Richard Hell on HBO’s Vinyl: “Boring…Innocuous Trash”

Sam Lefebvre

Vinyl is a new HBO drama created by Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, Rich Cohen, and Terence Winter and focused on the character Richie Finestra, a record man in proto-punk 1970s New York City. Naturally, it’s a useful news peg for music writers.

At Pitchfork, Marc Masters took the opportunity to underscore the importance of Jack Ruby, the obscure quartet looming behind the show’s fictional band, The Nasty Bits. And Noisey, in “an editorial series sponsored by our friends over at HBO,” has commissioned many writers to reflect on the era. But now, thanks to Stereogum, we have the verdict from Richard Hell, the writer and bandleader whose style and story influenced much of the series: “I thought it was boring, I thought it was innocuous trash.”

That’s from the outset of the review. In the piece, Hell quickly pivots away from assessing the show’s depiction of a music scene inspired by one in which he participated, and points instead to business as the show’s real focus–a hallmark, of course, of Scorsese’s career. This too exhausts Hell, who writes, “I get tired of [Scorsese’s] relentless framing of life as nothing but competition among men for power.”

Memorably, he takes issue with the depiction of cocaine use: “Cocaine is not like getting a cattle prod up your butt. Everybody knows that. Cocaine is sweet.” As for the “one actually quite good non-documentary movie about ‘punk,'” he recommends Sid & Nancy. Otherwise, Hell’s taste for “juicy music-biz trash entertainment” skews Empire.

The review, which appears in full on Stereogum, doesn’t mention Hell’s own participation in movie depictions of nascent New York City punk, which include Blank Generation and Smithereens.

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