Why I’m Not Watching HBO’s Vinyl

HBO has a new show called Vinyl. Maybe it’s great, maybe it’s lousy. I don’t know; I haven’t seen it. Here’s why I’m just not interested.

I should start by reciting what the show seems to be about. I’ll attempt to do so based upon the reviews and trailers that I’ve seen. Again, I haven’t actually seen the show, so if I get the details wrong, don’t be surprised. The point of this article is to articulate why the show doesn’t seem compelling. If you want to actually know the details about the show, look up the Wikipedia page.

OK. So it seems that Bobby Cannavale plays a coked-up record executive in New York in around 1974. Olivia Wilde plays his girlfriend or wife, I think. I think she’s a former model and now a bored housewife. Or housegirlfriend? Anyway, I liked Mad Men, to the very end, so, sure.

Ray Romano plays another record executive, Cannavale’s adversary. I suppose he’s playing against type as a guy who not everybody loves. (Yes, I stole that joke from Eminem in Funny People.)

Mick Jagger’s son - Jade? - plays the lead singer of a band that I think is kind of like the New York Dolls. Sort of gritty r&b meets proto-punk. So, like exactly the kind of thing I would think was cool.

Bobby Cannavale’s character, apparently, goes around discovering punk and the Bronx block party precursor to hip-hop and maybe early electronic/dance music, too. His soul is redeemed by rock and roll. You get the idea.

The music in the show is apparently by people I like and admire, including folks from Yo La Tengo and Sonic Youth.

So what’s the problem?

Look, there aren’t that many people out there who are bigger nerds about classic rock and all of this stuff than I am. I’ve been playing guitar & bass since I was 13 (circa 1989.) I’ve played in a bunch of bands where we covered the music of this era. I’ve read more books and magazines and online articles about it than I care to recall. I watch the biopics and documentaries and mockumentaries. I rarely pass up the opportunity to hang out with other music nerds and swap obscure trivia.

Hell, I collect vinyl records, for god’s sake. It’s the title of the show.

Oh, and the first episode is directed by Martin Scorsese. It’s a prestigious HBO show.

The problem is that it feels like HBO’s marketing geniuses determined that people like me (white male, educated, disposable income, between 40–60 (although I’m 39, so I don’t really fit into the demo, right…?)) and possibly some younger retro-fetishists, like this kind of stuff: 70s rock, troubled male antiheroes, Martin Scorsese, maybe secretly Ray Romano although we won’t admit it…and then reverse-engineered a show to satisfy these needs.

I recall reading that this is how House of Cards was conceived - Netflix discovered that a certain, substantial audience liked stuff by David Fincher, movies with Kevin Spacey, and maybe the first few seasons of The West Wing, so they created a Frankenstein’s monster, using the reincarnated brain of a long-forgotten BBC series, and there you go.

Well, if that’s true, they got me, and that’s fine. Why should I be immune to the charms of House of Cards?

With Vinyl, though, I just feel like, ugh, we’ve seen this before. Do we really need a show about a white man discovering rock and roll, again? Enough with the Boomer nostalgia, already. Let’s give that a rest for a few centuries.

If I’m missing out on a great show, and enough people tell me so, well, I certainly reserve the right to check it out. Who knows, in a few weeks I may write a follow-up telling everyone how I was wrong, and you should really be watching Vinyl. But from what I’ve seen and heard so far, it just seems like a last, desperate attempt to cash in on a dwindling audience’s desire to relive how great it was when white men ruled and rock and roll was still on top. I’ll pass.

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