From Vinyl

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.