It’s 1974, and Mary is getting married again (happily) to a fellow teacher. Evelyn and Don are upset about the marriage: Evelyn has issues because Mary’s fiancé is black; Don has, well, just issues. (Some of them originating in a bottle.) Matt and Stacy have secrets: Stacy’s aware of Matt’s since it’s hiding in plain sight, but nobody knows why Stacy is so depressed following her freshman year at college.
The worst part for Stacy is that her usual haven and salvation, music, is not working. In fact, she’s refusing the play her guitar or listen to much of anything. So when Tommy shows up for the wedding with a gift for her (tapes of the underground New York rock scene), she’s not sure she wants to hear them.
If you look at the Top 100 Billboard songs of 1974, it’s not surprising that Stacy doesn’t find much comfort there. The charts were dominated by novelty songs (“The Streak,” Ray Stevens; “Billy Don’t Be a Hero,” Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods; “Wildwood Weed,” Jim Stafford; “The Night Chicago Died,” Paper Lace); overwrought pop (“Seasons in the Sun,” Terry Jacks; “You’re Having My Baby,” Paul Anka; “I Honestly Love You,” Olivia Newton-John); and cheesy covers (“You’re Sixteen,” Ringo Starr; “The Loco-Motion,” Grand Funk Railroad). Of course, it wasn’t all bad. Not much rock’n’roll, although a couple of classics made their debuts in 1974: “Radar Love” by Golden Earring and “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room” by Brownsville Station. Stevie Wonder was in the middle of a very productive phase and charted with the wonderful “Living for the City,” and Chaka Khan told us something good. California folk-rock stars like Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles, and Jackson Browne, were becoming popular. (Stacy alludes to making a “detour” into this type of music that didn’t go well.) Bowie was in his Diamond Dogs phase, and some of the glitter from glam rock was still lying around on the floor. Stacy does find herself somewhat interested in the vast musical knowledge of her brother-in-law-to-be, JC, who introduces her to Gil Scott-Heron and Stanley Clark. She knows there’s a lot more words and music out there but doesn’t trust herself to know how to find and appreciate it anymore than she trusts herself to function beyond the confines of Arboria Park without making another terrible mistake.
But Tommy has struck gold in the dives and dumps of Manhattan, with glam of the New York Dolls edging toward the punk of the Dictators. He’s also recorded poets like Patti Smith and Jim Carroll, recognized the talent of a pre-Blondie Debbie Harry, and caught the beginnings of bands like Television. This music draws Stacy’s attention and brings her to a place she hasn’t been able to find for a while (except when secretly popping pills). And after an argument (and a subsequent heart-to-heart conversation) with none other than Don, she gets back on track to resurrect a rock’n’roll dream.
The nation as a whole was dealing with secrets, lies, sneaking around, and untrustworthy people. It was the height of the Watergate scandals; President Nixon would resign just a few weeks after Mary’s wedding. The world was divided into people like Evelyn, who resists any kind of change; Tommy, who charges ahead to find anything new and different; Don, who wants to move on but can’t; and Matt, who just wants to be himself without being judged. The ’60s are over, the ’70s are looking both manic and grim. Stacy needs a shot of courage, and just knowing there are people writing and singing about the problems she sees around her provides one.