Dissatisfied with the life that his fame, fortune, and revolutionary image has bought, Wunderlick retreats to an unfurnished apartment on Great Jones Street in Manhattan and tries to pare things down. A spokesperson for Happy Valley Farms named Skippy arrives with a sample of a drug that wreaks havoc on the language centers of the brain. His possession of the drug, as well as his iconic status in the counterculture, attract the attention of a domestic terrorist organization known as the Happy Valley Farm Commune. A skinhead-like offshoot known as the Dog Boys also rampages through Wunderlick's apartment building.
In the novel Wunderlick's girlfriend Opel passes away from neglect of her health. She had arranged for the Mountain Tapes to arrive at Wunderlick's apartment for his birthday. The novel also covers his relationship with the other tenants in the building; upstairs lives a struggling author and downstairs a mother who is ashamed of her disfigured son and keeps him locked in his room after she was unable to sell him to the circus.
Bob Dylan is reputed to be one of the models for the character of Bucky Wunderlick. A key subplot involves the theft of Bucky's unreleased Mountain Tapes . These are clearly inspired by Dylan's The Basement Tapes , which would not be released until the summer of 1975 and were still shrouded in mystery. Ambitious but neurotic guitarist Azarian reflects less-than-complimentary stories about The Band's Robbie Robertson. Wunderlick's general sense of withdrawal and contrariness fit the public image of Dylan.
The Mountain Tapes are eventually destroyed by the Happy Valley commune. They also inject Wunderlick with a drug that affects the language center of the brain so Wunderlick will no longer be able to form words, only meaningless noises. Near the end of the book the drug wears off and Wunderlick begins to gain back his speech, beginning with the word "mouth."