Vinyl: It’s only rock & roll

When it was announced that HBO would be bringing Vinyl – the brainchild of Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese – to our screens this February, the blogosphere went into meltdown. Vinyl tells the story of Richie Finestra, played by Bobby Cannavale, a 1970s record executive, struggling to keep his label afloat in the corrupt and competitive world of the New York music industry. As the product of Scorsese, the director of block-busting films such as The Wolf of Wall Street and Taxi Driver, and Jagger, a veritable giant of rock and roll and industry legend, it was set to be a sensation.

However, despite the hype, the ratings were considerably underwhelming. The Independent reported that the show “fell flat”, as only 764,000 viewers tuned in, as opposed to the 2.3 million that were drawn to HBO by True Detective. So why were these figures so disappointing? The same Independent article suggested that this may have been due to timing, as Vinyl aired at the same time as the mid-season premiere of The Walking Dead on AMC. Yet the answer may lie elsewhere: The Guardian somewhat critically labelled the show as “culture porn”, due to its depiction of the high-octane sex-drugs-and-rock-n-roll lifestyle.

The first episode hits hard from the off, encompassing all the drama that can be expected from this setting; private jets, nervous breakdowns, and even murder. Scorsese and Jagger have made sure to tick every box in bringing us a gritty yet lavish account of the era. However, it seems that this intensity comes at the expense of subtlety. In a scene where “sandwich girl” Jaime Vine, played by Juno Temple, dishes out drugs from her desk drawer to a young industry executive played by Jack Quaid, it is almost painfully obvious what kind of industry setting Scorsese and Jagger are trying to depict.

The Guardian also criticises Vinyl for its “caricatures” of real-life artists such as Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, who is painted as a kind of one-dimensional rocker stereotype, as well as the fact that the show seems to have tried to tack-on racial issues through the storyline of “Little” Jimmy Little, a black blues singer being forced to perform disco in order to become a big industry artist.

However, there is no denying that the show brings an exciting and very watchable story. The fact that Vinyl was co-created by one of the Rolling Stones (and incidentally, stars his son, James Jagger) seems to provide an air of authenticity, and with it a sense of reliability, since we can assume that Jagger’s insight is as good as, if not better than any on the true nature of the 1970s music scene, even if it has been exaggerated for audience entertainment.

Nonetheless, Vinyl provides just what you would expect of a rock-and-roll drama, catapulting its viewers at high velocity through the extreme highs and spiralling lows of a volatile and corrupt industry; we can only wait and see if the quality of the storyline will reflect the intensity with which it is told.


Fiona Willmott


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