Episode 7 of “Vinyl,” called “The King and I,” opens with Richie in his office, his head bent down searching for happiness. But hey, what’s that? It’s not cocaine. It’s a book – “The Farther Reaches of Human Nature” by A.H. Maslow (the “hierarchy of needs” guy from your college sociology class). Richie is on the wagon. Could we really have an episode of “Vinyl” where Richie doesn’t do any coke?
“You realize Jim Morrison had his last three way on this plane.” – Richie
American Century is bleeding cash. Just to make this month’s payroll, the executives need to find some ways to trim the fat. Richie suggests getting a quick cash injection by selling the company’s private plane and he already knows someone in Los Angeles who happens to be in the market. Zak, feeling like he needs to keep an eye on Richie (another great line in this thread from Zak is “I trust my wife naked in bed with Burt Reynolds more than I trust you with $100,000 cash”) and perhaps sensing that the their relationship needs some repairing, tells Richie he’s coming on the trip. The two take the six-hour flight to LA and have it out. (But first, what would an episode of “Vinyl” be without a fantasy music sequence. This week it’s the Beach Boys singing “Surf City” with it’s opening line “Two girls for every boy.”) That’s when Richie points out the sordid tidbit about Jim Morrison’s sex life. Zak mentions he’s never had a threesome. “Why disappoint two women?” he says.
Zak and Richie argue about Richie’s management style and behavior and share their feelings, but stop just short of that awkward bro hug. Richie refrains from drinking the 18-year-old bottle of scotch that Zak is drinking. They land in LA and sell the plane to Lou Meshejian, a record executive whose sales are benefiting from the popularity of the laid back California sound, and net $90,000. Richie gives one last glance back at the plane lingering over the registration numbers on the tail – N7DP-18. Another 18…
Then we get this great cut from The Meters:
“July 1, 1956” – Zak
Richie and Zak are mingling at Lou’s mellow party, killing time until their flight home, and also trying (in vain) to steal away some artists on Lou’s roster. They talk to Graham Parsons, but he’s more interested in trying to get Richie to take peyote in Joshua Tree National Park (where Parsons would later overdose and die). Zak happens to hear an interesting bit of industry gossip though. Elvis Presley isn’t happy with RCA and Colonel Tom Parker is thinking of switching record companies. Zak and Richie go into fanboy mode for a few minutes. Zak even cites the date of July 1, 1956 as a pivotal moment in his life (it’s the date when Elvis appeared on The Steve Allen Show to perform “Hound Dog”). They decide to fly immediately to Vegas to try to persuade The King to join American Century. Vegas-era Elvis!!!
“The King of Rock and Roll is singing about lettuce” – Zak
Richie and Zak get to Vegas and meet with Colonel Tom Parker (Gene Jones) who has arranged tickets for them to see Elvis’ show. The two have some time to kill before the show. Hanging out poolside at a Vegas hotel, Richie connects with two women at the bar and whispers into their ears and nods over to Zak. The women begin an aggressive flirtation with Zak. Richie successfully abstains from the party – even turning down a bump of coke. The guys take their new friends to see the Elvis show. Richie is into it, but Zak is distraught by the King’s decline into a Vegas-style lounge act for blue-haired old ladies. Rock ‘n’ roll has died tonight, he says and calls out for Elvis to play the hits. Meanwhile, Elvis sings “Polk Salad Annie,” and Romano gets to deliver a gem of dialog. Richie, seeing that Colonel Parker is watching, hustles Zak out of the concert before things get worse. Before leaving, Richie notices their table was number 18.
On a side note I’m fascinated by Vegas-era Elvis. The gaudy white outfits with too much fringe, the kung-fu, the pills, the bacon. Vegas seems like the perfect place for an American icon to balloon into something obscene, while seeming innocently unaware of his decline. Elvis, much like Jack Kerouac seemed succumb to his own mythical status and indulge in child-like fits of bizarre behavior.
“There’s that number again.” – Richie
Richie is on a hot streak at the blackjack table, repeatedly winning hands by doubling down on 18. He quickly makes $5,000 and Zak urges him to take the $90,000 they made from selling the plane and let it ride until they make a million dollars and then join the girls in the suite where they can “do misdemeanorish things until they pass out.” But this is sober, sensible Richie and he gets up and walks away.
Back in the suite, Zak and the girls continue the party and the girls make all of Zak’s fantasies come true. Meanwhile, Richie slips out to meet Elvis. He’s looking at Elvis’ gold-plated DEA badge when the King walks in the room. Richie and Elvis bond over Maslow and “the heirarchy of needs,” gospel music and their shared love of, well, Elvis. It’s all going well, and it looks like a deal may happen, until Colonel Parker enters and breaks up the party. Parker encourages Elvis to show Richie a kung-fu move, which results in Richie on the floor and the Colonel telling him to show himself out.
“That’s why they call it rock and roll” – Richie
When Richie returns to the suite, he wakes up Zak, who looks more disheveled than the hotel room. The girls are gone and guess what else is gone – the $95,000. Looks like a pretty simple mystery. And Sherlock Finestra sums it up a little too easily. The girls were obviously professionals (that much is probably the truth) and after banging Zak senseless, they made off with the cash. Zak freaks out. He feels so guilty he says he wants to die. Surprisingly, Richie shows some restraint. Almost like he knows that the roles are reversed, and now it’s Zak’s turn to take the blame. Richie shrugs it all off, telling Zak, “That’s why they call it rock ‘n’ roll” and helping him get dressed.
SPOILER ALERT: They return to New York. This time in coach seating instead of a private jet. Babies are screaming and the plane is crowded. The scene flashes back for a moment. Richie is entering the hotel room and looks in on Zak and the girls in the bed. Seeing an opportunity, he grabs the money from the safe and heads down to the roulette table. All the random sightings of the number “18” are too much for Richie and his demons. In three bets on the roulette wheel he wipes out all the cash. The trip is a total loss. Richie never mentions this to Zak, who is left taking all the blame. For the whole episode, we think Richie may have turned a corner and may become, like, an actual likable character, but no, he’s still a piece of trash.
Richie orders two tiny bottles of Smirnoff and some ice from the stewardess, pours both into a glass stirs it and drinks it down in one gulp. The two bottles and a the straw leave a water stain that looks like an 18 on the cover of Richie’s book. The water stain quickly disappears just like Richie’s flirt with sobriety and responsibility.
What did you think of episode 7?