Pilot Episode: Vinyl
Ever since the Scorsese/Jagger project was announced over a year ago, I'd been waiting with Christmas anticipation for its opening. Having recently watched and re-watched the terrific CNN documentaries on both the '60s and the '70s, I now had a special interest in Vinyl. Those were the years I was a struggling musician playing Greenwich Village, opening for artists like Richie Havens and Eric Andersen. Then signing with Capitol Records in New York, and witnessing the Country, Bluegrass and Blues club (CBGBs) morph into a smashing, screaming, spitting "punk" scene, while the gay community came out of the closet to the glittering "disco balls" of the Electric Circus and then Studio 54. As a fan of both Scorsese's Mean Streets, The Last Waltz, and Raging Bull and almost everything The Rolling Stones ever released, I couldn't wait to see what the collaboration would produce.
To say I was disappointed in the pilot would be an understatement. The mosh pit of clichés cinematically intercut in non-linear music video sequences was just boring seen-it-all-before bullsh*t, apparently self-indulgently produced by two has-beens trying to be hip. The Andrew Dice Clay character was ridiculously unrealistic. Sure there were cokehead promotion men, but anyone that powerful at radio back then would have been mafia-controlled. If such a character was ever "bumped off" by a record company executive, the police would be the least of his worries. Was the barely audible second body mentioned in the landfill Corso? If not, it would have been a better story line, and more what I would have expected from Scorsese.
Also, in 1971, I played the Mercer Arts Center, unable to compete with the raucous audience until I actually brought a tall naked blonde (unclear whether male or female) wearing nothing but gold spray paint and pasties up on stage to sing with me. The Mercer Arts Center was a complex of live venues cut into the backside of the broken down Broadway Central Hotel, which also housed Art Bar, frequented by the glittering Max's Kansas City crowd. Often a showcase for The New York Dolls, as implied, but unlike in the show, it was empty when the Broadway Hotel collapsed in 1973.
Furthermore, back to the storyline, no superstar band like Led Zeppelin would ever have even considered signing with an indie label like American Century. But they did have a run in with the Germans when, in 1970, Eva Von Zeppelin, heiress to the airship designer, sued in an attempt to stop them from using the family name.
Context? What Context?
And where was the context? What about the caldron of anti-war demonstrations, civil rights riots, Watergate political corruption, gasoline line road rage, boiling into the music? What caused the transition from The Beatles to the Sex Pistols? Where were the real characters that coexisted with the lunatics? What else was going on in the world that seeped into the music and the times? None of this was explored.
Episodes 2&3: Vinyl
Giving the show the benefit of the doubt, I forced myself to watch the next two episodes. OK, not quite as nonsensical and disjointed as the pilot. Now it's just a TV soap opera about a group of mostly one-dimensional caricatures I don't like, believe, or care about, with the possible exceptions of the wife and secretary. Both seemingly as frustrated as I am with the lack of depth and/or overacting by the rest of the cast, especially annoyingly over-the-top Cannavale. The scenes of him snorting coke are reminiscent of Reefer Madness, jumping around like a psychotic crackhead.
In episode 2, I could absolutely understand a guy who built his company from scratch, not wanting to sell out. But so ridiculously overblown and overacted, it was totally unbelievable. The Velvet Underground, Andy Warhol flashbacks were actually well-done, but as soon as Cannavale came back on the screen with the phony, oversimplified A&R meeting, any credibility went out the door with the guy who was fired. Then came a reference to Watergate, with a picture of Halderman on a TV screen, and that was all we got from the outside world. Despite the fact that what was happening out there was considerably more intriguing than anything in the show.
In episode 3, cutting the roster to survive was a normal practice, however no indie label, without the money and power of a major behind it, would ever have a roster of so many 'name' acts in the first place. However, although again dumbed down for TV, the portrayal of the record exec completely out of touch with the streets and the burgeoning 'punk' rebellion, was right on. I also felt the Alice Cooper segments were not only fun, but actually plausible as was the additional Andy Warhol scene, well-acted by Olivia Wilde. The cliché mob guy with a bimbo girlfriend that couldn't sing was just another annoyance. In fact, in real life, I once ran music publishing for an indie label with a similar character and a girlfriend who was actually fantastic. He made sure she got the best of everything. The best songs, producer, studio, cover art, the works. But with a private understanding that her record would never see the light of day. He couldn't afford the publicity. That would have been a better story line.
In closing, I'm not sure I can take any more of this... We'll see...