I’m writing this on morphine, legal morphine prescribed by a hospital, I must add, not recreational morphine taken for entertainment and comfort.

I’ve been given morphine because for non-stop, excruciating pain, there can be nothing worse, on this earth, than shingles, especially if you have it severely on four levels like I have. Having suffered these mothers now for three solid weeks, with no respite in sight, all aspects of life are looked at through shit-colored glasses. Apparently, the pain can last for years. Charming!

Books, newspapers and magazines become simply unreadable due to the pain and discomfort. TV is unwatchable. However, one piece of television, has cut though the pain of shingles and clutter of garbage out there passing as entertainment. The one TV drama helping make the pain of living bearable is the new American rock ‘n’ roll TV series, VINYL. Even suffering from shingles, I was caught up in the scintillating rock ‘n’ roll this series pumps out.

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Saint Rich’s Christian Palak as Dolls’ singer David Johansen

Coming from HBO, it should be scintillating. To me, HBO are in a league of their own when it comes to making television drama. Just look at the creative team behind VINYL.

Mick Jagger chose the music. Martin Scorcese directed the pilot; and the whole box and dice was written, created and produced by Jagger, Scorcese, Rolling Stone contributing editor Rich Cohen, and Sopranos writer and executive producer, Terence Winter, who also happened to create, produce and write Boardwalk Empire.

Bobby Cannavale, who played the type of hot-tempered, mad-dog Mafia gangster who’d beat you to death at the drop of a hat in Boardwalk Empire, portrays an American record company owner, Richie Finestra, who has a rock ‘n’ roll epiphany while watching the New York Dolls on stage. Here’s a clip of the real thing, but the band playing the Dolls in VINYL do a pretty good job themselves.

Set in New York in 1973, VINYL is hilariously accurate in its portrayal of the dosh, hype and dope sloshing around the record industry at that time. I should know, I was in it myself, though in London, not New York. For that reason, I found Vinyl’s portrayal of English characters like Peter Grant and Robert Plant totally wrong.

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Skinny little English actor Ian Hart played the bullying, loud mouth Led Zeppelin manager, Peter Grant. In real life, it was Grant’s massive obesity that backed up his abrasive foul mouthed ranting, raving and myriad threats to anyone getting in his way. The little runt in VINYL would have scared nobody. And English Midlander Robert Plant was played by a bloke with an effeminate Southern English accent, rather than the more brutal Ozzie Osborne-style tones of Birmingham and its environs.

The critic Caryn Rose has panned the re-enactment of Led Zeppelin’s performance in Vinyl, inferring the inaccuracy of “30 women gyrating on the side of the stage” as one of the worst parts of the film. Well let me tell you, madam, I saw Led Zeppelin at the UK’s Bath Festival of Blues in 1970 and there WERE around 30 women with the band, gyrating on stage.

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Memories

Not only that, the ladies were stark-bollock fully-frontal naked. AND, they were reproduced on a giant screen behind the band, magnified in all their full hairy glory for the 150,000 spectators to enjoy. (There used to be lots of hairy glory in
the 70s, before the Brazilian and all the other female pubic hair styles came into style.) We used to call them growlers.

Now that I think of it, there were girls selling acid, grass and other illegal niceties at Shepton Mallet, where the Bath festival was set. ( They walked through the festival crowd with trays, like the ice cream sales girls we used to have in cinemas, shouting “Acid, speed, dope, hash, grass” etc.

The highlight of VINYL’s two-hour pilot and series premiere was an enjoyable (even through the shingles) re-enactment of the New York Dolls performing Personality Crisis. That song (and its magnificent riffs) played in my head for days afterwards.

My second highlight was an electric blues performance by Richie’s discovery, the fictional Lester Grimes, played by Ato Assandoh, who does a good job miming Ty Taylor’s fabulous slide-guitar blues track, The World Is Yours. It’s a beauty.

With Mick Jagger as executive music producer, the sound track is bound to be good. Mick even slips the Stones’ Under My Thumb into the soundtrack (and why shouldn’t he?) as well as slipping son, James Jagger, into the series as singer of the fictional English pre-punk band, Nasty Bits.

In the second episode, you could swear it was Mick talking, rather than son, James. Being born in New York City and privately educated in London, James must have been coached in Estuary English, as we call that Londonish twang, by his old dad.

Mick Jagger had the idea for Vinyl 20 years ago as a movie called The Long Play. It’s had quite a bit of slagging down from the public as well as general praise from the critics and accusations of clichés. But, as I know from watching great advertising over the years, doing clichés well makes great television.

If you like rock ‘n’ roll, this series is a must. As I said, it was the only TV show that passed the shingles test. I’ve been on morphine for a couple of days now and the pain of shingles has halved and the wicked sensitivity of the skin has mostly passed.

But talking of shingles, we have to ask: if there is a God, why does he/she give people shingles, not to mention all the other nasty things in the world, like war, cancer and child abuse. If it’s to test us, as those of faith would have you believe, you have to ask, test us for what? Any god who does wicked things like that to us can fuck off.

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