Vinyl (HBO) Episode 10: Zelig, Carnac, or "Record Man"
As you may have read, I pulled the ultimate boner last night and forgot to save during my four hours of working on this recap. Ironically, my computer crashed as I was doing the markup and inserting a video of the song "Kill The Lights."
Turn out the lights is a made for Vinyl song featuring Nile Rodgers and many other people and is the mystery "Indigo" song I didn't know from last week. Here it is again:
Anyway, "Kick Out The Jams, Motherfuckers!"
As much as I loved the show, I do wish it had a bit more of the spirit of the last 15 minutes throughout the show's entire run. Rock music has a lot of demons, but it also can be (and often is) transformative in people's lives.
This week's episode was called "Alibi" but we will get to more of that in a second.
If you have not seen the Season One Finale of Vinyl (Episode 10) do not keep reading fellow traveler.
In other words, *Spoiler Alert*
Richie as Zelig
I am generally very complimentary about Vinyl. But, the show does have its creaky features. I am conflicted by the constant presentation of the show's protagonist as both music savant and also as real world Zelig.
His luck is just a bit too good.
For those that are not familiar with Zelig, it is a Woody Allen movie centered around a person with a genius for appearing at (and in) cultural Zeitgeist moments (A more modern homage to Zelig was Forrest Gump).
It is fun to feel like you were placed in the literal center of the 1970's music revolution as if all of the events at every venue in New York in 1973 were somehow happening in a connected insider bubble and one guy just happened to show up at almost every significant moment.
At the same time, it is a bit hard to believe that Richie (Bobby Cannavale) just happened to,
* Take one Factory girl (Ingrid) out to see The Velvet Underground, leaving that date to hook up with her best friend (and also a Factory girl) who he eventually marries.
* Take a detour from the airport through the Bronx which just happens to take him directly past the exact house party where Kool DJ Herc is inventing Hip-Hop and which happens to be the exact same building where your estranged buddy lives.
* Take a drug-addled drive around the town after committing a murder only to end up at the Mercer Art Center at the exact moment a New York Dolls Show is happening. Not just any show but one that ends with the roof literally collapsing on him (this collapse was devised using artistic license while the Mercer center did collapse it did not collapse during a concert
* Choose the exact dive bar as your meeting place with the Feds that later we find out is CBGB's OMFUG. Personally, this was just a bit too much script cuteness for me. Sure it is good to see "Hilly Kristal" and hear the entire explanation of the naming of the bar (Country, Bluegrass, and Blues and Other Music for Uplifting Gormandizers if you missed the details). I get that it is a teaching moment for anyone who is not my age. But, it is a little too convenient that Richie picked CBGB"s for the meets (just saying).
I also want to add another pet peeve (while I am taking the time here). I hate when a television show or movie spells something out (Hilly literally spells out each word of the future CBGB logo out loud after asking Richie to confirm what the term "gormandizer" means) and then assumes you are so dense they have to double down on the exposition (in this case, fake-Hilly holds up a pad with CBGB OMFUG doodled out). I guess I am saying that if you have respect for your audience, have respect for your audience.
Back to the Zelig subject, I do think this dramatic device has served a purpose. I have long suggested that Richie is a stand-in for the music industry and for rock music in general. As such, it is somewhat appropriate that he is haunted by the ghosts of Rock as well as present at important moments in Rock history. But, at the same time, maybe dial the coincidences back just a tad in season two? Is that too much to ask?
So, anyway, this episode is mostly divided into two parts:
1) Resolving the Nasty Bits arc
2) Resolving the Zak + Richie Arc
Let's start with the Nasty Bits.
Nasty Bits #1: Hurricane Jamie Vine
Most of this episode is about the Nasty Bits. The Nasty Bits arc serves two important narrative purposes in the show:
1) The story arc between the Kip and Jamie Vine is an exorcism of Rock's relationship to sex and gender.
2) Richie bet the future of American Century Records on the success of the Nasty Bits. How they end up is pretty much how he will end up (now that he owes Corrado Galasso that is a literal threat).
There has been a great deal of criticism written about Vinyl in the context of its treatment of women characters. Some will take the total absence of Devon Finestra (Olivia Wilde) as further proof of the shows anti-woman agenda (her arc actually finished in a very positive place last week - she is taking her ambition and creating a new post-modern family as she pursues photography).
With humble respect, I entirely disagree. I believe, and I feel the evidence backs me up, that Season One of Vinyl was really about three things:
1) Exorcising and exposing the racism at the heart of the rise of the Rock and Roll Record Industry.
2) Exorcising and exposing the sexism at the heart of the rise of the Rock and Roll Record Industry.
3) Finding what remains that is pure about music after the criticism and exorcism dust clears and the superstructure is naked and exposed.
At the beginning of "Alibi," Richie is meeting the Federal agent who will be his liaison as he feeds the FBI Galasso (Armen Garo) information. He finds out that this agent is particularly fascinated by the women and groupies who surround Rock and Roll music and its artists and their "record men."
Later in the episode, in order to continue to ingratiate himself with the agent, he tells the story of Chuck Negron from Three Dog Night having sex with twelve different women in four hours after a concert.
What Richie is sharing with this officer is the "Rock and Roll Fantasy." In the Rock and Roll Fantasy, women become transformed into sexual automatons entirely controlled by the (usually male) Rock Star's sheer magnetism and hypnotic music. Part of the promise of becoming a rock star is having access to this never ending sex stream of eternally willing bodies.
The Rock and Roll Fantasy is why a high percentage of music videos throughout history have shown women as currency (the bigger the star, the more and more willing women are gyrating throughout the video). The Rock and Roll Fantasy is why, despite a decent amount of women who would claim to be Rock Stars available, Rolling Stone had a really difficult time coming up with 15 Rock Women they feel should be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (I believe their list had five self-identified Country artists on it).
This fantasy perpetuates itself because it serves both the artist living the fantasy and all the men (and also women) who participate in its glorification. The idea is NOT to accept, connect with, or understand women, it is to snake-charm women into becoming glorified sex-jewelry using your Rock power (usually phallic). This fantasy is both at the heart of the discussion between Richie and the Federal officer and at the heart of the classic Spinal Tap scene where the bass player cannot get through the metal detector at the airport without exposing the fake phallus he was hiding in his pants.
At the heart of this fantasy lies insecurity because being a Rock God (Phallic God) means never having to say you're sorry (or anything else) to women. Perhaps more important, at the heart of this fantasy lies existential insecurity. Men, including me, are raised to assume we have a role and path (meet and woo marry and procreate). Women were to be pliable, compliant, and supportive. Even in the last twenty years I have been to weddings where the Priest literally interpreted a woman's duty to obey "her man" as part of the "holy union."
And even this future is terrifying to us. But, when women defy these socialized norms and paths, it can be absolutely devastating to a man's ego. During Episode 9, Kip (James Jagger) takes Jamie (Juno Temple) in and begins to invest in her emotionally. He falls in love with her and sees them as a growing unit. And, I am fully convinced that Jamie cares about Kip too. But throughout this entire season of Vinyl we have learned that Jamie is a radically free human being.
Richie is a cyclone and Jamie is a hurricane.
She doesn't follow the rules, she is not predictable, she is her own person. She would rather be kicked out of her Mother's home and give up the right to her Mother's money (and company) than give up on her own dreams. She would rather risk her job as a Secretary at American Century to rattle cages and try to move up. And, when she desires the Nasty Bits guitarist, she is willing to share the experience with Kip, but she is not willing to sacrifice her desires.
Jamie Vine is not compliant, she is not pliable, and she is never purely an object of sex throughout Season One. I do not say this from some radical feminist agenda, I have lived all of these feelings, I have felt all of these things. I understand why investing in this fantasy maintains our belief that we are not vulnerable (to women, to age, to death). It becomes a way to keep the world emotionally safe. It becomes a way to preserve the feeling we are emotionally invulnerable (which is really what Rock Godism is about, no?).
Kip enjoyed and participated fully in the threesome but coming into contact with Jamie as radically free caused massive emotional blowback. The blowback apparently was too much for him to handle, at the beginning of the episode he storms out of band practice and when next we see him, he has overdosed on Heroin (mere hours before the Nasty Bits are due to take the stage and open for the New York Dolls).
Lester (Ato Essandoh) and Jamie find him on his floor passed out and fading away, they get him in a tub and somehow transport him (not to the hospital) but to backstage at the concert venue where he is due to play. Richie uses his magic cocaine powers (essentially the same scene we saw in Pulp Fiction with adrenaline being used in the place of cocaine). Kip wakes up, and Richie pieces together what happened between Jamie, Kip, and the guitarist.
His solution is to quickly fire Jamie and expel her from the room (as if she as the only agent involved in the sex) and immediately reaffirm the Rock and Roll Fantasy:
"Guys, there will be thousands of women soon"
Thousands of willing and pliable bodies that put nothing at emotional risk. Thousands of bodies that tell you everything will be okay.
The reason Vinyl focussed on Jamie's story instead of Devon's in the final episode is because the entire point of Jamie's arc was to perform and expose this "truth" at the heart of Rock and Roll mythology.
As I said in week one, this show is an exorcism and a celebration of music.
Nasty Bits #2: Finestra The Magnificent
Carnac the magnificent was a mentalist character played by Johnny Carson. Carson would place a sealed envelope against his head supposedly containing a "question" that he did not know and he would suggest the "answer" to this question. He would then open the envelope with a flourish and the question (aka punchline) would be revealed.
The second purpose of the Nasty Bits is to reveal to everyone (including Richie) if he is still Carnac (the guy with the supernatural ability to pick the right artists) or if he is just a normal "record man." In other words, will the Nasty Bits save American Century Records (and Richie) from impending financial disaster.
So, was Richie right to refuse the sale of the company to Polygram records? Was he right to risk his company and future of the Nasty Bits?
The answer is a qualified "Yes."
And here is the real hole at the heart of Vinyl. The real problem that neither Winter, Scorcese, Jagger, HBO, or the actors could overcome (and this is coming from someone who loves the show).
In television land, the Nasty Bits kill it at the show, and thanks to Richie strategically alerting the police, they get a TON of great press (or bad press that still counts as good press). It seems clear that the Nasty Bits are going to be stars and that Richie's vision has been vindicated.
As an aside, the New York Dolls and Joey and Dee Dee Ramone are in the crowd. RIP Joey and Dee Dee. Viva Ramones! They also play The Stooges over the speakers as the build up to the Nasty Bits taking the stage.
In the real world, the Nasty Bits are......
Well, the Nasty Bits are, they are....okay...I guess?
For the first season to work, all of Richie's nonsense and self-destruction had to be in a foot race with the talent he was about to let loose on the world.
The Nasty Bits had to be revolutionary, Ramones + Pixies + Nirvana.
Kip has to be as charismatic as Mick Jagger combined with the Punk ethos of Richard Hell.
I just never saw it, one time when they were playing (at the showcase), I said to myself, "That is kind of a cool song."
I never thought about listening to a Nasty Bits song again (not even "Woman Like You"). I never thought about buying a digital download. Maybe one other time I commented that they sound a little bit like a Johnny Thunders band.
Do any post-mortem that you want to do, but at the end of the day, the show is a failure because James Jagger is not that great of a frontman (certainly not anything like his Father but who is) The show is a failure because the Nasty Bits don't make people want to "Dance, Fight, or Fuck."
To give a playful example, in the Tom Hanks passion project "That Thing You Do" the movie might have failed on several levels but you could absolutely see how the title song could have been a period hit. That song, even though it wasn't in my usual style, was catchy as hell.
I can still hum it, I still remember loving seeing them running down the street in pure joy as it played on the radio for the first time. It almost was enough to carry an entire movie (which was part of the problem, it is played seemingly 100 times in the movie).
I bet none of you even thought of humming one Nasty Bits song during the season. There was plenty of great music on the show, just none of it was Nasty Bits music. Not that they were "bad" exactly, I just don't see that band saving anyone.
Can anyone seriously argue that if the Nasty Bits were awesome the show would not have been must-see television?
But back to television land.
The Nasty Bits won, Richie won, and so two objectives have been fulfilled (Race, Gender) and now we get a few minutes of what remains to celebrate about Rock music.
Richie has a party back at the American Century offices. He gives maybe the best speech of the entire series. He says something like this:
"An Alibi is an excuse for bad behavior, but I am not going to make any more excuses."
He then talked about how for the millions of fucked up kids (like him who needed music to get him through his Dad yelling at his Mom) need to hear Rock and Roll so that they, "know that they are not alone."
He juxtaposed all the eras, going from Little Richard to the Nasty Bits, and concludes that it lets kids know that it "Time To Change The Channel" which we see in a cut shot is the album title for Nasty Bits first album.
As he concludes, he challenges everyone to change American Centuries channel by spray painting the joint. Julie (Max Casella) starts the office graffiti party as one of the great punk anthems of all time, Motor City 5's Kick Out The Jams, starts to play.
And as Richie watches the glorious anarchy he has unleashed, out of the corner of his eye, he sees Zak who looks anything but thrilled by what is going on around them. And we are immediately reminded that there was a double meaning in Richie's speech.
"I am not going to make any more excuses (for my bad behavior)."
Yes, Richie has won this battle, but Richie is still, as Terence Winter said in the after show blurb, "A Total Prick."
Yes, that was actually the showrunner of Season One confirming what I have said all along, Richie is not a protagonist in any traditional sense, he is a "Total Prick" in the throes of an addictive cycle (bows).
Richie might be talented, but he is still really, "Record Man."
Zac and the "Boulevard of Broken Dreams"
Our last ghost of Season One is Tony Bennett singing "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." This ghost is Zac's ghost. Zac (Ray Romano) is walking his own boulevard through much of the "Alibi" episode starting with his facacta decision to visit Corrado Galasso.
Yes, Zac is naive enough, apparently because he once saw the Godfather (and yes, he talks about seeing the movie with Galasso, sigh), to assume that all he has to do is tell Galasso the truth about Richie and reveal, to the mob boss, his plan to remove Richie from control to "save the company."
In the next scene, thinking everything has gone exactly to plan (proving yet again that Zac is not capable of leading a company or of leading much of anything) he heads to his recording session for Xavier. At the recording session, He tells Scott (P.J. Byrne) that he will have no problems taking over running the show, doing A&R, as well as everything else. And if anyone gets in the way he can straighten things out because he is now "close friends with Galasso."
I would say "how could anybody be this stupid" but I have been that stupid at times myself. Sometimes, all you see is the road you have dreamed up for yourself. Sometimes you just banish all cognitive dissonance and do things that in retrospect were insane. Plus, as likable as Zac is, as human as he has been, he has always been a bit of a lovable idiot.
So, we hear many of Zac's plans, one of which is to set Xavier up in an apartment in the Villiage. "Get ready kid, things are about to change."
Zac is fully invested in a romantic vision of himself as savior and he believes entirely that his vision will prove that Richie has never been the key to the companies success. He is ready to get revenge and wash American Century clean.
Part of this is Zac addressing his own feelings of inadequacy, we all know that Zac is only still in the Record Business because Richie, despite all his flaws, is loyal. We have seen time and time again that Zac is incompetent at his job and no music visionary. Zac deep down has to know the truth, but he is convincing himself that he can finally prove that Richie was just holding him down (and getting glory at his expense).
It probably sucks to believe you are just a remora.
Do remora dream of being sharks? Zac is a remora dreaming that he is a shark.
Cut back to the office, where Galasso comes to both tell Richie about his rat (Zac) and to inform both of them, and a visiting Joe Corso (Bo Dietl), that he could care less what happens, but that he better get his money or whoever ends up in charge is going to be fish food. When Zac walks in he is entirely convinced this is just Galasso backing his play. He is clearly shocked, and scared, to find out Galasso thinks that his "gesture" was actually a rat move.
During the meeting, Galasso informs Zac that he is lucky that Galasso has not shoved him (dead) in one of the trunks of his stolen cars at his chop shop in the Bronx (for some reason he decides to add in the qualifier, near Yankee stadium, which seems a bit overspecific in this situation).
Earlier in the episode, the FBI told Richie not to worry about the NYPD bug in his office because of limited battery life. Sadly (for Richie) there was still enough battery for the NYPD to pick up the bit about the chop shop in the Bronx (near Yankee stadium - pretty surprised given the CBGB's bit earlier that they didn't have Galasso give the police the actual address of the place too).
In Episode 9, we learned the NYPD are not pleased that the FBI has ruined their open and shut murder case against Richie (the Feds cut a deal with Richie to get Galasso). So, in typical inter-agency fashion, they decide to fuck the FBI and raid the chop shop. Galasso is a horrible person, but he is no idiot when the shop gets raided he knows there has to be a rat. And of the people who were at the meeting, one person just showed that they were capable of snitching.
So, the mob goons go and snatch Zac up off the street.
Somehow, Zac gets to call Richie and tell him he has been nabbed, so Richie shows up at what looks like a basement mob-torture office suite (complete with table and chairs). As Richie fumbles for a way to get Zac out of trouble without revealing what he knows about the bug the NYPD has in his office he manages to make Joe Corso feel threatened.
God Bless Joe Corso, he decides to respond by implicating Richie (and Galasso after the fact) in the murder of Frank "Buck" Rogers. This outburst by Corso convinces Galasso that Corso is the blabbermouth so he nods and his goons shoot Corso. RIP Blabbermouth Joe Corso.
This also mostly concludes the strange incident of Zac's crazy takeover plan. He is left with nothing but the reality of his own incompetence and, with the last glance at Richie during the season concluding party, the certainty that Richie has won.
His dream is shattered (on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, duh).
Tying Up The Loose Ends
Clark (Jack Quaid) and Jorge were successful at making Indigo a hit (by shopping the album and song to DJ's in discos all over NYC. When the executives find out that Indigo has charted they are apoplectic because they think they cut Indigo. Clark and Jorge show up just in time to explain they never sent the letter (they work in the mail room see) and to explain that they are the ones that made Indigo a hit.
Despite everything Richie has done, Lester just can't quit Richie. Richie finds out that Lester owns the rights to the Nasty Bits soon to be "hit song" and goes to the Boogie Down Bronx to negotiate a deal with Lester. As usual, Lester gets a bit better deal and dives head first back into Richie land.
There is a cool discussion between Richie and Kool DJ Herc, prior to Lester showing up at the barber shop in the Bronx. Herc tells Richie it is cool to crossfade between Booker T and Jimmy Castor. We have talked before about the wonder of the Jimmy Castor Bunch.
There was a lot of great music in this episode, everything from Aretha Franklin to Queen. I will sprinkle some of the music clips in between the words above.
Adios to Season One and Thank You!
As hard as it has been (staying up every Sunday night until 4 am), I have had a blast doing these recaps. It is very gratifying to have gotten so much positive feedback and to see how many people have read them.
Thanks so much for the support. I hope you have enjoyed the ride.
My Mr. Robot Recaps are coming soon (my first Mr. Robot post was yesterday and included a brief chat with one of the writers of the show) and I write music content almost every day of the week. So, I hope you stick around and enjoy the content.
The name of my Mr. Robot recap for Season Two will be "Who Is Mr. Robot's Landlord," which should make sense to anyone who watched Season One.
Thanks again for spending some time On Pirate Satellite!
How did you enjoy the season finale? What did you think of Season One? Let me know your thoughts, leave a comment!