“How much of this s–t are we gonna take?”
Finally, Skip says what we’ve all been thinking (if I may presume to speak for all of us) about Richie’s erratic behavior, which this week includes not just the resumption of his cocaine habit, but a full-throated rationalization of its benefits – Sigmund Freud, Thomas Edison, and Sherlock Holmes all thrived on it, after all. So what if one of those examples is fictional? Richie built this company on coke, he reasons, and things only went bad when he sobered up. Pretty airtight logic there. As fed up as Skip and Zak may be at this point, they don’t even know the half of it: the reason American Century has zero cash is because Richie lost their last $90,000 at the roulette table, and worse, has allowed Zak to think it was stolen out from under his nose, which has Zak groveling and offering to mortgage his house to make things right.
It’s tough to get people to do what you want them to do, whether you’re trying to get them to approve a loan, write a song, pose for a picture, or just quit being a jerk to you, and this episode saw different characters taking different approaches, with varying results.
Richie, Zak, and Skip try to wow the bank loan officer with tales of their jet-set exploits and promises of Grand Funk tickets for his kid, which prove to be less persuasive than they maybe used to be; though the guy seems to like them well enough, he brushes them off by saying that their finances are a mess and “there are too many imponderables.”
Richie tries another tack with the Nasty Bitz in the studio, who are struggling to come up with a hit for their debut album. First insulting their new material by calling it “a sea shanty – makes me want to eat a can of spinach,” he reminds them why he signed them in the first place, telling the band, “I don’t need a hit, I need a Nasty Bitz song – now,” certainly sounded inspirational, and frontloading it with flattery didn’t hurt, but it still didn’t actually get results. (Note: intoning that the band is “opening for the New York Dolls in less than a month” might sound like a BFD in 2016, when the Dolls are venerated founders of punk, but in 1973 they were nearly unknown and unlikely to motivate a band of junkies such as the Bitz to reach for that rainbow. It’s one of the few examples of this show letting hindsight color the characters’ behavior, a slightly jarring note.)
But Lester’s impromptu medley, explaining to the band how I-IV-V blues changes are the foundation of nearly all rock and roll is much more effective, because it allows the musicians to make their own connections – he shows them, rather than tells them, which earns their respect both because he’s respectful of their talents and because they see that he’s not just yelling at them, he knows what he’s talking about. Pretty soon the Bitz aren’t just writing a rock song with I-IV-V changes, they’re recording their own punked-up arrangement of the song. I have to say, the Lester/Nasty Bitz plot has never made much sense to me – a black guy in his 40s or 50s with a blues background having anything to do with a white punk band in 1973 strains plausibility like Elvis strained his white jumpsuits – and Lester admits as much with a throwaway line about how he only got involved with them to mess with Richie. But this sequence was charming enough to excuse all those concerns and go with it, not least because the song that comes out of it is the first time the Nasty Bitz have seemed at all like a competent band worthy of all this attention. Might Lester have a bigger future at American Century (or Alibi) Records than just managing one of the bands?
If he does, he’ll have to contend with Andi Z, who first belittles and then fires fellow PR planner Hal over his stock, predictable launch plans for the new Alibi label. As a means of getting better work out of him it’s not super effective, but it seems clear that was never her intention; with her return to the label he’s redundant, and she’s better than he is at the job. It’s worth noting that even when she’s bluntly insulting his work, and even when he’s calling her out for having a prior relationship with Richie, AND EVEN WHEN HE’S INCANTING A SATANIST SPELL, she never loses her cool; compare that to Richie’s wild mood swings and it seems clear that it won’t be long before Andi is running this company entirely, particularly if Richie stays behind bars.
Taken in for questioning on the Buck Rogers matter, Richie resists the detectives’ means of manipulation – playing him against the other suspect, Joe Corso, who they tell him is talking. But since Richie is guilty as sin, it seems unlikely that any kind of coercion on the cops’ part is going to get him to willingly give up his freedom. Either way, things are not looking good for The Man With The Golden Ear. Even if he gets out of jail, he’s got a new partner to contend with: Carlo Gallozzo, who decides to protect his investment by installing Maury Gold at the ACR offices. Still, Richie got what he wanted, even if he had to sing an off-key bar of “Cum On Feel Tha Noize” to do it.
His wife, on the other hand, is finally developing into a worthwhile, Bechdel Test-passing character all her own: out with Ingrid at Max’s Kansas City, she spots a photographer trying unsuccessfully to get paparazzi photos of John Lennon and his Yoko-approved mistress, May Pang, and shows another way to get someone to do something they don’t want to do: turn the tables on them. Approaching Lennon’s table with the photographer’s camera in hand – and having established in past episodes that she knows her way around an f-stop – Devon disarms Lennon by asking him to take a photo of her and Ingrid, and before you can imagine there’s no heaven, Lennon is jovially vogueing for Devon. Reviewing the results back in the photographer’s darkroom, the photographer magnanimously offers to give Devon credit for one of the photos she took of Lennon and Pang, possibly in hopes that she’ll agree to sleep with him – another example of attempted manipulation. Devon refuses, pointedly not asking but telling the shutterbug that she’ll take credit for the photo of Lennon solo, and then as if to seal the deal, leaning into his advance. I’ve been hoping Devon would get to spread her wings as a character independent from Richie since the second episode, so her totally Richie-free plotline here is more than welcome.
Clark’s ask of his fellow mail-room worker is much more modest: he just doesn’t want to be hazed any longer. Simple problems often have simple solutions, and sharing a couple lines of executive coke with the guy gets him invited to a black disco, where he seems to have the epiphany/discovery he’s been waiting and praying for. Given the 1973 setting and assuming that the music we hear (Barrabas’ “Wild Safari”) is the same music Clark’s hearing, it seems like a safe bet that when we see him next, he’ll be telling Julie, Richie, and anyone else who will listen about this crazy new four-on-the-floor sound that’s keeping people on the dance floor for hours. That’s right: this show is setting up Clark Morelle to be the King of Disco, and there’s actually an odd symmetry between that and Lester’s adventures with the Nasty Bitz. One thing you can’t accuse Vinyl of being is too predictable.
-Zak’s discovery, the Bowie-covering kid from his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah a few weeks back, has only one question when Zak offers him a contract: “My album, will it open like a… a… “ “A gatefold?” I don’t think he’s the first to ask that question.
-Zak also christens the kid, whose real name is Gary, “Xavier.” I had been wondering if he was going to turn out to be a real life musician or a fictional one, and now we have our answer.
-When Richie shows up at the office, the record player is broken so there’s no music on. The thematic or symbolic meaning of that I leave you, gentle reader, to interpret as you will.
-Skip accuses Richie of skimming cash from the business, and Richie accuses him right back. The thing is, Skip’s righter than he realizes. How much of this s–t is he going to take? Hal is the whole reason Bread’s “Make It With You” was a hit, you guys.
-Things are good with Maury Gold: the Mets are winning, and Monster Mash is a hit again.
-Devon’s adventures at Max’s Kansas City are accompanied by a group from Jamaica called The Wailers. Something tells me those guys are going places.
The Beatles – “Here Comes The Sun”
John Denver – “Country Road”
Isaac Hayes – “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic”
Conway Twitty – “It’s Only Make Believe”
The Wailers – “Kinky Reggae”
The Wailers – “Get Up, Stand Up”
The Wailers – “Stir It Up”
The Nasty Bitz – “Hey Girl I Want You”
Barrabas – “Wild Safari”