We start the new HBO series Vinyl tonight; the seventies music scene in all it's glory. It has Bobby Cannavale and Olivia Wilde as the leads, and a metric tonne of buzz. Let's see what it's got!
We open in New York City in 1973 to heavy breathing and a very drunk schweaty Richie (Bobby Cannavale); he wants an 8ball from the local dealers and calls himself a Record Man. He rubs some coke on his gums and I've never seen anyone look so happy and calm all at the same time so quickly. Seriously, he looks as though he just peed. He rips off his rearview mirror and uses the business card from homicide detective Det. Eric Voehel to cut the lines. He goes from happy to edgy to frantic to post-orgasmic and I've never done coke, but it looks EXHAUSTING.
He stares at the card and then uses his CORDED CAR PHONE to call the police, just as masses of costumed people climb over his car on the way to...? It's called the Mercer Arts Centre but I'm wondering about Studio 54. The doormen know him, ''Hey, Mr. Finestra, wipe your nose'' and on he goes to find glitter and sequins EVERYWHERE, and then...live music. It's a make-upped New York Dolls-looking group, but very bluesy heavy guitars. Richie is transfixed by the sound and Jagger-esque lead singer. Lots of slow-mo hair tossing scenes later
5 days earlier, we're with Richie at work, telling us (in his HEAD!) the definition of the beginning of rock and roll: ''Two jews and a guinea recording four schvartzes on a single track.'' Other than jew, I don't know what any of those other words mean, so I'm sorry if that offended. Coke bottle product placement! Anyway, whatever rock and roll is now is what has made him rich and he's earned the right to be hated.
He's gonna tell us his story now; he started at the bottom, mopping floors, scraping Chubby Checkers' vomit off a toilet stall, the usual. He says by the 60s, he owned his own record label and that's a big leap, there, Mr. Finestra. I guess his golden ear, silver tongue and brass balls helped a bunch. A coke problem and a couple of bad artists took him right back out, and come 1972, he's not doing nearly as well.
He's got his partners to pay for everything, though: Zak Yankovic (Ray Romano), Head of Promotions (the Wallet), and holy shite, I didn't even recognise RR!
Him and his $5000 handshake with a side of Bolivian Marching Powder are what is keeping the label moving, and more importantly the records played on the radio. I remember reading that about Audioslave's promoter and it made me so sad. I love Audioslave. Also in Richie's corner is Skip Fontaine (J.C. Mackenzie - who is usually SO MUCH more attractive), Head of Sales, who throws returned records in the river?
Even with all this help, the label is tanking. This is Richie's story, ''clouded by lost brain cells, self-aggrandisement and maybe a little bullshit'', we roll. A German company is buying his label American Century, but Richie doesn't want them to drop the American and it gets very uncomfortable. I gather part of the deal is the signing of Led Zepplin, which I further assume is NOT happening. In one week the deal will be complete, meeting over.
The gang is on a private jet, waxing nostalgic about the German p*ssy they had last night; Zak makes an Anne Frank joke and WHO MAKES AN ANNE FRANK JOKE? Even drunk and high AF Richie is appalled. ''Too soon, man.''
They call over the trio of girls in the back of the jet, one says she is the reincarnation of Chekov or some other shite and I think that one doesn't need any more coke, guys! Neither does Richie, who demurs and says they'll talk some Three Sisters shite after, greatly exciting Chekov's muse there.
We're in the subway now, watching a very young blonde woman with Bernadette Peters' hair steal someone's bag. She walks into American Century and through the lobby and into a solid gold elevator holding a box of what looks like records?
A musician is trying to bullshit his way past reception, who is shutting him down on every front. Blondie walks up and grabs his tape, introducing herself as Jamie Vine (Juno Temple)
saying she works with Julie and would love to hear Kip Stevens (James Jagger - our nepotism hire) and his band Nasty Bitz. He can't stand the music playing (Slade) and I'd post something by them, but Run, Runaway was all that caught my fancy and ehhh. You know? They banter a bit more, he's got a gig coming up and Imma bet she'll be there watching.
Oh jesus I'm slow: she wasn't stealing that bag in the subway, that was a drug dealer, and she was picking up the goodies for everyone. She stashes them all in her desk and pops the Nasty Bitz tape in for a listen. Brit Punk, from what I can tell, and she's interrupted by Clark (Jack Quaid) looking for an ounce of weed. He has a marathon recording session with a couple of musicians whose names I don't quite catch and she feels sorry for him, offering some bennies to help keep him awake. They gossip about the possible buy-out, Clark's worried he's not gonna make it through: nobody likes his face. I like his face! It's very inoffensive.
They're distracted by Julie (Max Casella) losing his shite all over Donny Fcuking Osmond on the phone and we cut back to Richie.
He's getting in his car after the flight, his chauffeur tells him there's an emergency and they are going to 33rd and 7th. Led Zepplin is there and their manager is screaming at everyone in the back, Robert Plant is refusing to talk to Richie and the hair is probably standing up on the back of his neck right now.
The problem is the royalty rate; it was supposed to be 20% but American Century's lawyers have cut that and LZ is pulling out, which is what they will NOT be doing with those birds (pre-teen looking groupies) later. Led Zepplin tribute show! Richie cries.
Richie calls Scott; it WAS Richie that tried to cut the rate, he tells Scott to give Led Zepplin the 20% and close the deal, they need it for the buy-out. The chauffeur suggests Greenwich now?
A water main break and traffic are slowing the Mercedes's progress, the make had to be mentioned after we zeroed in on the hood symbol lovingly for the second time. WHERE'S MAH CHEQUE?? He decides to go to the apartment instead of Greenwich and they end up routing through Harlem, where some good music makes Richie (you have no idea how difficult it is to not say Bobby each time) ask who and what is that? He gets a gun in the face from the local pimp in return and a farewell staredown from a very tall, very thin President Obama lookalike, who we soon discover is Lester Grimes.
At his apartment finally, Richie lets his mind drift back to when he first heard it; a younger him and a younger Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh) discuss music and terms.
He sleeps until the phone wakes him, it's his wife Devon (Olivia Wilde),
and she reminds him of the recital for one of the kiddos. He tells her Zepplin didn't close and he's gotta fix it, but I think it's also his birthday, let's see if there's a party later!
In Richie's office is an extremely angry Peter Grant from Led Zepplin, he doesn't want to have anything to do with the German bastages with Polygram, lots of Nazi references, blah blah bridge troll blah c*nt this c*nt that blah my father lost a leg to the Nazis blah and when told Polygram are actually Dutch: more flying c*nts and he's oot.
Richie LOSES it on Scott; not only did he not close the deal, he told LZ about the buyout? Slapping all around, broken up by Zak saying that Led Zepplin never had any intention of signing, they used the American Century deal for leverage to get their own label. And the hits just keep coming: a big radio star called Buck Rogers (sounds so strange for nowadays, but back then, they were GODS) was stiffed by Donny Osmond and is now threatening to boycott the entire label's catalogue of music. 14 radio stations refusing to play any of their music means bankruptcy in a month.
Zak says he wants to bring in Joe Corso, but Richie says Joe's *something incomprehensible*; Zack says you shouldn't say that about people you don't know, you know, cause you don't know and I'm super curious about what you shouldn't say, but Cannavale's a mumbler and it isn't getting any better. Good thing he's ADORABLE.
Richie has a plan! Skip is to inflate the sales numbers (shipping Captain Beefheart's entire catalogue to an empty warehouse in Poughkeepsie is just so specific), Zak is to buy Billboard ads, ChubbySideburns is to go get his head removed from his arse: go!
A&R is listening to ABBA, woo hoo!! They are less impressed, and I love how history is going to allow the writers to give us all the judging ammunition based on how they react. Richie immediately knows ABBA will be huge, checkmark by his name! Richie want to know where the next Goodrats are?? Their roster is like a gdang Chinese menu, it's all over the place (aren't they actually fairly well organized?) and he's complaining that they have Grand Funk Railroad and Donny Fcuking Osmond? Those guys were massive! I guess that's the point, they WERE huge, and now American Century is where bands come to die, is word on the street.
Richie asks A&R why they aren't out pounding the streets? In clubs? OUT of the city, looking for the next? Jamie Vine brings up the Nasty Bitz and she lies about how she met him; she didn't see him on the subway and liked his look, she scooped him in the lobby, yo! Clark gets spanked, they ALL get spanked, except Jamie, who looks like she wants to be spanked: Meeting over
Music break! Lady sings the blues and I LOVE her voice! Argh I can't find her name! Cut to young Richie and Lester Grimes meeting with the head of a record company, who isn't buying blues from Lester, who he has dubbed Little Jimmy Little. Oh wait, it was Richie who dubbed Lester that, he explains that once LJL has a few hits under his belt, he can record some blues. The head of the record company asks Lester to step out so he can call Richie fcuking r*tarded. He tells Richie to stop treating his clients like friends; they're commodities and no more.
Cut to Jamie Vine really enjoying the Nasty Bitz in Coventry, they sound even worse live. Typical punk discordance. I'm guessing Kip is the Iggy Pop / Sid Vicious character, crowd surfing and swinging his guitar in the mosh pit. Jamie's a pretty tough chick for such a tiny thing, she takes out a much bigger guy with a combination of words, attitude and elbows: respect
We're at an orgy with Richie, the classy Buck Rogers ("shut your mouth before I break my dick off in your ass") of the refusing to play American Century's entire label's worth of music over Donny Osmond and holy shite, is that Andrew Fcuking Dice Clay????? IT IS!!!! Let's just say this kindly: the years haven't been kind to Mr. Clay, but hey! He's still working! Holleeee shite.
Anyway, Buck is blah blah shut down a restaurant wah blah and his wife was there (she fcuked his brother ON HIS BIRTHDAY) blah seriously, I can't transcribe all this, but so far, this ADC vignette is worth the price of admission. Watch that part.
Donny Osmond went to the hospital instead! HOSPITAL! Not for nothing, Richie says Donny has asthma, all the Osmonds do. Buck gets very quiet. Does he look like an ahole, Richie? I may have blanked out at this point when a large-breasted plump young woman strolled by in the back of the shot. It's awesome to see different body types on TV, woo hoo! Especially nekkid ones. ANYWAY, Donny showed up at a County Fair the next day and blah blah blah Buck isn't playing any records any time soon.
Promoter Joe brings out the "Rock of Gibraltar (sigh)" of coke and I think the beef is squashed? I'm guessing that's why Richie didn't wanna go with Joe, the coke. Seems like he's trying to make a change.
Jamie is bouncing on Kip (can you imagine having to do that for work? Get nekkid and simulate sex with a virtual stranger? Plus emote and remember lines and make people care about what you're saying more than staring at your nekkid arse? Actors are artists, man) and he's pretty hairy for Mick Jagger's son. Oh wow, I didn't get it before, but they show a carefully lit shot of Kip and he is gorgeous, all the best parts of his dad and whichever model was his mom.
She tells him they will have to keep it professional from now on and he goes all Deadpool as says "remember that the next time you stick your finger up my ass".
She wants to focus on business; his one saving grace is that people hate him. Kip and I are confused. She says any kind of strong reaction is what they want; he doesn't wanna be the next Iggy Pop, his persona will be Not Giving a Fcuk and honestly, I don't give any fcuks about him, so we're halfway there? He shoots heroin as she leaves: is she the Nancy to his Sid?
Richie comes home to Devon cuddling a sick kiddo on her lap, he explains about he evening, but she asks about his red eyes and I'm guessing that's why he's trying to give up the coke: her. He's worried, everything is so precarious and the company is a shell and the Germans will know, IF it even goes through, and they both need a change. She's an unusual choice for Richie's character, hmmm. They seem to have a legit relashie.
More music! "I Like It Like That", young Richie is running a recording session, but the money men listening aren't impressed. Little Jimmy Littleis recording the ChaCha Twist and that sounds like an unholy nightmare. Wow, the voice on Lester, he's making this abomination sound good.
I love music.
Second meeting with German lawyers: a skeptical attorney for the other side wants to know how American Century recorded $6 million in profits when 92% of the albums were flops? Richie explains it thusly: their singers work for coke, their lawyers wanna be record execs, so they don't make the very best deal possible for their clients, and all of the profits for the artists comes AFTER they pay for everything associated with producing and promoting that record. You know, like physically producing the album, touring costs, probably the coke: Courtney Love laid it out for us very clearly one time during a brief lucid period. The artists provide the talent and pay for absolutely everything; they owe everything to the Company Store and rarely see any actual money: they get well and truly fcuked. I sincerely hope the internet has changed that dynamic.
The Germans ask about Led Zepplin, Richie heads them off at the pass with a "I can't do business with them"; Peter Grant is a serious racist and it turned his stomach. The Germans aren't as dumb as they seemed; remaining wary.
Richie is indeed reluctantly celebrating his birthday with a thousand of his favourite people; Ingrid (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen - but we know her as the female nemesis in Pitch Perfect 2 and the good mom who got eaten by her White Walker babies in Game of Thrones!) surprises Devon
and it gets super awks super fast. Apparently Andy (Warhol) has been asking about Devon and they have a moment to remember what life was like before it became about sober living and kids and tending to a husband.
A small bell chimes in the hinterland
Ingrid has a special show in a week, Devon should come! Perfect!
Birthday speech time! Devon is coming clean about the past, they never made it to Woodstock; they just humped like bunnies the whole time: and I totally get it. It was their first time alone in over a year since the birth of their first child. TOTALLY makes sense.
Present time: it's Bo Diddly's signed guitar and Richie can't stop staring at it. Flashback! He saw Bo Diddly playing that exact same guitar live; wow.
Zak and Richie discuss the buyout; if by a miracle this Polygram sale goes through, everyone will be skidded and the artists sold. Zak doesn't care, but it's weighing on Richie.
THIS IS THE LONGEST SHOW PILOT EVER. I know none of you are still reading, but Imma keep going. It's like a death march now
Joe Corso calls, Buck Rogers is still partying from two days earlier and wants to see Richie NOW. Richie leaves his birthday party, coming in to find Buck losing his mind and forgetting that he even wanted to see Richie. He gets all metaphysical and tells Richie to Face His Fears, before shooting the movie version of Frankenstein Monster playing on the projector behind him. Buck holds forth and then...kisses Richie. He is NOT down, there's punching and strangling and I think Joe kills Buck with his own award? WHAT THE FCUK????
Oh, okay, Buck wasn't dead, he fights back and THEN Joe beats his head in with the strongest decanter in HISTORY and Buck really IS dead, holy shite. Richie wants to go to the cops, but Joe knows better, they're gonna clean all this up and no-one will be any the wiser. Forensics in the 70s were pretty much shite, right?
Jamie's getting ready to party, she's got her drugs, IUD, rabbit fur jacket and makes as to leave her posh digs with her aunt? Seriously, it's a mansion. She's hiding from her mother, but she thinks this hot band is her ticket oot!
Richie and Joe are dumping Buck's body in the dark, cut to the next day when Jamie is selling Nasty Bitz to Richie, who is having trouble concentrating. Zak needs to see him right away, and the police are knocking at the door.
Zak tells him the Germans called... the deal is going ahead, yay!!! Champs all around! Richie still looks freaked out, he's gotta avoid a man about a body.
Back to Lester and young Richie, the RecordMan is making a deal with the money men and Richie wants to dump his 25% in the business and offers to sell it for $150k. He also wants to take Little Jimmy Little with him, I think that's the crux of the deal, but the MoneyMan and RecordMan say no, he takes the deal anyway.
Richie is listening to the Nasty Bitz, they're so Sex Pistols, but it's interrupted by the news of the discovery of Buck's body. He's not holding together so well.
Back to Lester Grimes; he's resisting singing the pop shite like ChaChaTwist but a severe beating from a couple of MoneyMen's goons convinces him otherwise. THEY HIT HIM IN THE THROAT. WHAT THE FCUK?? You don't hit a singer in the throat!! Honestly
Richie is getting drunker and still listening to
Sex Pistols Nasty Bitz and wrecking his new guitar. His kiddo snaps him out of it, briefly, and Devon scoots him away. She recognises backsliding when she sees it, and he needs to tell her what he did to Buck. She thinks it's more about their life not being enough for him, and presses a bottle on him. She's too angry to see that he's seriously in trouble and when he pushes the bottle back on her, she takes a meaningful sip: and then spits it all over him. This is not a good sober situation.
He destroys the guitar and TV at the same time, the old fashioned way!
And we're back to the beginning, with an extremely high Richie enjoying a "Personality Crisis" and watching the building expode around him. It's all very cathartic, but I think people are actually going to die here, as the entire building collapses.
We see Richie, buried under rubble, but alive, like Phoenix, risen from the ashes, but literally. He has a motherhumper of a headache, but he's alive.
HOW CAN THIS STILL BE THE PILOT??
Oh wait, we're done. Richie stumbles away, smiling and bleeding as "Gotta Be Rock and Roll Music" plays in his head.
All right Martin Scorcese, I saw your touch all over this, from the baseball bats to the paisans, but I don't know. I understand it was supposed to be a Goodfellas of the 70s music scene, and I ended up liking Richie (still wanna call him Bobby) much more than I expected, but. But that's where I'm at. But. We'll see if another episode clarifies whether Richie is innit for music or his wallet. I see Lester Grimes's AND Richie's redemptions in the future, the ascent of Nasty Bitz and Jamie Vine, and a profane Glee with much better music. What say yous, if anyone made it this far? And if you did, goodonya, that was a behemoth of a pilot.