Vinyl: He In Racist Fire Review

Richie Finestra clears the dancefloor.

Vinyl season 1, episode 5.

This Vinyl review contains spoilers.

Vinyl’s “He Is Racist Fire” episode opens with a band of Vikings with Stratocasters that the young A&R rep Clark (Jack Quaid) finds at a renaissance fair. The band probably started as a Jethro Tull cover band in Jersey that got carried away with the fry boots after getting hit in the head with a beastly broadsword. Tull gets more than their share of ribbing on TV, from, 30 Rock through Gilmore Girls to The Simpsons, but the prog rock stalwarts held a longtime record for sellout evenings at Madison Square Garden and aren’t too old to still consistently release new material. What does Clark know? He’s reading Rock Scene magazine for clues and is still under the delusion that he almost signed Alice Cooper. As if the original shock rocker wasn’t playing a teasing game. Julie Silver (Max Casella) likens it to his own experience, almost fucking Peggy Lee.

The Nasty Bits bit is beginning to get on my tit. Vinyl is mainly about the birth of punk and they’re laying it all on nasty Brits when punk is an American original. The New York Dolls took their licks for dumbing down music and they were taking their cues from The Stooges out of Detroit. Yes, David Bowie’s “Hang On To Yourself” would have come alive with the heavy punk downstrum that Johnny Ramone of The Ramones patented. Of course, it might still be pending. He collected comic books and wasn’t known for keeping up on his paperwork.

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The lead punk wants to be seen as an enigma wrapped in dungarees and sweat but he reveals himself a straight off sellout. Kip agrees to dump his guitarist because he was sitting on his amp and that looks fucking lazy. He would have been more justified for firing the guitarist on screen for continuing to play bar chords while the sounds coming out of his amp went into a sticky lead. Mick Jagger is rolling stones at New York punks through his son James in order to topple in a revisionist history and when Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale) tells Kip “you ever talk to me like that again I’ll slap you so hard you’ll be singing out of your asshole,” he was speaking for us all.

Finestra is a runaway train and Bobby Canavale isn’t playing him for sympathy. Rooting for Richie is more like rocking a roller coaster than cheering a character. Finestra has little empathy, no regard and doesn’t cut anybody any slack. He wants to weigh in at every dick wagging contest and cockblocks all the competition. Every layer he peels reveals a more pungent red onion that doesn’t make anyone tear up. He tells his father there’s “more than one way to be dead, pop,” and we see that the fig didn’t fall too far from the Newton.

Richie Finestra might be the most self-destructive character on TV right now. I’ve been waiting for HBO to find a show worthy of a true Manson Lamps character and here we have the original, David Proval, as Richie’s father. A man who’s drinking got him kicked out of a prime seat in Artie Shaw’s band. The jazz musician is obviously enjoying all the pain and suffering at American Century Records. But it wasn’t as much fun as the bootleg tape that the cops were listening to in between bumps.

Andie (Annie Parisse) brings tough ex-love to the publicity department in a chance to remake American Century Records’ vanguard division in her own image, when it’s just an alibi for Richie. He blew his last chance at getting Lester to vouch for him when the blues man got the gig with the punks. Now he’s looking after his own percentage and trimming dead weight in the promise of a radio spot with Scottso and a slot opening for the New York Dolls.  Scott Muni, who the Nasty Bits get a shot at a feature interview, was a radio legend. In the seventies on free-form radio, he shared the mic with legends and cult bands, and he made them all sound fascinating, in his deep, authoritative voice. Lester sees real money on the horizon and he’s starting a slow moral decline.

Jamie (Juno Temple) is moving up in the world and she is loving it. She’s been waiting to throw the bagels in everyone’s face, schmeer first. She knows the trajectory. Her mother, played by Lena Olin, owns that fancy restaurant that Jamie used as a rehearsal space. She is disgusted by her daughter’s job with the musicians and she is the one who spent her youth sucking off Nazi youth. The family dynamic is loving and warm. The mother tells Jamie to close her mouth “before I stab you in the throat.” It gave me a lump. The bilingual conversation was very telling, with Jamie straddling each world equally precariously.

That whole thing with the “Pillow Talk” dancing was a seduction gone wrong. Richie is pimping Devon (Olivia Wilde) out to Hannibal (Daniel J. Watts) while Cece (Susan Heyward) measures up his fingers. Hannibal is just daring Richie to react, Devon is ready to fill the role, like a silkscreened Stepford wife. Ah, but the promise of chokehold sex on the elevator really brings back memories. Hanover heads to Jackie Jervis’ (Ken Marino) Coronet Records in the time it takes him to work out an anagram. Sure, Richie terrifies china, but a soul artist knows to beware He in racist fire.

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“He in Racist Fire” was written by Adam Rapp; directed by Peter Sollett.


4 out of 5