Vinyl season 1, episode 4.
This Vinyl review contains spoilers.
Episode 4 of Vinyl, “The Racket,” opens at the funeral of Buck Rogers (Andrew Dice Clay), where Zak is mistaken for Richie (Bobby Cannavale), who quietly opted out. Richie is busy making a racket with a tennis racket reupholstering a couch in an attempt to win back trust on the home front after a drug binge. Smacking the shit out of the couch makes the marriage counselor and Richie happy, but it only deepens Devon’s (Olivia Wilde) resentment. She wants to see her husband suffer, to understand that, in their world, one toot over the line might not be covered on their life insurance policy.
Wilde empowers Devon with frustration. Devon spends the episode waiting for a confrontation that never comes. She can’t hurt Richie through courts, because that’s not where she wants to hit him. She can’t get no satisfaction from the music, because Richie’s on a losing streak.
Zak (Ray Romano) and Scott (P.J. Byrne) are not happy campers. Their future is up for grabs and for what? Some artistic visionary they are following off a cliff? Zak is stuck dealing with DJs because he’s got a nose for promos and tin cops for ears. Or so Richie declared after Zak pitched a real sweet song about a boat done by an Irish singer, not that Scottish shit. Skip (J.C. MacKenzie) is dumping records to balance the books, like a ship’s mate lets a craft take on ballast. But for the people in Sam Goody’s record store, ripping off The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” in favor of the chipmunk sounds that passes through the tabernacle of teeth of Donny Fucking Osmond should be a call to battle. Maybe Vinyl is trying to say that the record industry has everyone fooled and everyone else in its pocket.
Speaking of pockets, Hannibal’s best moment had nothing to do with dialogue or vegetarian office spreads. It was when Richie laid some coke on him and he pocketed one of the vials. Daniel J. Watts, as the fictional funky superstar, played it so straight and did it so fast, I was laughing before it even registered what I was laughing at. Brilliant acting moments can take less than a split second and that eighth of a second established the character, his relationship with the producer and his relationship with his street beginnings in one fell swoop.
Everybody in the music scene comes from the street. Except maybe Robert Goulet (Matt Bogart), who came from Camelot even before he got famous as Lancelot. Goulet was from Massachusetts and raised in French Cabnada. He was born with that hair, by the way, no greasy kid stuff for him. He was the whole salami. But I gotta hand it to Julie Silver (Max Casella) for nailing that day-after-Christmas song as something you wanna stick your head in the oven after hearing. The day after Christmas is an untouched market for a reason. Julie is hysterical. I love how he tears apart the whining record execs while at the same time being the anti-Casey Kasem of drive time radio, ripping Tony Orlando, Dawn and Ray Stevens off rotation.
The former Little Jimmy Little took himself off rotation. It broke my heart to see those reels go up in smoke. I kept thinking there was still time to salvage it. All musicians know the heartbreak of lost reels or lost cassettes. Hell, the band that was channeled for the Nasty Bits demo, Jack Ruby, can’t even remember the name of one of the songs off the cassette that started the punk revolution. So, to see Lester’s (Ato Essandoh) recordings go up in smoke was a very effective emotional scene. It was played for drama, and the action and punch line that followed, but that didn’t diminish the pain of seeing an artist’s lost work truly lost. I don’t suppose he made a safety cut, but that reel has got to be a mix, so there is still probably a master tape of the tracks somewhere.
Having the punk rockers, Kip (James Jagger) and the Nasty Bits, pair with the black blues purist seems like an idea that came from Mick Jagger, one of the producers who made Vinyl happen. The Rolling Stones began as blues purists who marketed themselves as punks. They even tried to get the rights to Anthony Burgess’s classic A Clockwork Orange, so they could play the young ruffians that ruled the streets of London. The Rolling Stones knew their share of music industry vultures. Besides copping Andrew Loog Oldman from the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, they celebrated the lowly A&R reps in 1965 album cut The Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man. The Nasty Bits will get as good a deal as Mick’s kid got getting the part as the singer. It’s good to have high friends in low places.
Cece (Susan Heyward) is a wonderfully dimly lit bulb as she double checks the blow job order for Hannibal or rival record exec Jackie Jervis (Ken Marino). The detectives are a hoot short of a hootenanny. The two detectives have some fun teasing Richie and pitching song titles especially after they see that they’re sweating him without any effort at all.
Cannavale’s face does calisthenics several times over as he covers up all the bullshit Finestra is spewing. This guy is hiding so many things from so many people he’s in danger of becoming Nurse Jackie. Everything is on-the-fly subterfuge, personal and professional, and you can see Richie ticking off the lies, stories, excuses and alibis as he hides in phone booths and wades deeper into the sewer of his random decisions.
Richie’s father wasn’t killed by the Japanese in World War II after all, though it looks like he was a POW in Richie’s life. The backstory probably has to do with some kind of rock and roll versus jazz rift. But the elder Finestra, played by Mr. Manson Lamps himself, David Proval, who played Richie Aprile on The Sopranos and Tony DeVienazo, who kept a lion in his bar, in Mean Streets, obviously has something darker going on in his history. Jazz clubs have a long history of association in gangland. Hell, one of the most famous jazz clubs of all time The Cotton Club, was owned by one of the most famous gangsters of all time, Owney Madden.
So the title works on three levels: The noise that the punk band is making; the bent-nosed goons making the scene behind the scenes and that fucking tennis racket. That’s a lot of sonic pollution to smother Richie’s head. It’s a wonder he can think as straight as he does when he’s straight. His musical decisions are better when he’s at least slightly curved.
“The Racket” was written by Debora Cahn and directed by S.J. Clarkson.