I’ll just come out and say it: I enjoyed the first season of Vinyl, the Martin Scorsese/Mick Jagger look at the record biz of the 1970s. It’s about bloody time that there was a proper adult drama about the music industry. But I’ll also say this: the critics are ruining it for me.
Every episode is picked apart down to the molecular level for errors and omissions in a way we never saw with The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, Treme–you name it. Why? Because no one is as well versed in modern mob life/Prohibition/New Orleans culture/etc. as they are with music. Everyone has an opinion on music. And therein lies the problem.
As a muso myself, I know how pedantic our sort can get with facts and historical accuracy. In fact, we can be insufferable bores. When it comes to Vinyl, these bores have taken over the conversation. Here are their big complaints:
The Mob Angle
“Scorsese can’t leave his mob fixation behind, can he?” Well, no–and so what? For years, the recorded industry was mobbed up. Corrado Gollaso is a stand-in for real-life guys like Morris Levy and his associates. Ask Tommy James what it was like to record for Levy.
The Jumbled Timelines
When Richie goes to see the Nasty Bits, another band on the bill is Sniper, led by Jeff Starship. This was actually the future Joey Ramone with his pre-Ramones band. But by the time Richie saw the Nasty Bits, Sniper was already dead and the Ramones were playing gigs. And yeah, they sound a little too modern for a band supposedly from 1974. Richie’s conversation with Hilly Krystal about how he’s going to change the name of his bar to CBGB is wrong; the place adopted that name in March 1973. So what? This is a drama inspired by history, not a documentary.
The Historical Inaccuracies
No, the Mercer Art Centre did not fall down during a New York Dolls show (it did collapse, but it was a Friday afternoon when no one was inside). Some critics found this to be an unconscionable historical lie. Yeah, but there was also no American Century Records that chased Led Zeppelin or had Grand Funk and Donny Osmond on its label, either.
The Hate for The Nasty Bits
“Fake punks” is the description I see the most. “James Jagger only has the gig because his dad is an executive producer.” Hey, compared to the manufactured music we get from other music dramas, they don’t sound bad.
The Testosterone-Heavy Vibe
Um, hello? The record industry of the 70s was an old boy’s club filled with reckless sexist pigs who treated women with contempt. And remember this was pre-AIDs, even pre-herpes. The worst things you could get from sex was syphilis, gonorrhea and crabs. Hep C wasn’t even much of an issue yet because intravenous drug use was still on the rise.
Disagreements Over the Storyline
Why aren’t seeing more of Richie’s wife, Devon? Isn’t it interesting how Joe Corso, the only witness to Buck Rodgers’ murder, has conveniently been removed from the picture? How could they let Jamie Vine turn into a caricature starf**ker after the big threesome scene in the season’s penultimate episode? (Wait–what?) This is standard TV criticism and some of it is justified. But now that showrunner Terrance Winter has been removed from the picture, these issues may be addressed in season two.
Perhaps the reason we haven’t seen a show like Vinyl until now is that networks and executive producers knew that making such a program would be destroyed by critics and the aforementioned pedantic musos. I’m really hoping HBO has the courage to stick with this instead of caving in and allocating Vinyl’s production money to another goddamn show about vampires and werewolves.