“Whatever happens tonight, I remain as confused as ever.”
You said it, Julie. This first season of Vinyl was by turns exhilarating, virtuosic, hilarious, tedious, carefully observed, and totally disorganized – kind of like ‘70s rock itself. This show has started down so many blind alleys, only to double back to where it started, it would be difficult to describe any real plot arc, other than “coke-addled label owner alienates everyone and signs proto-punk band.” What has it all been about? What are we meant to take away? The more I think about it the more I believe it is, at its core, a love story. A love story complicated by betrayals, but a love story just the same. Stay with me.
Richie’s betrayal of his Sicilian business partners is under way at the start of this episode, as he receives instructions from the Feds not to try too hard to get information, to let it come to him. It’s not five minutes before it’s coming to him in gushes, because Zak, stung by Richie’s betrayal, betrays him right back, approaching Gallozzo to tell him that Richie is a drug addict and a compulsive liar, and that he plans to remove him from the label for violating his morals clause.
Gallozzo, in turn, betrays Zak, immediately telling Richie about Zak’s planned coup. Richie is more worried about getting killed than Zak’s treachery, as Gallozzo warns that whatever the issues are between them, they’ll end up in the trunk of a car at a chop shop in the Bronx if he doesn’t get his money.
Since Richie consented to the cops bugging his office, this threat results in the cops raiding said chop shop, which in turn leads Gallozzo to assume that it was Zak who talked to the cops, and when Gallozzo’s goons drag Richie, Zak, and Joe Corso to a black site to hash out who talked, Corso ends up taking a bullet in the head, leaving Zak more than a little shaken.
Meanwhile, Jamie and the Nasty Bits prepare for the Big Show, opening for the New York Dolls at the Academy of Music, but tensions are high, with Kip sensing the attraction between Jamie and Alex – once again underlining the cardinal rule of a three-way: don’t get into one with someone you care about.
Jamie admits to Kip that she’s into Alex, and stung by the betrayal, Kip throws a tantrum, quits the band, and runs off to OD in his underwear. (If you’re gonna go OD, step one is always strip down to your underwear.) Jamie and Lester find him just in the nick of time, wouldn’t you know, and the catatonic Kip is dragged to the Academy of Music, where, learning of all this backstage intrigue, Richie shoots Kip up with cocaine to wake him up, fires Jamie, and points out the obvious to both Kip and Alex: there are going to be thousands of girls. Get out there and do your job.
It works, of course, and the extra tension leads Kip to sing “A Woman Like You” with even more venom and even more F-bombs than it had before, turning it into a kissoff to Jamie, so the cops turn up and arrest the band for obscenity – ideal publicity for the band and the new label, so naturally it turns out Richie called the cops.
Celebrating the triumph back at the ACR offices, Richie hands out spray paint cans and tells everyone to wreck everything, in an apparent expression of the new punk rock spirit of Alibi Records.
And when Richie and Zak shared a longing look across the chaos, with Zak turning away and leaving, this was where I realized what this whole first season has been building toward, and where the show is likely headed next season: Zak and his new A&R ambitions and his distaste both for Richie’s way of doing business and the aesthetic of the new label will either break off and form a new company with his discovery, Gary – sorry, I mean Xavier – or take over ACR while Richie goes all-in with the punk rock and the Nasty Bits.
We didn’t see Devon at all in this episode, and I don’t think that’s an accident. Because the truth is the Richie-Zak relationship is the love story this whole first season has really been about, and the rupture in that relationship is going to be the dramatic engine of the series going forward. Xavier and his 11-piece band and his spaceship and his silver codpiece are about as far away as you can get from what Richie’s trying to do with the Nasty Bits, so it will be interesting to watch the journeys of the two distinct archetypes of ‘70s rock in season 2. The only question is, which label is going to take on Clark’s disco project?
-Zak’s referencing The Godfather in his discussion with Gallozzo was hilarious. Gallozzo didn’t care for the movie.
-Lester had give permission for the Nasty Bits to legally use “A Woman Like You,” and after a hilariously brusque brush-off (“You can suck the permission out of my d—”) he negotiates $20,000, five points on the single (prorated), and a few more acts to manage.
-Xavier needs an apartment because the Long Island Railroad from Massapequa is stultifying.
-Indeed, Clark never mailed the letter to Indigo dropping them from the label and thanks to his and Jorge’s efforts in the underground clubs, their record is #72 with a bullet.
-Waiting for Lester to show up and talk about publishing on “A Woman Like You,” Richie gets a lesson in beatmatching from DJ Kool Herc. I like how the birth of hip-hop is percolating in the background in this show, but they need to be careful not to get ahead of themselves; disco isn’t even really a thing yet!
-The Ramones were in the audience at the Nasty Bits/New York Dolls show. “Hey Chuck! It’s your cousin, Marvin Berry! you know that new sound you’ve been looking for?”
- Richie’s FBI handler’s fascination with groupie culture is much more interesting than the case. Also, Chuck Negron from Three Dog Night had 12 women in four hours, and that’s a fact.
-With all the excitement and the almost getting killed, Richie’s back to not talking about Gallozzo. But the bar where he’s been meeting the Feds is about to get a makeover: Country, BlueGrass, Blues, and Other Music For Uplifting Gourmandizers.
-Devon is not completely absent from the episode: her photo of Bo Diddley’s guitar smashed through the TV is the Nasty Bits’ album cover.
The Count Five – “Psychotic Reaction”
Indigo – “Kill the Lights”
The Nasty Bits – “Candy”
Tony Bennett – “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”
The Allman Brothers – “Ain’t Wastin' Time No More”
Mandrill – “Fencewalk”
Santana – “Soul Sacrifice”
Queen – “The Night Comes Down”
Iggy and the Stooges – “Penetration”
Iggy and the Stooges – “Gimme Danger”
The Nasty Bits – “A Woman Like You”
The MC5 – “Kick Out the Jams”