"Record Man" On Fire: Vinyl Episode 2 Recap
by Joshua B. Hoe
This was one of the more exciting hours of television I have seen in a while.
All due respect to Martin Scorsese, this was, in many ways, a better episode than the pilot.
As always * SPOILER ALERT * If you have not yet seen the second episode of Vinyl enter at your own risk.
A Quick Victory Lap
The business end of the episode starts with the German executives sitting alone in the conference room at American Century Records alone with Richie's lackeys (played by Ray Romano, J.C. MacKenzie, and P.J. Byrne) waiting for the King to arrive.
Ray Romano's character, Richie's second in command Zak Yankovich, leaves the conference room to go to the bathroom and someone else says the following line in passing:
"Chicago is number 1 again? Who is buying this shit."
Some of you may remember, months ago, I wrote a series of articles about the epic fail represented by the 2015 class of nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.
So, in the most commented on article I went through all the nominees and made comments about how I felt about them and if I thought they should be inducted into the Rock Hall.
The line of the article that got the most flack, and the item that drew the most flack I have ever gotten on this entire blog was, and I quote
Maybe not an exact quote, I don't remember how bored I was even thinking about the idea of Chicago in the Rock Hall.
That was all I wrote about them. And in the follow up article, when Chicago was accepted for induction while The JB's and Nile Rodgers were not I had the following comment (again, I believe pretty close to an exact quote):
One of the secondary issues this episode asks is "what is Rock and Roll."
There is a great moment later in the episode where Richie is trying to explain it to his A&R crew of idiots, he says (and this might not be exact):
"It is all about the songs..."
"When you heard a song on the radio, did it make you want to dance, fuck, or kick someone's ass."
We are in a time RIGHT NOW just like in the 70's where narcissistic artists and record executives are trying to suck all of the joy right out of music (only now they are attempting to remove the actual humans from music making, the rise of music by algorithm attached by rote to a rotating cast of lip syncing "performers").
Punk happened because people were sick and tired of intensely over-produced masturbatory music made to serve every desire of people who believed nothing could be better than a thirty minute ode to mythical dragons.
Just today, the streaming services started talking about something they are calling "windowing" - the process where a new album is released to ONE streaming service for a period before it is released to general streaming, Kind of like a more compact movie to DVD/On Demand process but for music.
This would have been more interesting to me except that this "windowing" is a microcosm of what the music industry is trying to do in general. Every year labels, consolidated radio, streaming services, and television work in tandem to make the world believe that only 20 or 30 acts exist.
I hear people talking every day about how music today sucks.
I certainly thought music generally sucked during the "excess" period in the 70's.
I don't believe music today sucks, I believe the music industry sucks.
Maybe that is not entirely fair.
Music is a business and they figured out that consolidation was critical to survival in a world without record stores. A world where you have to convince someone to buy something that they can literally get for free.
But it still sucks for the majority of musicians who never get a real chance at the big microphone.
As far as this episode of Vinyl goes, today is a different version of what Richie is facing down - music has lost it's soul (the three ghosts from last week) and it needs to rediscover it's Nasty Bitted core.
Today we could use more Punk and less stuff dressed up to look angry. More soul and less stuff built in a lab.
We need music that makes us want to dance, fuck, or kick someone's ass.
Richie also says something else interesting here, he suggests music should be memorable - DO YOU WANT TO HEAR IT AGAIN.
So many of today's hits are so shallow you will never think of them ever again. You will not even be nostalgic for a One Direction song later.
I have never even thought about listening to Chicago since Punk, not even once.
No more ZZZZZZ (and yes, I still don't like Chicago, sorry).
New Ghosts: Juxtaposition
Lots of exciting stuff happens in this episode.
Richie decides to tell the Germans to fuck off.
We find out that Zak has already spent the dividends before the sale (but we have not found out how much he has spent). He is so freaked out when he finds out Richie isn't selling he confronts a coked up Richie physically and gets his nose broken.
More on how/why in a second.
This is one of those Tarantino style flashbacks in flashback episodes so bear with me.
We find out that Richie and his wife Devon met by literally having sex in a bathroom during an Andy Warhol produced Velvet Underground concert (with a kicking version of Run, Run, Run, sung in reality by Strokes front man Julian Casablancas)
And both Richie and Devon confront new ghosts.
Richie Meets "The Killer"
Richie, in the wake of the drug filled rampage that ended up with the Mercer Center literally falling on his head, goes to see the Bruce Lee classic "Enter The Dragon."
So, Richie took surviving the Mercer center collapse after hearing the music of Nasty Bits before his home meltdown and to the New York Dolls before and during the Mercer collapse as a sign from God to resurrect music Jesus (real Rock and Roll).
He now sees himself now as Bruce Lee, going to kick the shit out of the creeping bastards who have sucked all the joy out of his music.
Everywhere he looks are the henchmen of the death of music.
When he has the confrontation with Zak, he takes this literally, he responds to the physical contact with a full hammer-palm right to Zak's nose.
Symbolic of who he thinks he is, and who he actually is, is his visitation from Jerry Lee Lewis playing "Breathless."
Jerry Lee Lewis, is called "The Killer" while Richie is starting to divorce from reality so completely that he is creating this whole new mythology almost forgetting he is actually now a "killer" himself.
Now, Lewis is known for being a gigantic if mercurial talent, for being a titanic if conflicted asshole, for marrying his 13 year old cousin (his third marriage at the time - he was 22), and for his fourth and fifth wives dying (one some attribute to him, and yes, he had 6 wives).
Oh and he also tried to shoot Elvis, and almost accidentally shot his bass player.
He was/is also a devout Christian.
Supposedly, he once got his ass kicked by Chuck Berry.
Whatever, if you have listened, he was an amazing singer and piano player.
Oh, and The Killer was actually a childhood nickname.
But I digress.
I believe he sees Jerry Lee "The Killer" Lewis because Jerry Lee represents both what he wants to do (bring the Great 'Balls' of Fire back to Rock) and what he is doing (blowing his life up).
Richie has a golden ear and Jerry Lee was arguably the most influential piano player in Rock history.
Richie is taking his own talents and diving off a cliff with them (imagine the opening credit sequence of Mad Men only with Don wearing a Black Sabbath shirt instead of a suit).
Jerry Lee took his gigantic talents and chose to marry his 13 year old cousin more or less destroying his career.
Parallel cliff dives.
But this is also about juxtaposition.
How we see ourselves versus who we actually are.
Richie sees himself as Bruce Lee (a valiant man on a divine quest of revenge for the music Gods) but he is no hero, he is really Jerry Lee Lewis (running his talented ass 100 miles an hour right towards the cliff).
Oh, and at the very end of the episode, Richie goes back to Harlem and somehow knows exactly where his first ever client Lester Grimes (the one he betrayed and left to get destroyed by the Mob) lives.
Yup, Richie is trying to exorcise his ghosts.
Devon Meets Karen Carpenter
Quick shout out to Aimee Mann who I have loved since this came out nearly a million years ago:
To say I had a teenage crush on Amy is probably underselling my feelings at the time (sorry Aimee).
I kept up with her ever after, and she is a wonderful singer songwriter (If you don't already know this and never saw PT Anderson's Magnolia shame on you).
Anyway, Aimee Mann sings the song "Yesterday Once More" by The Carpenters.
Devon's ghost is Karen Carpenter.
And, let us be frank, Karen Carpenter is not a good ghost to have, as most everyone knows, Karen Carpenter died at age 32 from heart failure after a long battle with Anorexia Nervosa.
Devon, at breakfast at a restaurant with her kids, flashes back to the sex she has with Richie in the bathroom during the aforementioned Velvet Underground show. This transports her so much that next thing you know she is in the car with her Karen Carpenter ghost literally sitting next to her in the passenger seat.
Holy cow, Karen Carpenter is Devon's co-pilot?
As the camera pans to wide you realize she is actually in the car totally alone, her daydream was so strong it propelled her to the car without her kids. She actually left her kids at the pancake house.
I am getting the feeling things are going to go bad for Richie, but really really bad for Devon.
I get this feeling because there is also some other foreshadowing.
When Zak is trying to find Richie to finish the deal, he calls Devon and tells him he is worried. She basically says something like:
"Richie will always be okay, it is always everyone around him that gets hurt."
Not looking good for Olivia Wilde making it to the end of the series.
By the way, the Carpenters were really great in their own odd way, a really good tribute album was made a long time ago by a bunch of Indie Bands which included this gem:
Oh, and Karen Carpenter was also a pretty great drummer, and one of the first women drummers I ever heard (I am also a drummer).
We also learn some other things about Devon, she was one of Warhol's girls (we kind of knew this already), that Warhol liked her, that she kind of stole Richie from her friend Inga (Richie was on a date with Inga at the Velvets show).
We learn that she is taking an interest in photography (especially the photography of the wreckage her husband left behind).
Oh, and she is so freaked out by what is going on she literally left her kids at a breakfast restaurant.
RIP Karen Carpenter!
Her part of the episode ends with Richie collapsing on Devon's lap in tears after a visit from the Police (In case you forgot, he straight up murdered Buck Rogers on episode one).
Well actually, first she and Richie start kissing, and then he turns her down for sex. And then, she wakes up and notices he is gone (off to find Lester Grimes - because he thinks Lester is absolution).
You can see on her face that she knows this is just not going to all end well.
The Loose Ends
The opening with the scientific microscopic view of a needle on Vinyl is growing on me.
Julie the top A&R man at American Century isn't very good at A&R. He is a good yes man for Richie but clearly doesn't get what Richie is pushing for with Punk.
Oh and Jamie Vine, the ambitious secretary is getting a shot to work with Julie on getting the Nasty Bits ready for a showcase in approximately a week. Juno Temple shines in very limited screen time on this episode (again).
Last, Zak's wife is kind of nuts, or at least driving him nuts, he considered killing himself after his wife spent like three minutes really annoying him. I have the feeling he must have REALLY spent a ton of money in anticipation of closing the deal.
Anyway, episode three next Monday!
Spotify has an embed of the soundtrack up to now, pretty cool :)
In case you missed it, here is the Episode One Recap.
How did you enjoy episode two? What did you think of the development of the story? Did you enjoy the music? Let me know what you thought, leave a comment!