From Bobby Canavale

Vinyl – Season 1, Episode 5: “He in Racist Fire”

HBO’s Vinyl
Season 1, Episode 5: “He in Racist Fire”
Directed by Peter Sollett
Written by Adam Rapp

* For a review of the previous episode, “The Racket” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Cyclone” – click here
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Moving further through 1973, we’re back with Richie Finestra (Bobby Canavale), as he tries to juggle professional life, his family life with Devon (Olivia Wilde), and at the same time does his best to keep his involvement in the murder of Buck Rogers under wraps. Seems tough, right? Well, a little zip of cocaine and Richie can face the insurmountable odds no problem. Or can he?
This episode begins with a part Led Zeppelin-part Jethro Tull knock-off, wearing costumes and all – Wizard Fist. What a name. They perform at Renaissance fairs and such. Brutal. A bunch of other bands go on and on, as Richie listens, alongside an unimpressed Julie (Max Casella), and the ringleader of this apparent night out, Clark Morelle (Jack Quaid).
Heading off, Richie gets a call from his father Vince (David Proval). He chews his son out a bit over the alibi Richie requested. “Fuckinbig shot,” Vince eggs him on.


Richie: “Theres more than one way to be dead, pop.”
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Julie calls Clark in for a talk. There are firings going around, and Clark starts to suspect he’s gone; he’s right. “Youre fired, kid,” Julie tells him. The show the night before was certainly that one last nail in his coffin. But poor Clark’s left in tears, begging for his job. Instead he ends up with a pay cut – taking the job of Jamie Vine (Juno Temple). Because nowadays Jamie has other things to do. Meanwhile, Cece (Susan Heyward) appears to have a whole other thing going on, showing up “in a limo” in the morning, as well as other things. Damn, girl.
In the board room, Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh) and his new client Kip Stevens (James Jagger) about promotional label “bullshit” for radio stations around the country. Kip wants Jamie in there with them and tells the whole room: “Im Kip Stevens, fuck your mom; theres my bio.” Richie and the label are doing label-type things, attempting to break apart The Nasty Bits. Almost the way Jim Morrison, and other lead singers, found themselves attacked by label dudes who “groom” talent and try to take the supposed star onward, upward, away from their bands.
One thing I’m starting to love about Vinyl is how Jamie has really, despite all odds, carved a niche out for herself, amongst all the sexism and the nonsense around her. Temple is a solid actor anyways. Here, she gets to show lots of that.
Cece lets Richie know about Hannibal (Daniel J. Watts) possibly being lured to another label, by the greasy Jackie Jarvis (Ken Marino). This clearly worries Richie, and shakes him up. Just as he seemed to be doing all right. He calls Devon and cons her into a date, which is actually him trying to “impress” a client.


Richie: “You up for some fondue? If not we can fondont. Go somewhere else.”
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Jamie’s worried about her job, as Clark is in her position now. No promotion for her, though. I suppose at least she’s still got a job while others are being sacked. Still, raw deal for bringing in a new act.
Out on a photo shoot, Richie goes to see Andrea Zito (Annie Parisse). They’ve got a complicated past. It’s clear Richie abused their relationship in some ways, giving too little while taking too much. He wants her to help the label, but she gives him options on how to bring her into the fold. Richie tries to sell her hard: “Youll have a voice, okay. Im different, Andy.”
At a high class restaurant, Jamie meets with a woman, obviously her mother, who she lies to about a promotion with American Century Records. But she gets the reply: “Youre an embarrassment.”


In the office, Richie finds his father laughing and drinking with employees. Vince calls himself “just an old horn player“, yet it is extremely clear that Richie cares about his opinion. And things go on devolving until they’re basically at each others throat. But Vince is at odds even more now with his son needing that alibi. After discovering the nefarious shit Richie’s involved with, Vince is feeling worse.
A brief Little Richard (CJ Lacey) interlude, as he woos and wails his way away. Beauty.
In the studio, Jamie listens to The Nasty Bits rock hard. It is super raw and sounds a bit brutal. Eventually, Kip gets into an argument with his guitar player, calling him “lazy“; Jamie’s rubbing off on him. Yet after the session when Lester arrives, there’s trouble – he fires the guitarist, tough and to the point.
Out at dinner, Richie’s entertaining Hannibal best he can. Lots of fun, some laughs. The title of the episode comes from an anagram of Richie Finestra out of Hannibal, displaying a talent for coming up with them.
There’s still the problem of Kip and his heroin. He has the addiction and he’s afraid nobody is around to “take the knocks” with him. In comes Jamie, promising just that.


While Devon and Hannibal dance, Richie snorts some coke in the bathroom. He joins everybody and they’re all having fun. Just like normal people. Things get a little too sexual, as Hannibal and Devon dance with lust. Richie hauls Cece into his lap forcibly, which she doesn’t appreciate much. Soon enough, you can see the look in Richie’s eyes go dark while Devon enjoys Hannibal, quite a bit. The night ends abruptly. But Richie brought her there to impress, for the purpose of business, and he got upset when things went south. I don’t blame her. I blame him. Maybe Hannibal a bit, as well. Either way things get hot and heavy in the elevator before getting complicated. She knows she was “bait” and then reveals there was no plan to bang Hannibal, just a blow in the bathroom for Richie from a faithful wife. He goes way too far before getting smacked.


Richie: “Want a bump?”
Hannibal: “I dont need a bump. I got a bump.”
Devon: “Why yes you do, sir.”
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The cops have got Richie’s place bugged. They heard the conversation between Papa Finestra and his son. With further and further evidence, how long does Richie have before cuffs click on those wrists?
Richie gets a call later from Jarvis, who’s just signed Hannibal. Wow. Just, wow. Not particularly impressed with Hannibal at this point, either.
We get a great Lou Reed (Connor Hanwick) scene, “White Light, White Heat” rocking over the crowd. At the same time, Devon heads into the Hotel Chelsea, while Richie’s at the club with Lou onstage and talking to Andrea. Their history becomes clearer with each conversation. He has really insulted two important women in his life in this episode, though, Andrea gets a slight satisfaction out of Richie’s revelations. Regardless, she gets in on the label. Another extra dimension to Richie and his life filling up with madness. Lots of things are adding up. Will he go too far, again, and cheat on Devon?

This was an intense episode. Can’t wait to see “Cyclone” next! Stay tuned with me, fellow fans.

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Vinyl – Season 1, Episode 4: “The Racket”

HBO’s Vinyl
Season 1, Episode 4: “The Racket”
Directed by S.J. Clarkson
Written by Debora Cahn

* For a review of the previous episode, “Whispered Secrets”  – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “He in Racist Fire” – click here
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This episode opens on Otis Blackwell (Gregory Bastien) singing “Please Help Me Find My Way Home”, crooning in lights, surrounded by colours. Only we morph into a scene at a funeral for the dead and gone Buck Rogers (Andrew Dice Clay). In the pews watching on sit a few of the American Century Records crew, such as Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano) and Skip Fontaine (J.C. MacKenzie).
Meanwhile, Richie Finestra (Bobby Canavale) and Devon (Olivia Wilde) are having couples counselling. Except using a tennis racket to smash a pillow, prescribed by their doctor, gives us edits of Richie from the couch to the memory of smashing Buck’s head in savagely. A great bit of writing and editing combined. “I dont want him to feel better, I want him to feel worse,” Devon makes clear to her therapist and Richie.


On the way back from the funeral, Zak, Julie (Max Casella) and the others chat about the situation at their label. Everyone’s worried. For his part, Julie sticks on Richie’s side; out of loyalty or the need of a job, that’s another story. Then there’s Richie snorting coke, ordering everyone around. Zak gets more and more pissed off with everything that’s going on. “Bunch of whiners,” screams Julie after the bitching gets too much for him. One great mention: Julie is headed into the studio with Mr. Robert Goulet (Matt Bogart).
Cut to the ACR office. Hannibal (Daniel J. Watts) shows up to fanfare, and a bit of racist leaning dialogue from a trying-too-hard white guy stating there’s “ribs” and all kinds of food for them. Only they’re “vegetarians now” so the white dude says: “Get this shit outta here.” Hilarious moment. Afterwards, Richie does his best to make Hannibal and the crew feel at home. In other news at the office, Jamie Vine (Juno Temple) and Clark Morelle (Jack Quaid) butt heads a bit, as the latter is trying to work his ass off and sign an act; Jamie’s beating him with The Nasty Bits so far.


Devon skims through a bunch of photos she took, specifically the mess Richie left, the guitar through the television. She resents Richie for going back to their old life, the one they agreed to leave behind, and that she gave up her old life, essentially, for nothing.
Over at the office, VIP-treating Hannibal, Richie attempts to spin him and his label as the best of the lot. He does give a good sell, maybe a bit of a hard one. Either way, people love to party with Richie, especially when he busts out a nice load of cocaine for them to start railing. A nice jazzy record goes on. Despite his faults, Richie knows damn good music. They vibe and get high. So Richie’s not particularly dedicated to doing better for his marriage. He’s more concerned with business than his relationship, the love of his life. And then there’s the fact Hannibal, as well as others, look at Richie (and ACR) in a different light because of the non-sale of the label. Richie does good for now, though. He knows what Hannibal digs.
In the midst of all that, Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh) arrives to see Riche. As do The Nasty Bits. Yet even though Lester arrives later than them, he goes in first. “Welcome to American Century,” Lester tells the boys: “Get ready to take it up the ass.”
Zak and Scott Levitt (P.J. Byrne) each reminisce, as well as lament, their time at American Century Records. They don’t like how Richie treats them. All the same, even if they’re decent at their jobs, they don’t fit well with the music business. Rock n’ roll Richie does, faults and major flaws aside. “Im a relationship person,” Zak declares – then complains about his steak being “too rare” and sends it back. Moment full of irony there, as he bitches saying Richie is only all about himself. Found it worth a chuckle.
Then there’s Skip. He heads down to a factory pressing records. There are problems with some of the shady shit they do at ACR. Turns out there are issues with one of the latest shipments. Will this bring legal troubles? You can be sure it’s nothing good. God damn Donny Osmond.


With Curtis Mayfield playing over the scene, Richie receives Lester Grimes, as Hannibal still kicks around, then Goulet shows up with questions. So many things happening at once. At least Hannibal finds himself busy with the beautiful black secretary in Richie’s office. In the lobby, The Nasty Bits aren’t happy with waiting around so long, and Jamie has to fund their dinner.
Lester’s not happy with the tapes. He can’t sing anymore and it hurt him. In front of Richie, he burns the tape and tosses it in a wastebasket. This starts a little fire that sets off the sprinklers. Janis Joplin (Catherine Stephen) shows up in another one of those cutscenes, singing her heart out.
Busy with a possible divorce, Devon talks to a lawyer. That’s what the pictures are doing now, serving as evidence of Richie’s unstable nature, his drug abuse, et cetera. The conversation gets out of hand for Devon and she ends up with a lot of advice from the lawyer, plus a big charge. The lawyer says she’s not getting a divorce apparently. We’ll see about that.


The Nasty Bits and Lester end up chatting, drinking at a bar. He has lots to say about signing with a studio, all the downsides of the supposedly glamorous life. He’s almost hellbent to destroy any further acts from signing with Riche. Wouldn’t you be? Raw deal for Lester. He explains the royalties and “all that shit” which end up going to the label, everything the artists who are dying to sign contracts don’t know or understand.
Richie gets ready then has to go sign The Nasty Bits. Or try, anyways. Much of what Lester warned begins to happen. Lead singer Kip Stevens (James Jagger) then introduces their new manager: Lester fucking Grimes. “You two go back, dont ya?” Kip asks with a tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Skip’s not having much of a good time. At a store, he finds his Donny Osmond marketing isn’t going so hot. Their old operation does not fly anymore. It’s slipping through their fingers and Skip doesn’t feel too calm.
In the office, Lester battles it out with Richie. He’s not pleased with Lester, for the office burning up, gold records damaged, as well as the demands he is making for The Nasty Bits. An offer gets laid on the table. But the conversation turns to the young man whom Richie heard at the club in the first episode, where he finally encountered Lester again; the turntable guy from Lester’s building. Maybe Lester might become the manager for his early hip hop DJ act? Hopefully so.
Bit more friction at the label. Clark runs afoul of Marvin (Ephraim Sykes), claiming there’s talk that he’s only a token black guy, to bring in black artists, “the brothers” and all that. Is Clark playing games? Trying to find an angle in on keeping/securing his job? The record business is getting ruthless.


Hannibal runs into the sleazy Jackie Jarvis (Ken Marino), who puts a negative spin on anything Richie-related. He claims to be a “fan” of Hannibal’s music, no matter what label the band is on. Big show, and backstage Cece (Susan Heyward) the secretary watches on. Will Richie make it in time? Perhaps another brick in the wall of ACR’s mausoleum, unless things turn around. Their negative look could definitely be their downfall, especially with people unhappy working there.
Plus, Richie gets word of Jarvis at the show. While he snorts more coke in the low light of his office. Always something. And at his door, up show some detectives. Neither of them appear too impressed with Richie, though, they seem to dig Robert Goulet and want to know more about his latest Christmas album. Richie’s presence was expected at the funeral, casting suspicion on him. All the while, he has flashbacks of Buck, both alive and while being killed. The editing again is awesome here. Things get dicey for Rich, being the last number called from Rogers’ place the night of his murder. Uh oh.


Bit of Goulet in the studio recording his holiday songs. Although, Zak and Julie sit in the back, disgusted with how low they’re supposedly stooping. Then Skip is across town offloading a ton of Donny Osmond records in some building, somewhere. All the wheels of ACR turn rusty and with a ton of grease. Richie spins out of control, wondering what’s next to fall apart. The Nasty Bits celebrate with Jamie upstairs outside the office, punking it out on the fire escape drinking. Everybody’s in their own little pocket, troubles abound. Even the good situations are lined with an ominous tint.
At home, Devon gets a call from Richie. She tries to tell him about the divorce lawyer. He doesn’t hear anything, though. He only says he’ll be home “tomorrow” and hangs up. She goes back to scrubbing dishes in the dark, nearly scrubbing right through a pan. He treats her terribly. When will Devon finally break completely? Soon enough, no doubt. Right afterwards she starts hammering the window with the pan until it breaks.
Down the basement steps somewhere, Richie heads through a dimly-lit hallway and into a club with jazz playing, smooth and beautiful. Sitting there playing the trumpet, as it turns out, is Vince Finestra (David Proval) – father to Richie. They sit at the bar together. “You still dry?” asks Vince. Richie replies no, then some attitude comes out of dear old dad. There’s clearly bad blood there, too. They obviously don’t have a great relationship, which comes out in their conversation. “I need an alibi,” Richie tells his father.


Nice close to this episode with Nina Simone singing “Sinnerman” over the credits. Can’t wait for the next chapter, “He in Racist Fire”, so stay tuned with me next week.

Vinyl – Season 1, Episode 3: “Whispered Secrets”

HBO’s Vinyl
Season 1, Episode 3: “Whispered Secrets”
Directed by Mark Romanek
Written by Debora Cahn/Adam Rapp/Jonathan Tropper

* For a review of the previous episode, “Yesterday Once More” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Racket” – click here
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Rollin’ like a stone, Vinyl just keeps on coming!
This episode starts off on a record label banquet. Jackie Jarvis (Ken Marino) is up giving a speech for a Lifetime Achievement to Maury Gold (Paul Ben-Victor). Jarvis takes a shot at a few people, under the guise of comedy, even Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) who feels slighted. Richie’s also busy staring at the card on a table reserving Rogers’ seat; in between flashes of beating Rogers to death.
But after a sniff of cocaine, Richie’s feeling fine. His wife, Devon (Olivia Wilde), is not happy about hearing of her husband’s record label sale being called off from Jarvis. So Richie confronts Jarvis then goes to speak with Maury. Because Richie has things to ask Maury, about the mob connections to Corrado Galasso (Armen Garo). Except Maury has nothing but venom for his old protege.
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Cut back to the end of last episode. Richie sits with Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh), trying to act like old pals. It’s clear Lester is only worried about keeping himself “grounded” whereas Richie sits across from him, blowing his nose into a handkerchief and seeing blood. You can hear a low, raspy quality to Lester’s voice, obviously from the injury he suffered at the hands of Galasso and his men years ago. Rich has the old tapes from their sessions, he wants to give Lester a chance after all these years. Only Lester lost his voice. He tosses Richie out, threatening him to never comeback.
Then, coming back to ’73, we get the visual metaphor of water swirling down a drain. Just like Richie’s life.
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At the American Century Records office, Richie gets a note from Joe Corso (Bo Dietl) – a matter of “mutual interest” requires their attention. More coke, more flashbacks to Buck dying, then Richie is off.
Julie Silver (Max Casella) runs a bunch of names past Richie – from Terry Jacks, Dr. Hook, to Status Quo and Grand Funk Railroad, and so on – along with Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano). Some acts get cut. Others are obvious keepers, some possible moneymakers later on. Everybody’s stressed about money. Richie only wants to save money, so they can keep running.
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Zak: “While youre at it see if you can say a fuckinprayer for this company
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In Lester’s building we see an early D.J. fading songs in and out of one another. Watching on, Lester sees two old men start to boogie who rag on the young man for not letting songs play all the way through. But Lester encourages him to keep on working at it. Dig this scene. Perhaps a new way for Lester to make it in music – hip hop? Can’t wait for more of his story.
Clark Morelle (Jack Quaid) meets Alice Cooper (Dustin Ingram) in the recording studio. He knows of Richie and the label. Morelle tries to influence Alice into going solo because the band is just a band behind him, and “Youre Alice.”
Then there’s Julie, along with Jamie Vine (Juno Temple), trying to get The Nasty Bits into shape playing some Knicks. Jamie isn’t happy about the band sounding unlike themselves. Out of nowhere, the band and the others are surprised by the owners of the building. Apparently. Everyone packs and up and leaves quick, as the owners start calling the police. Is this some backstory of Jamie’s, or what? Or is she just a sly dog?


Jump back in time, as Devon stares at an obvious Andy Warhol painting. She and Richie are in bed together, the latter with a period-appropriate grease-stache. A happier time in their lives, juxtaposed with the chaos of their present days. What’s clear is that Devon, somewhere along the line, stifled her creativity to allow Richie everything he wanted. So now she’s seemingly forever under his thumb.
Over at ACR, Richie’s banging cocaine up his nose while talking to an employee. He’s trying to get ahead of Jackie Jarvis and his big mouth. They need to make the label look better. After his first meeting, up shows Corso, who needs to talk. Turns out he has a possible act for Richie to sign. Maybe.
Back with Morelle, he’s still chatting to Alice Cooper, and also trying to get a random woman’s hand off his dick. He’s continually trying to make sure Alice will seek out ACR, promising a few little things here and there. Johnny Thunders (Jonny D’Ambrosio) arrives to talk a bit of shit. In the background, a nice painting is defiled with shaving cream. Rock n’ roll.
Devon needs a bit more cash for an event. Instead of being understanding at all, Richie denies her. But his wife is not pleased with what he’s “thrown” her, which all but confirms her giving up dreams for him.


On the golf course in the early morning, Morelle watches Alice drive some golf balls. Clark’s also got a bit of leftover eye shadow on, plus a big snake wrapping around his neck. These pieces with Alice are incredible. Gives us such an insight into how Cooper really acted behind the scenes. Seems like a fun dude.
At his apartment, Lester listens to the old sessions, picking up his guitar. He sits and plays it a little. He sings, too. Although his voice is rusty, a bit harsh, you can hear the soul in him come out. This turns into a vision of him singing beautifully again, sat under the blue stage lights, almost like being back in the day once more; the sound of a band behind him, his old voice in his throat. He envisions a life with a family, gold records on the wall and a beautiful house surrounding him. Only the tragic cut edits us right back into ’73, with Lester croaking out the blues.
Meanwhile, Devon isn’t fairing too well either. She is out to see Andy Warhol (John Cameron Mitchell). He immediately puts her on the camera, his new skinnier one: “Everythings skinnier now,” Andy remarks. She has the picture from her wall, the one she stared at earlier. She wants Andy to sign it – but only so she’ll be able to sell it, which Andy knows is the case. Devon tries to sell her own idea of the ballet company, eventually crying a little. Her old friend understands the need to sell the picture, and agrees to sign it.


Hoping to create another sub-label to ACR, Richie brainstorms while listening to Howlin’ Wolf – who actually shows up in one of the brief segues we’ve come to expect from Vinyl. From the blue, Maury and Galasso arrive for a chat. Galasso wants to know about the cop who came to see Richie concerning the murder they’re tangled up with; little do they know of Finestra’s trouble. Things go smooth for the time being.
Right afterwards, we find police and the coroner discovering a body: that of Buck Rogers, head bashed into strawberry jam.
While Alice jams with his band, Clark shows up. They’re in the midst of testing a guillotine prop. Then Alice turns on Morelle, alerting the band of what he’s up to. Well a story comes out about Richie Finestra and how he fucked Alice/the band over. This whole thing has been a tease. They frighten the hell out of Clark and send him packing back to ACR.
At least Devon’s having a better time. Now with a Warhol in-tow, making the ballet company leaders quite happy. Sadly, though, they want another ten thousand dollars out of her, which really puts a damper on things.


Onstage are The Nasty Bits for a showcase in front of Richie. He’s not impressed: “Theyre oatmeal.” He liked their “raw, alive” demo. The stuff he wanted was the wild, crazy sound their demo had. His disgust shows, even to Kip Stevens (James Jagger). But Jamie rushes the stage and tells him to play their actual stuff. She tosses a beer bottle to convince Kip, gladly accepting the chance. Rather than leave, Richie heads back to the stage so he can hear. He digs. “What the fuck just happened?” asks Julie, bewildered.
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At home relaxing, Richie puts the tape Whispered Secrets into his player; the one Corso gave him. Then, as if the stars align, Corso calls to tell Richie about the body being found by some “kids playinin a lot” – it obviously rocks him. So he plays the tape, starting with “Danny’s Song” in a nice folky sound. The song is like a bittersweet moment, as the beautiful voice pours from the speakers and Richie can only sit silently, unable to concentrate on the music, the Warhol missing from the wall. Nothing is in its right place.
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Next episode, “The Racket”, ought to be interesting. Love the progression of the plot and the characters. This series is really picking up. Stay tuned with me, fellow fans.

Vinyl – Season 1, Episode 2: “Yesterday Once More”

HBO’s Vinyl
Season 1, Episode 2: “Yesterday Once More”
Directed by Allen Coulter
Written by Terence Winter

* For a review of the pilot – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Whispered Secrets” – click here
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Open on Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) watching a martial arts flick with Bruce Lee on the big screen, attempting the moves himself, all the while snorting coke. Problem is he’s not alone and “disturbing the other patrons” causing troubles.
Cut to Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano), Skip Fontaine (J.C. MacKenzie) and Scott Levitt (P.J. Byrne) trying to stall the Germans, as Richie is quite late. Zak reels off a story, everyone laughing and trying to play things up.
At the Finestra house, the television is left smashed with the Bo Diddley guitar still in it. Devon (Olivia Wilde) gets a call from Zak, letting him know about the Richie bender. She’s absolutely not impressed with her husband, though, she puts on a good face for the children. At the office, Zak slips some pills in order to cope with the stress; he does not look happy, either. And finally, up shows Richie looking like death walking – he’s still bleeding, covered in dust from the collapse at the New York Dolls show. Seems like Richie has a God complex now, or something similar. He feels almost invincible, between the cocaine and surviving the building falling down on top of him. He says they aren’t selling the company, then a wild scene breaks out as the boys try to calm their friend down. My favourite bit so far? The cuts to Jerry Lee Lewis (Lance Lapinsky) playing “Breathless” in a silhouetted, smokey frame.


Bottom line – Richie’s renewed his love of rock n’ roll. Then he pulls out some Bruce Lee shit on his buddies, except for Skip who dives over the couch to avoid an ass-kicking. “Is this how you do business in America?” asks one of the Germans. “Take a hike you Nazi prick,” Richie replies. Stumbling away with Zak and Scott bleeding, Skip tells them: “Its like the lottery in fuckinreverse.” Over in his own office, Richie talks with Julie Silver (Max Casella), who wants to know what’s happening. Everyone seems to know what sort of guy Richie is, obviously he’s had problems in the past of which everybody at the office is aware. But Julie’s got no problem doing a bit of coke with the boss.
Now we switch over to Devon, who daydreams of a time before. Lou Reed (Connor Hanwick) plays with The Velvet Underground, as Andy Warhol (John Cameron Mitchell) and others sit around watching them. Richie is there looking quite different, as is Devon; before they were together. Devon takes pictures and Richie casually asks about her a little, they lock eyes and a connection is clearly imminent. In a bathroom, they meet and form an instant, steamy bond. Outside, Lou and the band rock on to “Run, Run, Run”. Coming back to reality, Devon drives on listening to a song on the radio, seeing Karen Carpenter in the car next to her – until she realizes her children aren’t in the car with them. She forgot the kids, but turns back quickly.
Meanwhile, Richie is busy shaping his staff up for the new regime. “Take that fuckinJefferson Airplane poster with you,” he screams at an employee, firing him and tossing his ass out the door. Richie wants kick ass, balls to the wall music, he wants everybody to start looking for the best stuff with the right kick. A hilarious scene, though, sort of disturbing because we know Richie’s off the wagon hardcore. Afterwards, Jamie Vine (Juno Temple) heads in to talk with her boss. She wants to know if he thought The Nasty Bits were any good, which he says they were, but they need an “MC5” sort of thing to give them better edge. Richie gives Jamie a chance to show what she’s worth by setting up a showcase for the band, plus she also hauls some coke out of her bra just as he asks for another vial; the look on his eyes spell THANK YOU. “If you ever rat me out again to Richie, Ill kick you in the fucking cunt,” Jamie quietly tells the receptionist on her way out.


Devon is reliving part of her old life, too. She takes pictures of the television with the Bo Diddley axe in it, artistically framed and such. Then receives a call from the police informing her of Richie’s car being near the building collapse, which obviously worries her as she hasn’t seen her husband yet. Even though he’s just at the office, coked up.
Zak is getting his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah ready. Only now the money is racking up and the deal isn’t going through. On top of all that, his nose is smashed to bits. Things are getting heavy for Zak now, but he takes it half decently. For now.
Another scene cut in here of a musician playing – this time, Bobby Bland (Jo’ell Jackson) sings “I’ll Take Care of You”, crooning away. Cut to Devon finding Bobby in the shower, upset at him yet glad he’s alive. For his part, he loves her. Maybe he’s fucked up, he definitely is. But he loves her, and she loves him, too. Only he can’t let her know what the real pressure happening is about; he claims it’s work, his birthday. It’s the murder, though. Clearly.
And right after they start to talk, a detective shows up: homicide division. It isn’t about Buck. It’s about Maury Gold (Paul Ben-Victor), his association with the mob, and a recent murder tying them all together. One the cop leaves, Richie breaks down: “Im a bad person,” he cries to his wife, weeping in her lap.
Flashback to hanging with Andy and all those folk. Richie has a slightly different look, now he and Devon are together. They’re all taking drugs, relaxing at what is likely The Factory. Andy’s a little jealous of Richie, being Devon’s boyfriend and all. When Andy comes over he is coy, faux-friendly, but somehow slightly sweet. Richie talks Devon into going on camera for Andy, which only requires her to sit there and look nice. The whole time she and Richie look at one another across the room.


Julie’s busy with Jamie, listening to The Nasty Bits. He is not impressed; not with the singer Kip (James Jagger) or his voice, not with the music, none of it. Julie does his best to explain how they can “suck less” and lays out the way they’ll impress Richie, as well as possibly get signed. This includes learning a Kinks tune to play for the boss, to which The Nasty Bits agree after a bit of whinging.
Having a worse is Zak, whose life becomes more and more a pain with each minute. His money problems are spiraling now that their huge deal for the label isn’t going through. I can feel something building, but what? Where will Zak turn? His wife certainly isn’t making it any better, having become accustomed to their obviously fairly lavish lifestyle. He gets out of bed and heads to the garage. In his car, he seems to contemplate taking a handful of pills then decides against it. Instead, he beats the hell out of the back-end with a wrench.
Flashback to the old days of Richie and Devon, as their present isn’t so wonderful. They’re hanging with The Factory crowd a little more, everyone drinking, making out, so on. Things were once incredible.
Back to ’73, as Devon wakes up to find Richie gone, their bed empty. Out on the street, Richie looks all business. He’s in the black neighbourhood where we saw him get a gun pulled on him during the pilot, where we saw his brief reunion with Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh). Richie carries a huge envelope inside, right to the door of Lester who reluctantly lets his old friend inside: “We gotta talk,” says Richie.


This was an excellent follow-up to the first two-hour extravaganza from Martin Scorsese. Looking forward to the next episode, “Whispered Secrets” – stay tuned with me!

Vinyl – Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”

HBO’s Vinyl
Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by George Mastras

* For a review of the next episode, “Yesterday Once More” – click here
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This Martin Scorsese-Mick Jagger produced HBO show starts out with a pilot directed by Scorsese himself. Everyone’s been anticipating this slice of nostalgia, along with all the grim, grit, the glitz and the glam side by side.
Vinyl begins in New York City, 1973. Richie Finestra (Bobby Canavale) sits in his car, drinking from a bottle not far from a few homeless, some prostitutes, and other such people littering an alleyway. A man from the corner asks what Richie wants, to which he replies a “quarter“; of coke, that is. Turns out Richie doesn’t have a job anymore, so it appears. He wipes a bit of coke across his teeth, seemingly calming himself. He can’t find anything to do a line off, so he tears off his rear-view mirror, lines one off – a big one – and uses a cop’s business card to straighten it up, then snorts it quick. Afterwards, he even calls the cop from Homicide Division, but a bunch of young people running to a club disrupt him, even hurtling over the top of his car. He puts the phone’s receiver down to go check out where all the kids are rushing. Instead of standing in line, Richie barges through, but not before a bouncer who knows him says: “Clean your nose.”
Inside, overdose cases are carried away, blowjobs going down in the hall and even a big fat guy in underwear stands by the side. Further in Richie finds the music rocking, people of all kinds jamming to the music. Front and center is a band wailing hard – The New York Dolls playing “Personality Crisis” – the androgynous lead singer with lipstick belting out lyrics, a long-haired guitar player chopping riffs, all the while people jump and pulse to the songs. It’s as if Richie is hearing something else others aren’t, as if he can see something happening in front of his eyes; he spaces out, staring into the band and blown away. Meanwhile, the place is so loud and boisterous the lights above the stage are bouncing, everything is chaotic, and Bobby finds himself literally at the middle; a metaphor for being in the very middle of the scene.
Skip to Richie in a nice white-grey suit at the head of a table, gold lighter in hand. His narration tells us: “I earned the right to be hated.” They’re in Germany, earlier in 1973. It’s clear to us now Richie has a bit of an ego at this point. Plus, his raging drug problem, as evidenced from the start, is obviously a sticking point.
Now we’re introduced to the others. First, Zak Yankovich (Ray Romano) who heads around with cash and cocaine to a radio station; he and the DJ take a rip off a spinning record, doing business. Second, there’s Skip Fontaine (J.C. MacKenzie) who helps Richie offload records that don’t sell and get sent back. Usually those end up in the river, or somewhere else unlikely, which translates into profit for the label, American Century Records. At this point, though, their label is in lots of trouble. Time to cut and run.
The trio heads off after talking with the Germans looking to buy the label. We’re slowly leaning into the decadence of the 1970’s rock n’ roll music scene, as Richie and his crew board their own private jet, drinking, girls in tow. At this point in time they’re trying to sign Led Zeppelin to their label. And while Richie recognizes they’re in this whole mess because of the jet, the expenses, all that, Skip follows this with: “Lets do some coke.”
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Jamie Vine (Juno Temple) wanders off a subway train. She sits at a bench, and next to her a shady guy lays down his bag; she does the same, taking his with her as she goes. Up to a beautiful, luxurious building goes Jamie with a cardboard tray full of fast-food and soda – this is American Century Records. The receptionist at the front desk deals with a guy from a band named Kip Stevens (James Jagger) – then Jamie takes over, as she apparently works in A&R.
In her desk drawer, Jamie piles a ton of drugs from uppers, downers, coke to marijuana, pre-rolled joints and all sorts of things. Then she listens to a tape from Kip, but Clark Morelle (Jack Quaid) shows up for an ounce of weed. Amazing office to imagine, and I’m sure there were these situations in the 1970’s throughout many different label offices. Further than that we’re entrenched in the record business here, as Jamie and Clark discuss what happens if the shop gets sold off and try to figure out how they’re going to stay afloat. Zeppelin’s signed to the label, though, as Clark says: “Richie signed them.”
Another character is brought in now, Julie Silver (Max Casella). We witness him have a terrible phone call before tossing things around his office, tearing up his desk, all in front of the rest of the staff. Seems he’s feeling the hot water start to boil like everyone else.
Down at a club on 33rd and 7th, Richie has to deal with a bit of nastiness. Apparently there are bad things happening at the venue where Led Zeppelin is playing. Richie finds Robert Plant (Zebedee Row) and they discuss what the problem is, and it’s money, money, money. Although, Richie tries his best to cool things off. Then he finds out things are worse than ever, as Zeppelin clearly ain’t happy with ACR. Loving the inclusion of some famous names. I dig Row’s portrayal of Plant, even if it’s only a brief couple moments. Short yet awesome scene watching Zeppelin from Richie’s perspective, as Plant dances around the stage and wails his beautiful voice, Jimmy Page (Harrison Cofer) rips the guitar. Still, Richie almost cries knowing the band is lost to them pretty much.
Headed to Greenwich Village, a driver takes Richie past a black neighbourhood. There he sees people dancing in the streets, music playing. He wants to know what the music is, who’s in charge. A gun gets pointed in his face and a man looks as if he appears to know Richie. But off goes the car and Richie’s left wide-eyed. He heads home and listens to a recording session, as he kicks back. He’s listening to Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh) – we flash to where Richie is working at a bar, as Lester plays the guitar to pieces, singing onstage with a tight blues band jamming out a great tune. The history between these two is laid out, so that after a little while we can understand why Lester wasn’t too eager to have Richie stop off at the club where he and his people were enjoying themselves. Obviously Richie screwed him over. We’ll figure out more as the episodes run on.
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The cocaine, the extravagant living, the staying out all night – it takes a toll. Richie gets a call from his wife at home, Devon Finestra (Olivia Wilde). He says when the deal finally goes through their relationship will get better, he’ll be home more and so on.
But right now he has more pressing issues at hand. Peter Grant (Ian Hart), of Led Zeppelin management, is flipping his lid at the ACR office. He isn’t happy about the Germand buying ACR, calling them “Nazi bastards” over and over. Naturally, we’re barely 40 years on from the Second World War in ’73, so some people, certainly the British, had issues with Germans even then. And Riche is pretty pissed, too. His team isn’t all pulling their weight, such as Scott Levitt (P.J. Byrne) who nearly faces the full wrath of Richie. But it all comes out ACR was leverage for a better deal.
Into the pictures comes Frank ‘Buck’ Rogers (Andrew Dice Clay), a radio station owner. A situation with Donny “fucking” Osmond pops up, which ends as Frank threatening to boycott the ACR label entirely; zero play on any of their albums. So Richie decides he’s got to take the reins, setting shifty deeds and above board promotions into motion. Zak, Scott and Skip are left holding all the shit. Mostly.
No good news from the boardroom either. Clark, Julie and the rest are pounded into the dirt by Richie, who isn’t happy with their performance. Sadly, Richie is not a great dude. He is very flawed, and seems to take his issues out on others. While cooking the books he comes down on his employees who are trying their hardest. Then Jamie seizes her moment saying she has a band she’ll be checking out, lying that she “saw the singer on the subway and liked his look“; we know where she found them, though. Richie doesn’t give her much credit all the same, calling her a “sandwich girl” when the actual title she holds is Assistant in A&R. Oh, the times!
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Lester Grimes is going through the motions in a flashback to earlier times. Nobody wants blues, apparently. Richie and his boss Maury Gold (Paul Ben-Victor) suggest he record under another name – “Little” Jimmy Little – doing something other than blues. Later, he’ll be allowed to do the blues once those albums sell. What we’re seeing here is a more innocent, untouched Richie, whose time in the business has obviously altered who he is fundamentally. Also, it is the beginning of the end of the relationship between Lester.
Back to ’73. Jamie is down at a club listening to Kip and his band. They’re bombing, mostly due to people heckling, throwing bottles. Until Kip starts a fight and jumps into the crowd, throwing headbutts and punches galore. A riot nearly breaks out, as Kip and his guitar player crack unruly fans in the face with instruments. Later, Jamie beds Kip and tells him he needs to cultivate a “persona“, something akin to Iggy Pop or someone similar. Being hated by a crowd? Not the worst thing in the world. A visceral reaction is good in the rock world. Except Kip also has a heroin issue, so that might be the beginning of his end right there, too.
At a wild sex club of some sort, Richie meets with Buck who is a true piece of shit. The conversation is mostly Rogers talking and talking, yelling, cursing. I’ve got to say, Andrew Dice Clay does a solid job with the character; I didn’t know he had it in him. He does more than bring out the terrible side of Rogers, he actually makes a solid character out of it all. I never thought there’d be subtlety coming from Clay, yet there it is with him being both out of control and also contained at various times.
Flashback to the recording studio where Richie has Lester in the booth performing as “Little” Jimmy Little, doing a bunch of fluffy tunes that are clearly not his style. They’re using him to do a bunch of doo-wop sounding songs. Tragic to see an obviously talented man having to resort to doing what he doesn’t want to do. Not to mention there’ll be a fallout somewhere along the line between Lester and Richie. Seeing Richie paralleled from ’73 to his recent past is amazing, as we can tell he’s fallen a long way off. Also, maybe he’s getting what he deserves in the future. Karma is a real bitch.
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In ’73, Richie’s being thrown a birthday party. He isn’t too keen on it, but he’s there for now. We do get a sense from Devon she was once a party girl, knowing Andy Warhol and that whole entourage. But she tells a friend: “My heart is full.” Riche also gets an amazing present from his friends – a guitar once owned by “The Originator himself“, a.k.a Bo Diddley (Kareem Bunton), who we see in a great sort of psychedelic scene playing away. Love the way this whole pilot episode is shot. It has typical Scorsese aspects, then a whole lot of throwback style filmmaking overall.
From his party, Richie is contacted by Joe Corso (Bo Dietl). He and Rogers are still up, two days straight, coked to the gills. Apparently Richie has to go and take care of things, right in the middle of a celebration.
Cut quick back to Lester – he is not happy getting no pay, as the records aren’t selling. Richie has a load of excuses, while Lester “just wants to sing” and he isn’t getting the deal they made “four years ago“. We hear talk of Richie starting his own label, taking Lester along for the ride. Is that what breaks them? Perhaps Lester never ever was taken with ACR. Seems very likely.
In ’73 again, Richie heads to Rogers’ place on Long Island. Buck is busy playing drums along with Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” on the stereo. The scene there is fairly hostile, as Buck is lit up high on cocaine, insulting Richie almost right off the bat. After a few minutes, out comes a gun, but Corso talks Buck down; seems he was just fooling around. But one thing leads to another and soon enough Buck lays a kiss on Richie, prompting a good punch. A fight breaks out and then Corso ends up cracking Buck over the head a couple times with a small award statue. Rogers bleeds out on the floor, his head split open. And now a terrifying situation takes hold of the two left behind. Buck ain’t dead yet, though. It takes another bit of beating until the job is finished completely; an impressive level of violence and a graphic couple head shots later.
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After the body is dumped and rid of, Richie is back at the ACR office. He can’t particularly focus, as Jamie talks of Kip and his band, then his colleagues reveal the news of the Germans buying their label. But he says he doesn’t “feel so good“. Probably because he’s now a murderer, or at the very least a brutal accomplice to murder.
We cut to the past once more. Gold has money problems, which obviously affects Richie, Lester, and anyone else connected to the label for which they work. They’re in league with mobster Corrado Galasso (Armen Garo), who only wants the money he’s owed. Then Richie pipes up hoping to sell his shares of the label, which are worth more than he’ll sell for, and this interests Galasso. Richie further tries to get Lester out, but Galasso claims “he stays“. The money takes Richie away and clearly this is where he and Lester come apart at the seams. What ends up happening is that Lester gets roughed up hard by the mob after refusing to record shitty popular music, beaten with bats and kicked in the balls. Followed by his throat getting damaged horribly; likely a broken windpipe. It’s a devastating scene to watch.
Switch to Richie’s present time. He hears a story on the news about a body found with “blunt trauma to the head” and this sends shivers up his spine. Seeing his past intertwined with the present is a sad thing. Nearing the end of the episode, Richie has a confrontation with Devon, after his son sees him rocking around the room, obviously drunk, high, out of control, and playing the Bo Diddley guitar. She is unimpressed, as you can imagine: “Our life isnt enough for you,” Devon tells him in quiet anger. Before leaving she spits a mouthful of liquor in his face, and then he proceeds to smash the television with his new instrument.
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The finale of the pilot brings us back to where the episode began, with Bobby high on coke and watching The New York Dolls. The show is so loud and wild that the ceiling is starting to crumble, the lights about to fall, yet Bobby continues rocking out hard alongside everyone else. Everything eventually collapses to the ground, as people flee; all a true story, slightly changed, but certainly it happened at The Mercer Arts Center in 1973. What a way to finish an episode, and the first at that.
We close on the demolished club, lights still flickering here and there. Amongst the rubble is Richie, covered in dust and debris, wood, everything. He emerges from the rocks and the ash, almost like he’s a phoenix rising out of the flames. He’s alive, he isn’t really injured. Could this event become a catalyst for a better Richie? Probably not, but I’m sure this is going to provide a great jumping off point.
Next episode is titled “Yesterday Once More” and after this premiere we go back to regular 50-55 minute episodes. At the same time, I loved this double length pilot. Excited for more wild 1970’s debauchery and rock n’ roll.