Vinyl (HBO) Episode Four: "Record Man's" Christmas Goulet

by Joshua B. Hoe

Okay folks, this was one of those "busy" episodes. The kind of episodes where writers realize that they are already at episode 4 and have yet to develop like 10 of the plot points that they have already introduced in the first three episodes.

As Richie says in the middle of the episode FUCCCCCKKKKKKKK!

So, we are going to be some busy bees tonight. As always, if you haven't seen the episode yet, why the heck are you reading a recap (AKA "Spoiler Alert).

The Yellow Pants

This episode is about really wanting James Brown in your stocking but waking up on Christmas Morning to find that all your parents got you was Robert Goulet.

Let me officially say that I was (at times) a little shit as a kid. For much of my life, my parents worked really hard to make ends meet, but I was a kid heavy with "expectations" and light on perspective.

So, one year for Christmas, I asked for Star Wars toys (I am guessing it might have been around 1977). I really loved Star Wars, I waited in line for hours to see it opening weekend and managed to see it 13 more times in its first theater run. 

Well, Star Wars toys were expensive. It wasn't that any particular Star Wars toy was that expensive, but to get the sets and individual characters together was pretty expensive. My parents, probably only trying as hard as possible to make Christmas the maximum amount of awesome, decided to get me a larger amount of the much cheaper Space 1999 toys (a much less popular Sci-Fi TV show of the period) .

I was devastated. Who wants Space 1999 toys, how in the world could I ever try to spin Space 1999 to my friends. The point is, I had a great life and parents that really cared enough to try to make Christmas awesome. Instead of realizing how lucky I was, I was miserable.

Oh, and that wasn't even a very bad present. Space 1999 was "Santa Gold" compared to the worst present my parents ever got me. The worst present my parents ever got me was a pair of canary yellow pants when I was in high school (this was a particularly terrible present because my parents also expected to see me wearing those absurd pants to high school where I was already about as popular as the plague).

Anyway, Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) is a grown man on Vinyl but he is psychologically throwing temper tantrums about his own version of my Space 1999 toys. 

Think about it, his life is falling apart despite being rich, pampered, around rock stars all day, and being married to Devon (Olivia Wilde).  These are some damn good Space 1999 toys even if he couldn't sign Star Wars (Led Zeppelin). 

Which brings me to delusion.

My Three Hats + A Ghost

You may not know the three hats I wear, I am a freelance writer (how I earn a living), I write this music blog, and I write an Addiction Recovery blog.

Richie Finestra is an addict. Without going into too much detail (for once), addicts spend all their time trying to juggle a million plates in the air so that they can keep on "acting out" with their substance or behavior with impunity.

But as each addict juggles, if you pay close attention, more and more plates are dropping and shattering instead of spinning. Richie is facing this same reality. This episode (called "The Racket") opens with not one but two ghosts, Otis Blackwell and Richie himself (My suggestion is that "The Racket" in the episode is the game Richie is running on himself).  

Otis Blackwell is an interesting ghost because he wrote many of the songs that one of our earlier ghosts (Jerry Lee Lewis) was most famous for (Great Balls of Fire and Breathless). Otis is singing his song, "Please Help Me Find My Way Home" to what looks like an empty church but which then morphs into a full synagogue. And not just any synagogue,  the synagogue where the funeral for one Frank Buck Rogers (Andrew Dice Clay) is being held. Buck Rogers is the radio DJ who, as  you might remember, Richie murdered in cold blood way back in Episode One.

Remember that old saying that you can "never go home again?" I have always suspected that this is a truism partially because the "home" the our memory "remembers" always represents our desires more than the reality of where we really used to live. In other words, memory can erase pain and replace it with nostalgia.  

As the camera pans, we notice that the  person Otis is haunting doesn't even have the decency to show up for his own victims funeral (the nerve). The police, who did show up, also notice his absence after being informed that Zak (Ray Romano) is not actually "Richard" Finestra. But what is really being represented is that Richie's plates are starting to drop.

Where is Richie during this time? In a coked up panic because at any minute his Funk artist Hannibal (kind of a cross between James Brown and Sly Stone) is visiting to revisit his contract. Apparently, Hannibal is very successful, famous, and being courted by the part-time comedian emcee from last weeks lifetime achievement award dinner Jackie Jarvis (also a record executive).

Cry Baby Ghost (Without Johnny Depp)

Janis Joplin, Pearl

Janis Joplin, Pearl

So, Richie has other plates breaking. While he is laying out the coke and hookers for Hannibal, he neglects his supposed saviors "The Nasty Bits." They get tired of waiting but not before Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh) meets them in the lobby of American Century. 

Lester marches right into Richie's office and burns his own tapes as his way of saying both that he still loves Richie and to tell Richie to fuck off (In a clever bit of foreshadowing Curtis Mayfield's "Pusherman" plays). Somewhere between almost setting American Century on fire and leaving the crime scene, Grimes sees the "Nasty Bits" on the sidewalk and has an idea (more on this in a second).

Zak has been left to deal with Robert Goulet, who is also at American Century today to record the Christmas album that was promised in Episode one (for a dying record label they sure are busy).  Robert Goulet apparently wants his own original song on the album. Zak in an act of passive-aggression goes to annoy Richie with the request and Richie immediately gives in (even when Zak is getting satisfaction he can't get none). 

Hannibal leaves with a slew of Richie bullshit and promises in tow (and apparently the keys for Hannibal to drive his secretary - have I mentioned before that Richie is a pretty awful human being). Richie is supposed to meet Hannibal at his concert happening in just a few short hours. But as Hannibal leaves the Nasty Bits return. And they return with an education.

Lester, you see, took the lads aside and schooled them on the shady dealings of the record business. He educated them all about recoupment and the different forms of songwriter royalties. Impressed with his acumen, the Nasty Bits hire him as their manager. As they walk into the private office to sign their contract, they mention that they have a manager. Cue Lester (who has most certainly never even heard the Nasty Bits play).

So, instead of getting ready to go watch his "star" Hannibal play, Richie sits down to "negotiate" with Lester. Lester, as usual, comes across cold as ice and gets most of what he wants (because he has the leverage of Richie's guilt). But, Lester and Richie are a tragic love story, this reads bromance all the way (which means Lester is heading for even more trouble down the road for sure).

Before I get too far gone in the plot, let me mention that back when the fire happened and literally everyone - bands, executives, singers, and hangers-on were all coming at Richie all at the same time and he was dealing with all that and fire, he screams FUCCCKKKKKKKK!!!!!!! And he is visited by his second ghost "Cry-Baby."

The Rage of Devon

Both of the "Ghosts" of this episode are used as transitions. Otis showed us what Richie is missing (presence at the places he should be) and what he desires (return to an impossible past that probably never really existed). 

The second ghost is Janis Joplin singing "Cry-Baby." Janis Joplin is showing us another plate only this one is spinning faster than the rest and alternating between wobbling and spinning. This plate is Richie's wife Devon. Janis Joplin represents the "Janus Face" difference between the crying of Richie and the crying of Devon.

Basically, Richie is crying over Space 1999 Christmas while Devon is watching her whole world implode. This juxtaposition of Janice/Janus is a nice directorial trick. It reminds me of how David Lynch used the "Silencio" box in Mulholland Drive.

As usual, some of the best scenes in the episode are in the Devon ghetto sections (sigh). Earlier in the episode there is a nifty scene where a marriage counselor encourages Richie to hit a couch with a tennis racket to get his anger out (this stuff really happened in the 70's, when I was a kid I was encouraged by a therapist to get my anger out on an inflated clown doll).  When Richie finishes beating hell out of the couch, he admits to feeling much better. Devon says she is made that he feels better because she wants him to feel worse not better.

Truth. 

She says it is because of the addiction, and to some extent that is true, but it is also because she (like so many other women) gave up her dreams for his and he has essentially wiped his ass with her sacrifice as he chases his own coke dragon wherever it is taking him.

Devon is really angry.

But in one of the absolute best scenes in the entire series so far, she goes to visit a divorce lawyer. That divorce lawyer kicks her ass. After hearing Devon's answers to her questions the lawyer tells her she basically needs to go away because she is just using this visit to win her next argument with Richie. She tells Devon she loves Richie, "which is too bad because he sounds like a total asshole."

Double Truth!

But loving him doesn't make up for the fact that he has banished her to Siberia, backed out on the one thing he said she could do (her dance company), and returned to his addictive self-destructive ways. Earlier in the episode, Devon refused to allow the therapist make Richie feel better by letting him see her swing that tennis racked at the damn couch.

But now, all alone again in Connecticut and furious, Devon uses a racket like pan on her own Kitchen Window.

This is one plate that is too angry to shatter, but it is a plate that he no longer controls.

She is crying, but he is the Cry-Baby.

Oh Damn, Some Tidying Up

Did I mention busy? Okay, Skip (J.C. MacKenzie) is trying to make an error in his "bookkeeping" disappear (he is trying to make a ton of fake Donny Osmond albums that got released accidentally go away).

Richie obviously doesn't make it to Hannibal's concert (which features a great song and the voice of Charlie Wilson)  but Jackie Jervis does show up. Richie's trusted secretary CeCe (Susan Heyward) tries to call Richie to tell him, and he makes another reference to using her sex as his weapon (sigh). 

Richie doesn't make it because he has the negotiation with Lester followed by an unscheduled visit by "the popo." These particular police (luckily?) are huge Robert Goulet fans. At least Richie has that going for him. Unfortunately, another plate crashes when we find out the last call made to a living Frank "Buck" Rogers was from one Richie Finestra (gulp).

Jamie Vine (Juno Temple) again gets less screen time than other American Century employees (maybe even less time than the lobby secretary). Tonight's New York Times recap is implying that this show is more than a bit sexist. I am not sure I entirely disagree at this point. I love the music, I love much of the story, but give Juno some screen time and let Olivia out of the "jailed" housewife television ghetto (and lets not even talk about the treatment of CeCe).

There is a subplot involving competition between the other members of the A&R department over signing new artists and Julie, Zak, and Scott engage in shenanigans.

Did I mention, out of the blue, we find out Richie has a jazz musician Father (yikes, so do I). Richie has a jazz musician Father. Apparently they hate each other, but Richie only tells him one thing "I need an alibi."

Duh, I suspect you need much more than an alibi.

Last but not least, boy did Vinyl spend some money on song rights this week, they busted out Pink Floyd's "Money" and The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again."  HBO can't afford to have the whole cast on the home page, but they can afford two big $ songs in throwaway and transition scenes (awesome).

Oh, and Robert Goulet's day after Christmas song sucks, but in kind of the best possible way (it also ends the episode).

I kind of wanted more fun from a Funk episode.

So..... 

Don't Miss That Train

I have to take a moment to shout out Charlie Wilson who has not one but two songs included on this weeks episode (He provided the singing voice for the character Hannibal - by the way, if you do nothing else with this post, please watch that GAP band video, you will thank me).

Charlie Wilson and I went to the same High School (now recaps come full circle).

For those not down with CW, he was the singer of the GAP band. GAP stands for Greenwood, Archer, and Pine which are the three streets that intersect on the original location of one Booker T. Washington High School.

All of the three brothers who made up GAP matriculated at BTW (as did I). So I wrote this section to pay homage to a great former Hornet (or if you were there under Principal Loretta Collier, he was a great former "Harnet").

I went to BTW a few years after CW but I still love the GAP Band (for some reason less appreciated than many of the other funk acts of the time period). When I attended BTW, we were all very aware that GAP had attended our school (Another alum, the last great Wayman Tisdale of basketball and bass-playing fame).

BTW was a really cool place, it was a public school but funded by a special Federal grant based on the belief that diverse schools were/would be better schools. I was bused in from the suburbs to downtown Tulsa every day and loved it. A great deal of what drew me to The Clash was this same idea that diversity mattered.

I absolutely loathe the "charter schools" model of education (which I see as sanitized white flight) and I believe deeply in. This was also the belief of many funk acts. If you watch George Clinton's bands, they were always integrated (and often included people wearing nothing but adult diapers). If you watch GAP band videos, they are a veritable league of nations.

I said this the other day, but anyone who thinks the music that came up at the time Vinyl covers was predominantly white or hetero-sexist doesn't know the history very well. I challenge you to investigate Lou Reed, Patty Smith, Blondie, The Clash, GAP band, Parliament, and many others (maybe check out Darby Crash and/or Ian Mackaye too - even though they were later).

We are at our best when we are One Nation Under A Groove.

Last three bits about GAP:

* If you ever saw Boogie Nights, you probably remember Buck (Don Cheadle) who was a bit too obsessed with "The Cowboy Look." The GAP Band was maybe a bit too obsessed with "The Cowboy Look" too, but in retrospect, kind of makes them even more endearing.

* One of their big hits was a song called "Oops, Upside Your Head" - not sure why I mentioning this, but just sayin.'

* At some point in the last few decades, Calvin Broadus Jr. (AKA Snoop Dogg, AKA Snoop Lion) re-named Charlie Wilson "Uncle Charlie." Very odd nickname as I mostly remember Uncle Charlie being the live-in housekeeper on the very white show "My Three Sons." Someday, I want to hear that story Mr. Dogg (also can you explain Bishop Don The Magic Juan too - aside from Pimp culture).

That's all I've got.

Hope you enjoyed my Episode 4 Recap!

As you have probably noticed, I migrated my site to a better backbone, hopefully it will be speedier and show better on your mobile devices (thanks to my Brother, thanks Seth).

What did you think of Episode 4? Are you frustrated about the treatment of the great women characters on the show? What was your favorite song tonight? Let me know what you think, leave a comment!