Vinyl (HBO) – Season 1, Episode 3

by Ron Foley Macdonald

HBO’s Vinyl continues its shift downwards into a slowly unfolding long-form drama after its spectacular 2-hour start. In the latest episode, “Whispered Secrets,” Bobby Cannavale’s record company owner Richie Finestra is attempting to salvage his sagging imprint while a murder, the mob, and changing tastes and technologies all swirl around him.

His own strained domestic situation has started to take up a fair bit of time on the show as his wife struggles to find her own life against Finestra’s. This time out she brings her connection to Andy Warhol up to the present in the series (1973) by requesting the artist sign his portrait of her for a fund raiser. Warhol has already made two other cameos in the series, and it’s beginning to weigh down the dramatic developments at the center of the story-line, about how music was so crucial to everyone’s existence in the 1970s.

That all seems very far away from where music is today.  One scene from ‘Whispered Secrets’ sees a record-company dinner saluting an industry pioneer. The band playing is a perfectly re-created Raspberries circa 1972/1973, complete with matching suits, Beatlesque harmonies and a driving beat.

Later on, Finestra is listening to Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”. This time out the picture cuts to a man who mimes to the original track on an urban fire escape, and for the first time, Vinyl’s dedication to re-creation falters.

Still, a delightful sub-plot concerning Alice Cooper, golf clubs and a guillotine carries the energy forward to maintain interest in the show. Cooper’s twisted humour delivers a nasty joke towards one of Richie’s most vacant A&R men. It’s made all the more resonant because Cooper eventually did ditch the rest of his band in 1975, echoing exactly the approach the A&R man was making.

The drug and drink-taking excesses still punctuate the series. And punk and rap are still germinating, cockroach-like, under the suffocating rubric of the still dominant mass music scene. The sense of aesthetic pregnancy still manages to promise greater things to come.

For the moment, however, Vinyl is drifting a bit dramatically, even though the series been renewed for a second season by HBO amidst some rather tepid and ultimately disappointing ratings. Hopefully it begins to fulfill its considerable promise soon.

Ron Foley Macdonald

Ron Foley Macdonald

Ron Foley Macdonald is a filmmaker, musician, author, and arts journalist who lives in Halifax, NS. He has written for such publications as the Halifax Daily News, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, and Take One. He taught film history for 15 years at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and has also taught at Dalhousie University and Mount Saint Vincent University. For two decades he was the Senior Programmer at the Atlantic Film Festival. He is currently the curator of the film and video series at the Dalhousie Art Gallery, and the producer of the recent feature films Exit Thread and Roundabout.
Ron Foley Macdonald

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