About 20 years ago, Mick Jagger had an idea for a dream project: an epic movie that would chart the history of the music business over several decades. To get his vision off the ground, he eventually recruited Martin Scorsese and Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter. As they worked, it became clear they couldn’t cram the whole story into one film. “It was very sprawling,” says Jagger. “And as TV became more refined and exciting and interesting to make, we decided to do it as a series.”
The result is Vinyl, which premieres on HBO in February. Set in New York in 1973, the show centers on Richie Finestra (played by Bobby Cannavale), a record-label president with a coke habit, a troubled marriage and a company losing its Midas touch. Cannavale, 45, enjoyed cramming for the role. He read histories of music of the era, like Love Goes to Buildings on Fire and the record-business chronicle Hit Men. He also “spent a lot of time with the right people” – including Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye and David Johansen, frontman of the New York Dolls. “It’s not like researching a cop show,” Cannavale adds.
Being a Scorsese drama, there’s no shortage of sex, drugs and pathological violence; Andrew Dice Clay is particularly on point as a deranged, swing-club-loving radio exec. Along with all the period decadence, there’s plenty of music in the form of dramatizations of real-life bands like the Dolls (who we see playing a revelatory gig in the pilot) and, in flashbacks, various blues and R&B acts that Cannavale’s character fell in love with when he was first getting into the music business.
Yet the biggest star in Vinyl might be the streets of New York in the 1970s – “a pretty raunchy place,” says Jagger. “I like the milieu,” he adds. “[The show] was always going to be set there.” Both Jagger and Scorsese have depicted this New York before. Given the decade’s excesses, it wasn’t easy to perfectly recall every decades-old detail. “You do your research,” Jagger says. “And your research colors your memory.” But did the guy who sang “Shattered” ever actually see “people dressed in plastic bags directing traffic”? “Of course!” he says, laughing.