Vinyl (HBO): My Requiem


The news came out today that HBO has cancelled its series Vinyl, which highlighted the rise of punk, disco, and hip-hop in NYC in the 1970's. As you may remember, HBO fired showrunner Terence Winter after the airing of Season 1 Episode 9 and fired the long-time head of programming Michael Lombardo soon after. 

With the exception of Game of Thrones, Veep, and Silicon Valley, it has been a long time between hit shows for the network that used to be the gold standard for programming. Consider some of their greatest hits:

The Wire (The best show I have ever seen)

Deadwood (which also got cancelled unceremoniously without even a proper ending)

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Six Feet Under

and of course, The Sopranos.

I think what we are learning is that Networks matter less than the quality of their content. 

So, anyway, Vinyl got mostly mediocre reviews, did not draw a great weekly audience, and was constantly savaged by pop-cultural commentators. However, in my humble opinion, Vinyl was one of the most misunderstood series on television.

Was it a great series? Occasionally it was, but it certainly was not a GREAT series consistently.

Was it better than most of the dreck on Network television, YES! A big YES!

I can't tell you how many great series took longer than one season to find an audience and grow. It is truly sad that HBO pulled the plug on a great cast and strong concept so quickly.

What Went Wrong

There will be hundreds of post-mortems. Most of these post-mortems will have some validity.

But, as someone who wrote about Vinyl since the day it was announced, one thing killed Vinyl.

The Nasty Bits SUCKED.

Maybe that is unfair, The Nasty Bits were a marginally entertaining band for the period that they were supposed to represent. For the show to work, they had to be KILLER.

They had to be the Ramones, Television, New York Dolls, or the Heartbreakers.

They were not.

Nobody is left craving more Nasty Bits. In fact, I bet very few people could even hum a bar of the song they penned with Lester off the top of their head without help from Google.

When you love music, it is immediately memorable.

The central premise of the show was that Record Boss Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) was going to bank everything on a new band "The Nasty Bits" saving his drowning label (American Century Records).

As Richie put it (and I am paraphrasing), to be a hit, bands have to make you want to fuck, fight, or dance.

The show was built around a band, and it did not make anyone want to fuck, fight, or dance.

If people loved The Nasty Bits, most everything else would have fallen into place.

For this, I blame Mick Jagger who was a producer because the not particularly charismatic singer for The Nasty Bits was his son James Jagger.

What Will I Miss Most

Olivia Wilde was consistently excellent in a difficult part. Juno Temple was amazing whenever she was given the opportunity to get meaningful screentime. Ato Essandoh was really good as Lester Grimes. Of all people, Andrew Dice Clay was really good in a very limited role. 

Bobby Cannavale was excellent in his portrayal of Richie an almost entirely unlikable character lost in the throes of serious addiction. He never compromised who he thought Richie was, it didn't work out, but it was a strong performance. The writers also did an excellent job writing an addict (not always the case on television or in the movies).

I will miss some of the cool covers of classic songs. Like Julien Casablancas' cover of The Velvet Undergrounds' "Run Run Run" or Aimee Mann covering The Carpenters.

But what I will really miss are the little bits of homage to the great music that seemed to have been lost in the passage of time. I will miss the tips of the cap to artists like Ruth Brown, Otis Blackwell, and Allen Toussaint. To me, the show was a statement that music and its history matter. It was also one of the strongest statements I have seen that the popular music of the 70's (and the labels) owed a massive debt to the mostly African-American artists that preceded them.

The show might have seemed to be about Richie Finestra but its heart was always with Lester Grimes.

I will miss Lester Grimes and all that he represented.

I will miss Vinyl.

A Music Lover's Guide To HBO's Vinyl

Just two days ago, I published my most recent eBook "A Music Lover's Guide to HBO's Vinyl."

All week, I was debating whether I should add "Season One" to the subtitle. I guess I made the right choice leaving it out. If you are planning on watching the DVD"s or seeing Vinyl On Demand, my book is intended as a companion to the episodes from the perspective of music history. 

"A Music Lover's Guide To Vinyl" is available at Amazon for $2.99.

Why will you miss Vinyl? Leave your own post-mortem, or any other thoughts you have about the cancellation of the show. I would love to hear your opinion, leave a comment!