having as much fun as possible. The Vietnam war intrudes, and many of his friends (especially one special, outrageous woman) are taking a stance.
Jean grows up on a farm in New Hampshire. He plans to become an engineer and modernize the plumbing business his father and uncle own. His dad suffers a fatal heart attack during Jean’s senior year, and he needs to reorder his priorities.
Steven’s father and grandfather are members of the Brooklyn mafia, and expect Steven to follow. Steven uses his extraordinary intelligence and athleticism to become a leader in his neighborhood. His father’s aspirations for Steven include law school, professional athlete, and politician, which could be useful to the mafia.
All three protagonists have clear and attainable goals. But one uncontrollable antagonist throws a monkey wrench into their plans. Vinny is the original Bad Boy, the kid no one was allowed to play with. Tough, mean, and a head taller than every one else, Vinny was always in trouble and couldn’t have cared less. And he was in the same mafia family as Steven.
When I read James Taylor’s advice to students at the Tanglewood Music Center in August of 1998, I knew I had my title.
“Stay out of small Italian sports cars, avoid a major drug habit, and keep your overhead down. Don’t marry and have children until you are ready for that. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but no more. And always remember the path back to the well. This is not investment banking, it’s music.”
I need a combo genre, Historical Fiction/Crime Novel. Crimes are committed and people die, but the backdrop of it all is the tapestry of a seminal period in our nation’s history woven by three protagonists with very different perspectives.
The characters and their stories in It’s Music are fiction, but the events that shaped them are fact. In Caleb’s Crossing Geraldine Brooks blends fictional characters with historical facts to effectively imbed the reader into a different time period. In Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train the main character is unwittingly drawn into a criminal world she knows nothing about, and struggles to make sense of what’s happening around her. Lenny and Jean find themselves in a similar situation in It’s Music. I’ve also reached back to a couple of my favorite Golden Oldies and incorporate the generational disconnect central to Philip Roth’s The Graduate, and the combination of whimsy and gravitas reminiscent of Joseph Heller’s Catch 22.
Three twenty-somethings walk into a bar in 1969, a plumber from rural New Hampshire, a wannabe hippy from an affluent New York suburb, and a mafioso from Brooklyn. The bartender asks, “What do you three young bucks plan to do with the rest of your lives?” The plumber says, “I grew up on a farm and studied engineering so I can modernize my family’s plumbing company. I live my life according to the traditional values of rural New England.” The hippy says, “I have no use for traditional values. I’m starting a new type of family based on peace, love, and communal living. I’m a Baby Boomer, and we’re gonna’ change the world!” And the mafioso spits out, “My family has controlled our Brooklyn neighborhood since the turn of the century. We’re in need of some big-time cash right now, so I’m gonna’ dupe these two losers into helping me build a Las Vegas style casino on that useless farm in New Hampshire.”
This novel has neither the bar nor the bartender, but it does have the three young bucks. The “useless farm in New Hampshire” is the farm where Jean’s family has lived for three generations. Lenny’s merry band of hippies, which eventually includes Jean, hope to locate their commune there. But Steven has used bribery and coercion to obtain an option on the farm because the site is uniquely suited for a Las Vegas style casino, and he will stop at nothing to get the property.
Primary and Secondary Conflicts
Steven has to deal with constant intrafamily grudges that go back numerous generations. Steven’s Uncle Vito and his son Vinny are time bombs waiting to explode, and Vinny’s not interested in waiting.
New Hampshire’s mores are stuck in the 50’s, but “the times, they are a changin” and Jean’s high school sweetheart is intrigued by the possibilities. Jean is unsure, having thrived under the old order. His father’s untimely death puts pressure on Jean to make decisions about his future.
For Lenny it’s the Vietnam War that forces him to commit one way or the other. Can he really be a hippy and live on a commune? Or should he fulfill a childhood fantasy of being a fighter pilot? The upcoming draft lottery is imminent, and the rest of his life will depend on his decision.
Lenny’s decision is difficult because he’s constantly questioning himself. Does he have the courage to “Tune in, Turn on, and Drop out?” Or be a fighter pilot? Or just get his MBA and become an accountant? What do his arty friends in SoHo think of him? They’re an outrageous group, and his girlfriend Sheila, the queen of outrage, is egging him on.
The death of Jean’s father makes him the man of the house before he is ready. He’s always done the right thing, but now he can’t be sure what that is. Everything seems a half bubble off
level. His rock solid girlfriend is the steadying force helping him over the hurdles
Steven was on the OCD spectrum before “OCD” and “spectrum” was a thing. His ability to focus intensely on one thing is enabling and disabling. His teenage romance is a bewildering struggle of self-inflicted stops and starts, amplified because his connection to the mafia forces him to live a double life.
It’s Music takes place in an era of protests, assassinations, nuclear saber-rattling, war, peace, drugs, and love, clearly defined by the music we heard and sang, gospel that still elicits exuberant sing-alongs The three protagonists offer three unique perspectives on this seminal period in American history as they wend their separate ways through the tumultuous decade spanning the mid 60’s and 70’s.
Lenny’s friends are a group of aspiring actors, writers, singers, dancers, artists of all shapes and sizes who live in Soho. The establishment - politicians, bankers, police - are their enemies, clearly clueless about the real meaning of life. He sees the world through their eyes, and so does the reader.
Jean was raised in rural New Hampshire, where The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and Leave it to Beaver exemplified the ideal American family. Mary Tyler Moore and her TV husband had to be in separated twin beds when shown on The Dick Van Dyke Show. While the hypocrisy inherent in these shows was being challenged by a new wave of entertainers, they were mostly confined to independent venues in larger cities. Small town America was still living in the 1950’s. Jean is tentative, even fearful, of the new world order espoused by his peers.
Steven is a city kid from a mafia family. He deals in facts and reality and has no time for the social and political noise confusing his peers. His on-again off-again romance with Gail forces him to grapple with the changes happening around him. The combination of his extraordinary intelligence and elite athleticism push him into leadership roles in the gang-centric streets of Brooklyn. He is frequently overwhelmed, but has the fortitude and the ability to push through.