Vinyl (HBO) Episode 8: Music Lessons for the "Record Man"

Well, for those who have doubted my predictions, Richie (Bobby Cannavale) is starting to pour the gas on his own funeral pyre.

But, in case you don't know that yet, I am about to tell tales about Episode 8 of Vinyl. In other words:

*Spoiler Alert*

E * A * B

Vinyl works on multiple levels for me. I will freely admit that a huge amount of the pleasure I get from the show has to do with musical insider stuff, the appreciation for music shown by Vinyl's curators, and sometimes the little secret truths all musicians know but that the show exposes about music to the larger world.

E A B is the name of this episode.

E A B is a Chord Progression used all the time in music.

Nasty Bits are struggling to build a set and write new songs. It becomes brutally apparent to Lester (Ato Essandoh) that Kip (James Jagger) and his new guitarist sidekick have no fucking idea what they are doing.

He gets so tired of listening to them struggle he says in an angry voice "E A B" then finally grabs the guitar and starts to play that chord progression and starts to play. First, he sings Chuck Berry's "Maybelline" and then without changing the guitar line at all he seamlessly switches to Chubby Checker's "The Twist," then he shuffles through other blues and rock examples including one of his own songs finally finishing with "Traveling Band" by Credence Clearwater Revival.

During the entire sonic journey through all of these E A B classics, he never really changes his strumming pattern and another little something is revealed. Lester than sagely explains further he says something like this:

"A skeleton, everything has a skeleton, it doesn't matter if it is a Shakespear Sonnet, a building, or a song." 

Then he talks about starting with skeletons and adding the face, hair, and eyes.

It was a really strong scene, and one of the best pure music scenes on the show so far, because it is so true. The house of Rock and Roll was built on three chord structures. All of the three chord structures that actually kick ass have been used before. 

But they are all different too. 

And this is where we get into the metaphysics of music. 

As I have mentioned more than a few times, I am a drummer. Every drummer sounds different playing the same notes. I may not be able to tell you exactly who every drummer I have ever heard is, but I can tell when two different drummers are playing the same piece of music. 

This extends to every instrument because how different musicians play the same notes are entirely different. Maybe I hit a snare with one one thousandth less pound per square inch or a millimeter less flavor than another drummer but when we hit at the same time it will sound slightly different.

"Maybelline" and "The Twist" have the same chord progression, you can even play them with the same strumming pattern. But if you pretend that Chubby was a guitarist and Chubby and Chuck Berry played the same pattern, it would sound slightly different because they are different people they can play the same notes and the resulting sound will be unique to them.

They play the same notes, but they play different but very similar, songs (obviously lyrics, the cadence and pattern of the lyrics, and vocal differences change these similar songs a great deal as well).

"The Twist" is "Maybelline," but it is also most certainly not "Maybelline."

One Other Thing About E*A*B

Another thing I love about what they have Lester do here is that it demonstrates what the core of this blog is about - all music is really one music - that chord progression works in fifties rock and roll, classic blues, pop music, 70's rock and roll, and finally Punk.

I believe genres are like ingredient lists. When you see the recipe of a band's influences you will get some idea of what they will sound like. Just like E A B are the skeleton of hundreds of different classic songs genres are the skeletons of bands (and many bands have as many genre influences as people have bones)..

So, the Bits realize that one of the songs Lester plays is one of his originals and Kip asks Lester if he can borrow it and make it his own. The result becomes a song that sounds a tremendous amount like a song by Johnny Thunders (really any Johnny Thunders song, it had his bones, I told you it is like fingerprints).

Oddly enough, I had a Twitter conversation with another vinyl commentator just yesterday about the Nasty Bits and he suggested that they are making Kip into a combination of Richard Hell and James Chance which was odd to me because before this they really seemed to be infusing Sid Vicous with a small amount of Johnny Rotten. I guess he is going to be Johnny Thunders and Richard Hell (which is doubly odd since someone appeared as Thunders on the show during the Alice Cooper episode).

Here is a bit of that conversation:

So, anyway, I think we are all a bit confused by the Nasty Bits. At the end of the day, no punk band ever saved a record company (quite the opposite). And according to Richie, the Nasty Bits are the face of American Century (or Alibi) Records.

Skeletons As Apologia

I feel odd writing this since I have been one of the biggest defenders of this show, but I also think E A B is being used here as apologia (apologetics).

I actually think the writers are apologizing, in a sense, for the arc of the rest of the Richie part of the episode. Like E A B, selling your soul to the mob boss has been done more than a few times before. I truly believe that is the larger meaning of the title in this episode.

Richie is out of money (as we know from the Vegas Vacation episode last week) and Zak (Ray Romano) thinks it is his fault and is falling over  himself to make it up to Richie (he tries to finagle a loan from an old high school buddy who works at a bank and offers to mortgage his house).

Richie decides to take it on himself and makes a visit to his old pal Maury Gold (Paul Ben-Victor) to ask if he can help get Corrado Galasso (Armen Garo) to loan Richie the money he needs to keep the doors open. If you don't remember Galasso, he is the mobster who would not allow Lester out of his contract when Richie left Gold back in the old days.

Gold actually takes pity and begs Richie to stop being a moron (he suggests that he just declare bankruptcy and start over and then tells a horrifying flashback story about Galasso killing the last guy who owed him money).Richie being Richie decides to go forward and take the loan.

At the meeting with Galasso to get the loan, Galasso shockingly adds some "conditions" to the deal in addition to the 5 points on the 100K Richie is asking him for. The main condition is that, since he has let so many people go recently, he wants Maury Gold to move in at American Century to share rent.

Where have we seen this play out before?

So, now Richie has Corrado Galasso as a partner.

Skeletons?."Fuck you, pay me."

I am pretty sure the director of that film is a producer on some HBO show called....Vinyl?

Oh, and the police take Richie in for questioning about the murder of Frank "Buck" Rogers (Andrew "Dice" Clay) right after he sells his soul to Galasso the mobster devil.

Again, I feel a bit bad about saying this, but I feel like the police end of Vinyl has been particularly sketchy. Why? Well aside from virtually no coverage for most of the screen time in the episodes, they don't seem like particularly well-written police characters.

They sit Richie down, do a song-and-dance and then start to convince Richie that Joe Corso (Bo Dietl) has been wearing a wire. And then they play the tape of the discussion Joe and Richie had earlier in the episode where they disagree over who actually killed Frank "Buck" Rogers.

Then for some inexplicable reason, they reveal that they put a bug n Richie's office.

Now I am no expert in game theory, but the Prisoners Dilemma works much better when you keep the person you are trying to get a confession out of in the dark. The whole thing works because the parties (in this case Joe and Richie) have imperfect information. The idea is to play that imperfect information into paranoia and then into mistakes.

Anyway, Richie asks for his lawyer and they decide to let Richie cool his heels overnight in the tank.

I seriously believe that E A B also is apologia for repeating such a "classic" story arc. 

We Have Another Ghost

Our new ghost is Conway Twitty singing his first number one hit "It's Only Make Believe.":

Twitty is the bridge between the Devon (Olivia Wilde) section (which we are about to get to - sorry to go all Tarantino on you) and the Richie section where he is selling his soul to the devil and getting taken into custody by the police.

I would bet the larger significance is that if you asked Richie why he was doing everything he would say that it was for Devon, his kids, and everyone at American Century but that is really a romantic fantasy, it is really all "Only Make Believe." All of this has been about Richie and his ego not really about helping anyone else. 

Do Cats Have 9 Lives?

We have not seen Devon in awhile. 

This episode starts for Devon as an anonymous drag queen screams at her about her kids throwing her beloved cat over the balcony.

So we figure out that Devon is living with her kids on one of the top floors of the Chelsea hotel.

When asked, Devon says the kids were just live-testing the "9 lives" theory of cats.

Apparently either this cat had exhausted 8 lives previous to the experiment or the theory is demonstrably false (the drag queens cat is dead).

The manager tells Devon she has to produce some art of move out (did not know there was a pay + art rule at the Chelsea but okay).

As this scene dissolves we see Devon's "helper" show up which allows Devon to go to Max's Kansas City with Ingrid (Birjitte Hjort Sorensen). Now this was quite a night at Max's because the featured artist on stage was Bob Marley and the Wailers and in the crowd were both John Lennon and his mistress at the time May Pang.. 

To be factually correct, Bob Marley and the Wailers opened for Bruce Springsteen at this show, and I guess a few seconds of someone playing Bruce appear on Vinyl but I missed that.

Yes, that is real audio from that exact show. Got to love YouTube.

Anyway, Devon sees a photographer strike out trying to get Lennon to agree to be photographed and is intrigued (by both the situation and the photographer).

Devon borrows his camera and with Ingrid in tow tricks Lennon into being photographed (classic, she asks him to photograph her and Ingrid then naturally turns it around and starts taking pictures).

In one of the better lines of the night, Pang asks Ingrid and Devon to join them and Devon says no intimating that if they keep walking around the club they might "meet someone famous.."

The scene dissolves and Devon and her new photographer friend are developing pictures in his darkroom together.  The characters name is Billy McVicar (Richard Short) and during the development he intimates that he likes her photography and soon they are messing about. Oh, and Julie (Max Casella) was also at Max's and saw them interact (I am sure that will have Richie implications).

Wrapping Up The Odds and Ends

Andrea "Andy" Zito (Annie Parisse) gets in a fight with American Centuries graphic designer Hal (Jay Klaitz) and ends up firing him. Later in the episode, a drunken Hal confronts Richie about being fired and ends up revealing he is secretly a Satanist and starts cursing everyone all while in the background John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" is playing. 100% one of the most delightfully wacky moments of juxtaposition on Vinyl so far.

An odd aside, I saw John Denver live on a date when I was in Junior High. Can't really explain that fact.

So far, Andy is firing everyone Richie likes, so a power struggle is building. I am sure she is going to LOVE the mob sharing the office with them too.

Clark (Jack Quaid) somehow gets most of the mailroom guys fired except for Jorge (Christian Navarro). Through the magic of cocaine, Jorge goes from threatening to shank him to taking him with him to an underground disco. Clark looks very happy at the disco.

Zak's and his discovery Gary (the guy at the Bat Mtizvah singing Bowie) have lunch. Gary is delightfully wacky, he talks about how when he sings something magical happens and he controls the entire crowd with his song. He is also eating Cantaloupe with cottage cheese. Almost spontaneously, after agreeing to sign his contract he starts talking about how he was thinking about his album and a song hit him. He starts spontaneously belting it out in the restaurant and the whole place loves it. Zak is sure he has found a magic man.

I think the bank loan officer in the opening scene might have been Michael Kostroff aka Maurice Levy from The Wire but if so it was uncredited.

Well, that is it for this week, I would have to say it was a pretty decent episode. I enjoyed it.

Richard Hell and The Voidoids, Blank Generation

Richard Hell and The Voidoids, Blank Generation

What did you think of this weeks Vinyl? Were you happy to see Lester get such a great moment (finally)? What did you like and dislike about my recap? Leave a comment, let me know what you think!