The NYC record industry comes to life in ’70s rock drama Vinyl
Producers Mick Jagger and Martin Scorcese strike the right chords
Created by Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese, Rich Cohen, and Terence Winter
Starring Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Olivia Wilde
He’s a record man. Snorting coke in his car, his personal life on the verge of collapse, wanted for questioning for murder, trying to escape. Escape everything.
That’s how we meet Richie Finestra, the head of American Century Records — the record label that he built with his bare hands. But after failed signings and a reputation as the “American Cemetery, where artists go to die,” the dying label is nearly sunk. It’s hard to have sympathy for a man who, like the Wall Street banker he’s mistaken for, can be ruthless to and heedless of his loved ones. But he’s driven by his love of music, his loyalty to his label, and the art that formed him.
Finestra’s gripping story lies at the heart of Vinyl, the new HBO series created by Mick Jagger, Martin Scorsese, Rich Cohen, and Terence Winter. Bobby Cannavale, of Boardwalk Empire fame, delivers another Emmy-worthy performance as he steps confidently into the role of Finestra, capturing his complexity.
Cannavale is backed by a capable cast — the underused Olivia Wilde as Finestra’s wife; Ray Romano as Zak Yankovich, Finestra’s right-hand man; and J.C. Mackenzie as Skip Fontaine, American Century’s cunning head of sales.
Vinyl is best when it focuses on the music, as other critics have noted. One of the show’s most powerful subplots is that of blues singer Lester Grimes (Ato Essandoh). His story, shown through flashbacks, is intertwined with Richie’s and similarly fraught with turmoil.
We meet Lester in a bar, pouring his soul into his voice and his guitar, the stage lights silhouetting his face. Richie, at the time just a bartender, watches in awe. Richie offers to be Lester Grimes’ manager, beginning Richie’s ascent to fame.
In snippets, we learn how Richie rises in the music industry through Lester’s success and starts his own record label, unwillingly but ruthlessly leaving Lester behind.
An unlikely star is Juno Temple, who plays the ambitious American Century assistant Jamie Vine. Vine’s intent on making it in the record industry, and her strong-willed and spunky character may be Temple’s breakout role. A fearless free spirit, Vine takes the punk-rock band The Nasty Bitz, led by Kip Stevens (James Jagger), under her wing, hoping to turn the raw group into the next great act.
The Nasty Bitz, themselves another major plot line, are introduced on a grungy stage spewing god-awful noise, turning the audience hostile and violent as Vine looks on with a crooked smile. It’s this exact quality that Vine loves — the raw emotion and anger that the band emanates and elicits is something she’s never seen before. The band connects us to the world they live in, much like Vinyl offers us a gritty glimpse of every echelon of the ’70s. It was, surely, a wonderful time to be alive in New York.
Vinyl premiered on HBO on February 14.