“People change themselves, or they don’t. Willingness is the key.” – Lester Grimes
There is nothing more frustrating than when you follow the rules and check all the boxes and do exactly what you’re supposed to do, and it turns out it’s still not enough. It’s a problem that multiple characters in “Whispered Secrets,” Vinyl’s third episode, confront and react to with varying results.
With American Century hemorrhaging cash in the wake of the scuttled PolyGram deal, Richie instructs the staff to cut 70% of the roster, sign some exciting new acts, and put out a quick-buck Christmas album in the interim. At a dinner honoring his old mentor Maury Gold, Richie learns – through a few broadsides by Ken Marino’s super-smarmy emcee – that the word is out about the buyout falling through. (Interesting detail at the party: the assembled guests, a who’s-who of record executives and power brokers, are thoroughly enjoying a mambo band – I love mambo myself, but it couldn’t be farther from the musical zeitgeist of 1973.)
Learning of the collapse of the American Century sale from the podium at the dinner, Devon joins Richie in jumping off the wagon with a glass of wine, and soon realizes that the financial commitment she made to a burgeoning dance company – her way of reasserting the artistic identity she gave up when she moved to Connecticut with Richie – is on shaky ground. So she takes the portrait of herself that hangs in their bedroom, an Andy Warhol original, back to the artist for signing, so she can auction it at a fundraiser. This seems a great solution, until Devon’s fellow patrons assume that the painting is in addition to the $20,000 Devon pledged, not a substitute.
As part of his mission to revitalize American Century and to add a boutique label under its imprint, Richie goes to see Lester Grimes, the gifted singer/guitarist he mentored and abandoned at the start of his career, with an offer to release the demos they cut back in the ‘50s. Lester, who’s now working as the super at his apartment building, can’t sing anymore thanks to the beating he took from the Mob back when Richie sold his contract, and much as he’d like to pick up where he left off, he tells Richie never to come back. Lester did everything he was supposed to do back in the ‘50s – cut the bubblegum singles they gave him, waited for his chance to do his own material – and it got him nowhere; Richie surely feels returning to this unfinished bit of business is the right thing to do as well, but for now it’s not enough. But Lester has a guy named Herc experimenting with two turntables and a mixer in his building who could use a mentor of his own, and with Richie looking for the next thing and hoping to make amends to Lester, might Lester join American Century, or even run the smaller label?
In the episode’s most amusing plot, A&R doofus Clark bumps into Alice Cooper at a studio and immediately begins wooing him to leave his band and sign with American Century as a solo act.
Clark coos sweet nothings into Alice’s (Vince’s) ear: they’re just a bunch of nobodies, you’re the real star, etc, while Alice gets him drunk and puts eyeliner on him and drags him to the golf course after their allnighter. Word gets back to American Century that Clark is on the verge of signing Alice, much to everyone’s dismay – Clark is not well-liked – but when Clark arrives at soundcheck to tell the band they’re out, Alice reveals that he was just stringing Clark along, the way Richie strung Alice Cooper (the band) along when they were struggling and unsigned. (Putting Clark in Alice’s trademark fake guillotine is a particularly amusing touch.)
In other A&R news, after a set by the Snipers (led by a sequin-clad Jeff Starship, the future Joey Ramone, a particularly satisfying rock-nerd Easter egg), the Nasty Bitz take the stage for their showcase for Richie, who’s horrified by their rote performance of the Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night,” which they dutifully learned and perfected at Julie’s insistence. Jamie is smart enough both to take the blame, winning Julie’s loyalty, and to call an audible, interrupting the Kinks cover in favor of the Bitz’ own material, which prompts Richie to sign them. Improvising and falling back on your strengths, it seems, is sometimes better than doing what’s expected.
The episode closes with Richie’s discovery that the portrait of the woman he fell in love with is gone, despite his doing everything he was supposed to do – give her a big, beautiful home, children, security – and that “Buck” Rogers (Andrew Dice Clay)’s body has been found by the cops. Even when you do everything you’re supposed to do when you murder a guy, it’s not enough. I guess it’s time to improvise.
Steve Miller Band, “Space Cowboy”
Kool and the Gang, “Funky Stuff”
Kool and the Gang, “Jungle Boogie”
James Brown, “Sex Machine (Get On Up)”
The Meters, “Same Old Thing”
England Dan and John Ford Coley, “Simone”
The Staple Singers, “Heavy Makes You Happy Sha Na Boom Boom”
Howlin’ Wolf, “Smokestack Lightning”
Alice Cooper, “School’s Out”
Anne Murray, “Danny’s Song”
New episodes of Vinyl air at 9pm ET Sundays on HBO; past episodes are available on-demand.