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Television

Vinyl: Season 1, Episode 2 - "Yesterday Once More"

Leyla Hamedi

We continue following Richie Finestra in his Cameron Crowe-like journey of musical re-discovery, while also getting a valuable lesson in how not to talk to your boss.


Vinyl

Airtime: Sundays, 9pm
Cast: Bobby Cannavale, Olivia Wilde, Ato Essandoh, Ray Romano
Subtitle: Season 1, Episode 2 - "Yesterday Once More"
Network: HBO
Air date: 20014-02-21
Amazon

It seems what they say is true: cocaine is one hell of a drug. High off his bender and epiphany and actual drugs, Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) storms into the office to declare that the deal is off. The entire opening scene is a tribute to the glory of heightened inhibitions. Finestra takes on an eight-foot Bruce Lee in a random movie theater, snorts some drugs, flounces into the office to the climax of David Bowie's "Jean Genie", ("He's outrageous, he screams and he bawls"), pisses of the Germans with that beautiful Brooklyn slur that makes Polygram sound like a low-ranking mob member ("Paulie Graham"), snorts some more drugs, orders the A & R team to come up with new act in two weeks, snorts some drugs, and punches out his sales guy. Jean Genie, let yourself go, indeed.

There's a certain beauty in the way music used as exposition, transition, and character development in the series, although at times it does get rather preachy. When the scene cuts to the "actual" singer (i.e., Jerry Lee Lewis crooning by his trademark piano), it doesn't set the mood so much as give us a quick lesson in music appreciation. This man is important because of his contribution to music history, and this is him in his natural habitat. It's a living Madame Tussaud, where the wax models have been taught to lip sync, and it just doesn't work as neatly when our rock 'n' roll idols are actually written into the scene.

The flashbacks in the episode are dedicated to Devon Finestra (Olivia Wilde) and how she went from racy nights at The Factory to forgetting her kids at Friendly's. As one of Andy Warhol's girls, she met Richie at a Velvet Underground show. Although they came with different people, “whiplash girlchild in the dark” and Richie eventually end up together. Devon fondly remembers fucking her husband in the bathroom that very night, and how very dull she is now that she's a Westchester wife. It's the glimpses of Warhol, of Lou Reed, of Nico that delight us fans as much as hearing their music, but placing Karen Carpenter right in the car as Devon daydreams about her past is just too on the nose. (Not to mention that bored housewife staying up at light watching the lights of the big city from her window in the suburbs is not anything new.)

Sadly, the role of women in this episode pretty much echoes the role of women in the era, with nothing beyond stereotypes shown onscreen: two hausfraus bitching at their long-suffering husbands, a black secretary clucking at her injured boss’s heels, and even Jamie (Juno Temple) the A & R rep, who showed such promise in the pilot, is stomped on and relegated to coffee fetcher. She does manage to bully Richie into letting her get the Nasty Bits a showcase. (They should, however, actually try to play as bad as everyone keeps saying they do; at least they would sound more interesting than the bland punk they play now.) That being said, credit should be given to the showmakers for presenting us with no gratuitous breasts; instead, we actually get a full-frontal Cannavale in the shower.

Richie's bottom line is that it's all about the music, about the songs. Will you remember it tomorrow? When was the first time you head a song, "That made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? Made you want to dance, to fuck, to go out and fight someone?" Music’s the purest expression of emotion; that’s what the show keeps trying to make clear to us. Vinyl is, in essence, the ultimate fanboy, in that it has a genuine love for its obsession. It lives and breathes it. But the trouble with that is the trouble with fanboys; no one else is worthy of it, no one else will ever get it, so they have to explain it to the world at large and take it for granted that no one will ever "get" them. And that's where fanboys are wrong and why they'll end up alone. Loving something is not supposed to be isolating. Ironically, Andy Warhol is the biggest name of this episode, the man who invented the concept of superficial appreciation. The king of pop culture condescends to speak to Richie, the original music fan, and their worlds only create awkwardness when they overlap.

Essentially, that's exactly what's wrong with Finestra's company. By not selling it, he wants to stop the progression of shallow appreciation, and get back to the root of fandom, of music appreciation, of love. That's why, when the cop that comes knocking on his door is investigating his old boss rather than the dead body he's responsible for, Finestra knows what he has to do. He visits the singer he treated worse than a lover in a country song: Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh). He's going to see a man about some blues to the dulcet tones of Don Covay's, "Everything I Do Goin' Be Funky". If he’s lucky, maybe it will be.

7

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