Vinyl (HBO) Episode 3: "Record Man" vs. Music Man
by Joshua B. Hoe * Spoiler Alert *
I will be talking about Episode 3 of Vinyl. If you have not seen it yet, or will be upset to hear about it, read this later (after you see the episode).
"They Don't Give A Shit About Music, That's Why They Make Money...I don't know why I waste my fuckin' time with you."
Maury Gold (Vinyl Episode 3)
Disappointment is the distance between what we once dreamed of and what eventually became real.
Delusion is when we refuse to see that "what became real."
This episode (called Whispered Secrets) is about the space between what we promised at our best and what we deliver/ed at our worst.
When some people look down at our lives swirling down the metaphorical drain (and Richie does in this episode) how will they respond?
With disappointment and realism?
With a structured recovery plan?
Or by doubling down of fantasies and bullshit?
Guess which choice Richie (Bobby Cannavale) keeps making?
Record Man Makes Her Cry
Balanced against Richie's fantasy of saving his record company purely with his talent single-handed are his ghosts (representing the wreckage).
Richie is visited by only one official ghost in this episode, the ghost of Howlin' Wolf.
Chester Arthur Burnett, better known as Howlin' Wolf, visits Richie singing him his classic "Smokestack Lightning."
"...tell me baby, what's the matter with you, why don't you hear me crying."
Howlin' Wolf was one of the most financially successful Black musicians of his era (even provided his band members with health insurance), and he was deeply in love with his wife, so his inclusion here has to be about the song.
Richie is hearing Devon's voice, Lester's voice, Buck Rogers, Zak's voice, and even poor Clark's voice through the wolf howl of Chester Arthur Burnett's voice box.
"...tell me baby, what's the matter with you, why don't you hear me crying."
Years ago, when Richie was starting to be wildly successful as he lay in bed sharing whispered secrets with Devon (Olivia Wilde) he told her to take her NYC ambition and put it into a Greenwich Connecticut "dance" or "theater company."
He said this right after asking her to have another kid, then trying to get to the business of making another kid.
From the dialog in this scene it seems obvious he is pacifying her, as many men of the period did he is clearly hoping she will take to the house and the kids and give up her "career" and "goals."
But, Devon apparently took him at his word.
Devon is trying to start a dance company in Greenwich composed of escaped Czech dancers that she has promised (based on a very small percentage of the money Richie is supposed to make from the sale of American Century Records) to house and open a performance space for.
Surprise, Richie is not selling American Century Records.
Devon had no idea.
Richie, of course, made this decision without telling her.
Devon finds this out from a comedian/record executive who is the MC at an event where Richie's mentor Maury Gold is getting a lifetime achievement award.
After she confronts him, and he tries to demur ("Everything will stay the same") she takes a drink and gives him a look that could freeze a blind person.
I might rather get punched in the face than get a look like that from someone I love.
A bit later, when they are at home, near the painting of Devon given to her by Andy Warhol (John Cameron Mitchell - I hate his characterization of Warhol FYI), she asks him for the money she needs for her dance project.
He won't give it to her.
She tells him to leave "her bedroom" and then their daughter comes in crying.
Even after all of this, he takes the opportunity to act like she is to blame for this parenting failure (Richie is not good at realizing when he is in trouble at all).
To make a long story short, she flashes back to the hopeful moment from before where she says she is not sure she can have a kid "and start a revolution in Greenwich."
She had the kid, and now her revolution is in tatters, but she has promised these Czech dancers a place and they are coming. So, she realizes she has to make it happen (no matter the cost).
The look in her eye after she returns from the flashback is a sad reflection of the look she gave Richie at the event.
Richie is choosing to double down on delusion while Devon is choosing bitter realism.
Richie is now "The Music Man" (Trouble with a capital T) and she has become the "Record Woman" ("why do I even waste my fuckin' time with you").
She takes the painting, clearly one of her most valued possessions, and goes to visit Andy Warhol. Not only does she have to sell a painting that says everything about who she thinks she is (a star in Andy Warhol's eye) but she has to beg him to sign the painting so it will draw more in payment.
During the process, he films her as they talk, and you see her tears.
You see the distance between when she loved him enough to sacrifice her dreams because of whispered secrets and the disappointment of who they have become.
Ah-oh, smokestack lightnin' Shinin', just like gold Why don't ya hear me cryin'?
Chickens Coming Home To Roost
Don't be misled, Richie has left plenty of wreckage that is coming back to bite him (not just Devon).
He goes to visit Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh) and the visit stirs up so much pain that Lester pulls out the guitar, starts to play, and imagines what could have been in a fantastic bright shiny fantasy (of happiness, fame, and fortune) before he is pulled back to the reality of his couch in his shitty apartment left with nothing but his nowhere job and his shattered voice box.
FYI the song that Grimes fantasizes to is Willie Dixon's "I Can't Quit You Baby." Dixon worked with Howlin' Wolf among others.
Before this he tells Richie to leave and never come back, but you know he will (because delusional and because he "can't quit" Richie).
Richie himself flashes back several times to the murder of the radio DJ Frank "Buck" Rogers (Andrew "Dice" Clay). Later in the episode, we find out the police have found Buck's body.
So, the police are coming.
And of course, as a result of his abandonment of Grimes Richie still has ties to the mob, and that mob connection is why he ended up killing Buck with a mob PR man at his side.
Now that mob PR man is back asking him to listen to a tape from his girlfriend because that is what people who have "shared close personal histories" do.
Oh, and the mob boss is back, ostensibly to ask questions about Richie being visited by the Police. But we know better, we know he is there to pick the bones of American Century Records (like it was that Tiki bar in Goodfellas).
Those chickens are circling for Richie's roost.
Clark Meets Alice
Before I get to deeply this story, for anyone who thinks I am off on this whole ghost concept - the Alice Cooper song played in this episode is "I Love The Dead" which starts like this (this version by Michigan's own Andrew W.K):
"I love the dead before their cold, their bluing flesh for me to hold"
Just in case you are wondering, that not quite dead dead guy is Richie (And ghosts visit him because he is "dead before" he is "cold").
I think they call that foreshadowing?
Okay, back to episode 3.
So, Clark (Jack Quaid), the A&R guy who got yelled at for not getting new artists that didn't suck runs into Alice Cooper (Dustin Ingram).
He takes a wild swing, trying to sell him on the idea of going solo. AC seems to take the bait.
For much of the episode, Clark seems to really connect with Alice Cooper attending a party, going golfing, and even wearing his Boa Constrictor (Eva Marie Snake apparently).
But, just as he thinks he has a MONSTER client wrapped up. He learns the real truth.
Alice Cooper is a BAND, Vince Damon Furnier plays the "character" Alice in the band, and the bands bond was built over years playing together in bad hotels and shitty venues.
Vince is not looking to go solo.
So, why did Vince string Clark along on this journey?
Well, as it turns out, many years ago during one of these shitty Alice Cooper tours, they got word American Century wanted to check them out urgently.
Said they had to get there ASAP.
So they packed up and ran all the way to NYC where they were ignored by American Century for 15 hours.
Richie never even showed up to see them.
Even dumbass incompetent Clark is paying the price for Richie's hubris (In this particular instance, Vince tells him this story after AC's henchmen have placed Clark into a nifty tricked Guillotine).
Another chicken coming home to roost.
I do want to officially protest that as much as I loved that there was an Alice Cooper subplot, I hate it was Clark.
Could you please stop burying some of the best performances in the show?
Speaking of Zak, he mentions his accountant called and he isn't returning the call because he has no money.
Yup another chicken.
Chickens chickens everywhere.
This coop is going to be collapsing like the Mercer Center did in Episode One.
Oh Right, Nasty Bits
So part of Richie's "plan" for rising from the ashes is trimming 70% of his roster and creating a sub-label for Nasty Bits (punk).
I have loved punk my whole life Richie, but it has never really been much of a financial salve for anyone.
Anyway, he shows up at the Nasty Bits showcase performance. The opening band is Sniper.
Okay, this is inside NYC music baseball to the 100th degree, but they mention the singer of Sniper "Jeff Starship." That was the stage name for one Jeff Hymen AKA Joey Ramone.
So Joey Ramone is opening for the Nasty Bits (sigh). I love you Vinyl, but there is some hate growing in me for you too.
So, the Nasty Bits (aka excuse for Mick Jagger's son to be in the show) play The Kinks cover (that the other A&R idiot Julie Silver (Max forced them to "harmonize up" in episode 2).
Richie predictably hates it, for some inexplicable reason when he blows up Jamie takes the blame for Julie's boner (something about softening their sound for radio).
Jamie then runs up and tells the Nasty's to play that other song (the one that doesn't suck apparently). After some persuasion provided by a beer bottle missile launched by Jamie, they launch into a song called "What Love Is" which is a much better song for them (I love The Kinks).
Richie comes back, things are great, the fantasy of rescue is still in play!
The Music Man can still sell himself on the idea that he is a Record Man (Right here in River City).
Oh, before I go, we had some "cameos" in "cameos."
Johnny Thunders showed up (hanging out with Alice Cooper?). Johnny Thunders was a critical figure in the history of New York City punk rock. Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers is a good place to start (check my recent playlists) but he was also in the Dolls.
Kool DJ Herc (the originator of Hip-Hop) showed up (he was insinuated in Episode One but never shown). Hope we get more from him later.
So, in conclusion, we have team disappointment (led by Devon) and team delusion (led by Richie).
Oh, and for some F'n reason Joey Ramone had to open for the absurd Nasty Bits (rolling in his grave I suspect).
RIP Joey, Johnny, Dee-Dee, and Tommy!
Finally Paste is wrong on most of this - but they are right about Zak's PJ's and The Factory (which is insanely bad).
Also, you can catch up here:
Episode One Recap - Darkness at the Heart of "Record Man"
Episode Two Recap - "Record Man" on Fire
What did you think of episode 3? What did you think of the music? Are you mad at the treatment of Joey too? Do you think they made Warhol suck? Let me know what you think, leave a comment!