Martin Scorsese is co-creator and sets the ambitious tone for “Vinyl” (HBO, 9 p.m.) with a thrilling two hour premiere that flashes back at what made Richie Finestra (Bobby Canavale) a passionate record man but begins at his nadir, falling off the wagon, putting an ugly end to a payola problem even as he threatens a top dollar merger that involves top bands of the era, such as Led Zeppelin (whose depiction is the one weak spot of the premiere).
As giddy and wildly entertaining in its depiction of the record industry as “The Wolf of Wall Street” was in finance, the series has a splendid cast that includes Olivia Wilde as a former Factory girl who becomes Fenestra’s wife; and label sidemen that include Ray Romano in one of his most crowd-pleasing roles.
What’s clear before the end of Scorsese’s two hour pilot is that he’s inspired again by the kind of pre-punk back to basics downtown sounds of the New York Dolls as well as glimpses of the M.C.s chanting over scratching vinyl that would become hip-hop.
Terence Winter of “The Sopranos” and especially “Boardwalk Empire” knows how to create a great series of drama and detail and this note-perfect rendition of the early 70s fairly sings in accuracy, except that it moves punk’s arrival (and that of hip hop) a little earlier, and the actual destruction of the Mercer Hall of Music with a concert supposedly going on at the same time (whereas the Dolls plays a week before the thing collapsed).
Never mind –just like the music, it’s about the feel and passion, and “Vinyl” has it in spades, thanks in part to creators that also include somebody who knows a thing or two about rock ‘n’ roll at the highest levels — Mick Jagger, who is not only executive producer, but those son plays the lead singer in the punk band being primed by the label.
Jagger, after all, is a former student at the London School of Economics, got involved with the economic side of the business after tasting success with the Rolling Stones.
“We got really screwed in the ’60s,” he told reporters at the TV Critics Association winter press tour last month. “So I had to become involved as the ’60s went on and it became the ’70s, and I got really involved in record companies and how they worked and who was good, who was bad, who was who paid who, who screwed who, who ended up with the money. So yeah, I got involved.”
“Mick can certainly speak to this more directly in terms of dealing with record company executives,” Winter says. But he adds, “I don’t think Richie Finestra is any better or worse than many of the people we read about.
“Based on what I’ve read and the people I’ve spoken to and interviewed and my conversations with Mr. Scorsese and Mick,” Winter says, “I think Richie is a pretty accurate amalgam of a lot of different record executives.”
“Vinyl” also includes a combination of actual names from the period with made up acts, which makes it interesting, Jagger says. “We had a lot of chats about how would this work. We’d have real people, we’d have we would have David Bowie. We’d have Led Zeppelin. Then we’d invent people. And how would we integrate these people, the real people and the fictional people? That was a really interesting piece of the writing and the concept.”
Says Winter: “We certainly wouldn’t depict anyone in the business without first reaching out and letting them know what we were doing. In many cases, people would be curious about what the scene would be. We let them read script pages and comment. By and large, people were very flattered to be included on the show. Of course, we want to get the depictions of these people right. In many cases, between Mr. Scorsese and Mr. Jagger, these were people who were friends of theirs, so, even more so, wanted to make sure that we were honoring the image and depiction of these people too.”
For Scorsese, who has had a history of not only using great rock and roll music in his films, but turning it up and letting it lead the action, he not only sets the tone for the series with the frantic first episode, but when he drops in classic songs that may inspire a character, he drops it in with a full performance of someone depicting the original artist.
“When I talk about the way I experience listening to music, all kind of music and particularly when I was very young, when rock ‘n roll hit, when I was 13 years old, was that the music becomes part of your life,” Scorsese says. “As they always say, ‘It’s in your blood,’ et cetera What that means is that you hear it all the time, and you see life around you played to that music in a sense.
“So I wanted to create something like that in the pilot and in the show, too, where it’s not a conventional narrative,” he says. “That music becomes part of the narrative, but the whole narrative is like a piece of music. That was the idea, so that you hear it’s almost like you are hearing Richie’s soundtrack. You are hearing what he hears in his head whether he wants to hear it or not.
“Sometimes he may go off and think about when he saw somebody perform. I don’t even want to be that literal. It should be like a piece of music and should be cinematic in that respect where maybe you see the performance like a Ruth Brown or Bo Diddley, but you get a it isn’t really seeing them. It’s being immersed, sort of, in the spirit of their music and of themselves or Otis Redding. And that was the idea for me.”
Jagger, who hired Scorsese direct the 2008 Stones concert movie, “Shine a Light,” says he long admired his work.
“Marty is like a great connoisseur of music for a start,” Jagger says. “I think he’s one of the first people that really used rock ‘n roll in movies, like, wall to wall. Before Marty, people used music occasionally, like rock music and other kinds of music, popular music, but not really like he did, and he more or less invented this kind of the use of music that we are now very used to and that we are totally at home with.
“And, of course, I always admire Marty’s movies from the ’70s onwards,” Jagger goes on. “And we worked together before, so we have a kind of shorthand, and so we’ve chatted about this project over the years on and off and met about it and everything. So I don’t think we find it very difficult to communicate about it even though it appears that we come from different worlds.”
For Scorsese, the admiration is mutual.
“For me, the music that they created, Mick and his group, you have to understand I come to it as a filmmaker and as the audience for him. I’m his audience, and that music, when I heard it when I first heard it all the way through to the ’70s and ’80s and into now, it’s stuff that is basically the inspiration for a lot of the visual the visualizations that I have of scenes throughout my films, particularly in ‘Mean Streets’ or even in ‘Raging Bull’ and all the way up to ‘The Wolf of Wall Street.’
“It’s constant. It’s very much a part of my life. It was a natural for us at some point to try to do something together,” Scorsese says. “All of this became something that was very natural and a constant inspiration, designing shots, designing scenes, along with other music, of course. But this was the basis. This is the one I always went back to. This is the one that I always played. This is the one that I always lived with that I could hear. And, also, the angle that we are looking at life, really, is very tough edged, and that’s how I associated myself with it.”
For the actors involved, particularly Cannavale, it was all he could do to keep up with it.
“It’s an intense role,” he says. “I was exhausted every single day… every single day for six months, it was exhausting, and it was intense. And I also thought I’ve never had a role that was this that was this, you know that was this complex and this well rounded. And so I just poured everything I had into it, and when it was over, I felt like it was the end of a really long fever dream or something.”